New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - THIS WEEK IN... - Ciara Pratt

The Kiwi sweethearts mar­ried for as long as Her Majesty

The first thing that caught Roy Bar­ton’s eye as he stood ner­vously at a dance in 1945 was the smile of a young Jean Cortesi.

Little did he know then, but that smile would greet him daily for an­other 70 years. “She’s still got a bit of that sparkle in her eye,” he says, chuck­ling.

The Bar­tons from Blen­heim are a rare find, hav­ing marked their 70th wed­ding an­niver­sary this year – just like the Queen and the Duke of Ed­in­burgh.

Then a young Royal New Zealand Air Force cor­po­ral, Roy, now 95, had re­cently re­turned to Auck­land from Van­u­atu at the end of World War II and was wait­ing to be cleared from ser­vice, when he turned up at a dance one night and met his bride-to-be. It wasn’t long be­fore he was moved to ask for a sec­ond date.

“He took an­other friend with him that time, though,” Jean (89) re­calls. “He was ner­vous that I wouldn’t turn up!”

“She al­ways had a nice smile on her face, she was calm,” Roy adds. “I was a bit on the shy side but she sort of tuned in well with that.”

And Jean is quick to ad­mit she quite fan­cied a man in uni­form. “He was in the Air Force – that’s what at­tracted me! He was very at­trac­tive too, mind you. He looked lovely in his uni­form. He looked the best of all the men.”

Af­ter “go­ing to­gether” for 18 months, the cou­ple were mar­ried in June 1947, but not be­fore Roy was put through his paces. “He did have to come home and meet my fa­ther first, of course,” she re­mem­bers.

“I was a wee bit ner­vous,” says Roy, be­fore Jean hoots, “A big bit, he means! My dad did his best to tease him and ask him a lot of ques­tions, and poor Roy couldn’t an­swer them all. But he did his best!”

When con­ver­sa­tion turns to

Roy’s pro­posal, Jean points out there wasn’t any pomp and cir­cum­stance when a cou­ple got en­gaged back then as there might be to­day. “Oh, no. He just said, ‘When are we get­ting mar­ried?’ We took it for granted that we were go­ing to get mar­ried. You sort of knew who you wanted to be with.”

With Roy one of nine kids and Jean one of six, the wed­ding was a big fam­ily af­fair.

“I think I was 30 min­utes late on our wed­ding day be­cause my flow­ers were late ar­riv­ing,” tells Jean. “In those days, cars could only be driven at cer­tain times of the day due to petrol re­stric­tions. But I heard Roy was pac­ing up and down...”

“I was used to wait­ing,” Roy re­torts. “I’m a well-trained man.”

“You cheeky mon­grel!” Jean laughs good-na­turedly.

“Well, she was worth wait­ing for, that’s for sure,” re­calls Roy. “She looked beau­ti­ful.”

Fol­low­ing the wed­ding, the cou­ple set off on a two-week hon­ey­moon, catch­ing the train from Pukekohe to Ro­torua, be­fore set­tling into mar­ried life as Mr and Mrs Bar­ton.

Jean re­mem­bers the grand wed­ding of Princess El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip the same year, but says she feels she and Roy are the lucky ones.“I don’t think they’ve had an easy life, with peo­ple watch­ing them all the time. They wouldn’t be able to have an ar­gu­ment with­out peo­ple see­ing it! I don’t envy them at all.”

And while the cou­ple look back fondly on their seven decades to­gether, they are the first to ad­mit there were hard times along the way. In their early years of mar­riage, they faced a near two-month sep­a­ra­tion as Roy trav­elled to Tren­tham to train in Morse code for his post of­fice job – some­thing he still proudly re­calls to this day.

But of life in the mar­i­tal home, Jean jokes, “Roy wasn’t much good in­side!”

“Well, I don’t quite agree with that!” he says. “In my sin­gle days, I had a bach of my own and I’d do my own cook­ing.”

“Well, you didn’t do any cook­ing once I mar­ried you!” laughs Jean.

Af­ter three years of mar­riage, they wel­comed their first child, Greg, in 1950. Anne fol­lowed in 1952, with Kate born in 1959.

“Oh, we loved be­ing par­ents,” says Jean, with Roy adding he was “a very proud” fa­ther.

The cou­ple are also de­lighted to say they have six grand­chil­dren and one great-grand­son.

Sadly in 1999, Roy and Jean trag­i­cally lost their el­dest daugh­ter Anne af­ter a sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure went wrong. It’s some­thing that is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for the cou­ple to talk about, but they still speak of her daily and are proud of the strength of their fam­ily in those griev­ing years.

“Los­ing our daugh­ter was very hard,” tells Jean. “But we have been very for­tu­nate – we’ve had a pretty good life. Roy’s my rock.”

The pair are shocked ev­ery time their in­cred­i­ble mile­stone is men­tioned as they can’t quite be­lieve it them­selves. So what would they say to young cou­ples just start­ing out?

“Pa­tience is key,” says Jean. “Spend time with each other and don’t get so caught up in other things that you for­get your part­ner. Be hon­est and share your lives, but give each other some free­dom too.

“I wouldn’t swap him,” she gig­gles. “Though he might have wanted to swap me oc­ca­sion­ally when I got a bit too bossy!”

The Bar­tons’ wed­ding in 1947 started ner­vously af­ter bride Jean ar­rived late.

The pair say putting each other first has been key to their longevity.

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