Sprightly 94 year-olds say close family is key to happiness

Sprightly 94 year-olds say close family is key to happiness

7 November 2018

THEY were only 17 when they first met and 77 happy years later, Jimmy and Helen Todd can claim a true love match as they mark their platinum wedding anniversary.

The couple celebrated 70 years together as man and wife with a special lunch last week when they were surrounded by family members from home, England, Norway, Italy and the United States.

Both still active 94 year-olds, the couple were married on October 26, 1948, at Ballynafeigh Methodist Church in Belfast by the bride’s father, the Rev R H Gallagher.

Mrs Todd looked beautiful and wore a lace gown which had been previously been worn by four other family members, including her sister, Mrs Mabel Frost, who was her matron of honour.

The couple made their home in Boardmills, just outside Saintfield, and maintained professional careers as they became parents to three children, and later, grandparents to eight and great-grandparents to seven.

None of this would have happened, however, had Mrs Todd not have changed her mind about going out with her future husband.

Mr Todd told the Recorder that he spotted Helen in a crowded milk bar across from the Grand Opera House in Belfast one day.

“I was there with the Inst rugby team and I saw Helen there with the Methody hockey team. I think it was 1941, when I was 17,” he recalled.

“I asked someone who knew her to see if she would go out with me, but the answer came back no, that she didn’t know who I was. 

But when we were both at Queen’s University a couple of years later, I asked again and this time the answer was yes.”

The retired Queen’s University Belfast professor added:  “It’s difficult to believe that we met 77 years ago, started going out 75 years ago and have been married for 70 years.”

For someone who is a retired maths and physics teacher, romance could be quite the abstract notion for Mrs Todd. 

Asked what she credits her long marriage to, she replied: “For me, the most important thing for a good marriage is keeping up close family relationships, being lucky with having a group of good friends and, above all, having lots of fun.

“Jimmy and I can have a disagreement but can always laugh about it afterwards. How long a good marriage lasts is down to fate and the genes you inherit.”

Mrs Todd added: “We count our blessings that we are still able to enjoy fun with family and our remaining friends at 94 years old.”

The icing on the cake for the couple was the rare coming together of family and friends at the celebrations held in Rockmount Golf Club recently.

It was the first time that the seven great-grandchildren — one just a few weeks old — have been together.

The couple are well-known in the community with Mrs Todd still an active member of Boardmills Women’s Institute and her husband enjoying the honour of being Rockmount’s oldest member.

They married at 24 after graduating from Queen’s University — Mrs Todd with a degree in Physics and Mr Todd with a double first-class honours degree in Agriculture and Chemistry.

While his wife went on to teach at Sullivan Upper in Holywood, and for a time at South Eastern Regional College — the old ‘Tech’, in Downpatrick — Mr Todd studied at Queens’ College, Cambridge, before going to Kenya to do animal nutrition research under a Colonial Scholarship.

Their son, Martyn, and elder daughter, Susan, were born in Nairobi while their youngest child, Catherine, was born in Northern Ireland when they returned to Saintfield from their travels.

Mr Todd became an international authority on trace element nutrition in farm animals. He retired from Queen’s University Belfast as Professor of Agriculture and Food Science in 1986.

On the sports field he shone in rugby, playing for his school, Royal Belfast Academical Institution, then for Instonians, London Irish and Queens’ College, Cambridge. 

While in Kenya, he once captained the East African team against the Springboks.