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Lifelong love

A black-and-white photo of a young man and woman on their wedding day

“She was my best friend as well as my wife.”

Eric, 102, and his late wife Kathy were devoted to each other for 51 years. Here, Eric tells us why their relationship was so special, and how life has changed without her.



Last year marked the 22nd Christmas that Eric, 102, has spent alone, after his wife died of heart complications in 2000.

Blind in one eye, he can no longer watch his beloved sports on TV or read his daily newspaper, but his weekly calls with his telephone friend help keep the vivid memories of his great love alive.

Seizing the day

Eric’s wife Kathleen was decisive enough for both of them. At the grand age of 28, Eric had never had a girlfriend (“I was just friends with girls and that was it”). Then the ‘elf-like’ face and figure of forces pin-up Kathy caught his eye. They met at Nottingham Ice Stadium in December 1948 and within a few weeks, Kathy had made up her mind.

“She told me we were going to get engaged and I said, ‘Oh, are we?’” Eric remembers. “She said, ‘So I'm going to get a ring if that's OK?’ I said, ‘Oh fine’. That was a Friday night. And the next time I saw her, the following Friday, she said, ‘Oh, did you like the ring? Yes, I've been and bought it. Now you owe me £90!’ Kathleen didn't hang around when she wanted something.”

A black and white photo of a group of sailors on a warship, guns ready and scanning the sea
Eric and fellow sailors on the HMS Hollyhock
A black and white photo of a group of sailors on a warship, guns ready and scanning the sea
Eric and fellow sailors on the HMS Hollyhock

When they met, Eric had only recently left the Royal Navy’s medical corp, where he was mentioned in Despatches for tending to the wounded and the dying at Normandy. Opportunities for happiness felt precious, with the memories of waking up swathed in bandages, fearing the end, still fresh.

A warship he was stationed on had been sunk by Japanese bombers in the Indian Ocean in 1942. “They found me floating in the sea with my life jacket on, luckily facing upwards, six hours after the ship was sunk,” Eric tells us. “I was taken to hospital unconscious and in three days I came round. I was covered in bandages and plaster. And, Lord knows, that's the only time I thought I might not come home.”

The heart of the matter

Unbeknownst to him, Kathy felt the press of time, too, as a childhood illness had left her with a weak heart.

“I used to wonder why she would only skate around the rink once and then sit down for a bit,” admits Eric. “As soon as we got chatting she told me she’d had rheumatic fever when she was seven, so she’d get out of breath. She could go to work and had a good job, but her heart was not in very good condition at all.”

“So I think I came along and she was 23 and I was 28 and I think she thought, ‘Oh well, I'm going to catch this one now’.”

She caught me and that was it and I never looked back.


Eric was a sporty city boy – a competitive cyclist, professionally trained ballroom and ice dancer, who could do the foxtrot and tango both on and off the rink. Countryside-born Kathy was the social one.

A black and white photo of a young couple sitting outside a hotel in Torbay
On honeymoon in 1949
A black and white photo of a young couple sitting outside a hotel in Torbay
On honeymoon in 1949

“She used to like the odd whisky – well, more than the odd one – sometimes the odd cigarette now and then, and she was a great socialiser. Everybody liked her,” Eric recalls.

She was always happy chatting with friends while Eric skated, swam, danced and cycled his way through their married life. “She’d say, ‘Go on – you have fun. I don't have the energy but I'll be here when you want me’.”

But her condition almost ended their relationship before it had started. “When I spoke to her father about getting married he said, ‘Yes, on one condition: you go and see the family doctor first and he'll put you in the picture.’ So I went to see him two months before we got married and he laid it on the line to me that Kathy was never going to be able to bear children. He asked me, ‘Can you accept that?’ And I said I could. And he said, ‘Away you go then.’”

Three months after meeting they were engaged, and two months later, in April 1949, they were married.

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Life together

Eric always felt his life was complete, as Kathy was all he needed. “She was my best friend as well as my wife. You could tell her anything. We never had a single big argument. It was a happy life.”

Animal lover Kathy soon formed their own family of sorts – starting with a series of Siamese cats. They’d been given a plot of land as a wedding present, and Kathy decided to add a gaggle of geese to the menagerie to keep the grass in check.

Kathy named the gander Tommy after comedian Tommy Trinder. “She used to pick the gander up like a baby and nurse it and he used to love it. But every morning after an hour spent boiling potatoes for his food from half past five, I’d take it out and he’d fly 20, 30 yards across the garden to attack me, wings flapping, to peck me on the leg! That was life.”

A black and white photo of four friends laughing while paddling in the sea
On holiday with friends
A black and white photo of four friends laughing while paddling in the sea
On holiday with friends

Both had successful careers – Eric as a buyer for bike manufacturer Raleigh, and Kathy as a teacher of comptometery, an early accounting system. They earned enough to go abroad three times a year having some of their happiest times together in Majorca, Spain and even Tunisia in North Africa. “I was offered five camels for my wife there. I told the trader, ‘Make it ten and we’ve got a deal’. Kathy laughed her socks off.”

But just eight years after they married, Kathy had her first of two open heart surgeries, the first to replace a valve weakened in childhood, and the second to replace all three. “In those days they used to sew you up with piano wire so she was made a member of the Zipper Club for all those who’ve had open heart surgery,” says Eric.

“Over the next 20 years she deteriorated a bit but then towards the end she suddenly she went downhill very quickly. She died in July 2000.”

Remembering Kathy

Eric has spent every Christmas since then alone. He admits he feels low now and again, but having an Age UK telephone friend makes all the difference.

When you know you've got a telephone call that's going to brighten your day, it lifts the darkness out of the winter months.


“And it does brighten my day on a Wednesday and all through Thursday I'm still feeling on cloud nine because I've spoken to Sally,” says Eric. “We have a laugh, we have a giggle, we have some serious moments. We talk an awful lot - everything to do with life and living.”

“Reminiscing about the good days with people at Age UK – you do bring light into our lives. I love it and I would miss it if it ever stopped.”

Volunteer for the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service

You could help someone like Eric by volunteering for just 30 minutes each week.

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Last updated: Jan 29 2024

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