A couple just shy of Presteigne are celebrating their Platinum 70th wedding anniversary, crediting their faith and strong family support system for keeping them together.

Bill and Mary Coates met in 1952, got engaged in 1953, and got married in 1954. It’s estimated that only about 30 couples per-year celebrate their Platinum anniversary.

“I was a telephone operator in Farnborough in Hampshire, and Bill was doing his national service in an office in the barracks where he was stationed. We used to talk to the boys on the switchboard to pass the time, and a friend brought him along and that’s how we met,” 91-year-old Mary said.

“We didn’t stop all day talking,” said Bill, also 91. “We had to be on weekend duty and had to be by the phone 24 hours a day. When the call had finished some of the operators stayed on chatting, and that’s what we did. We probably met the next weekend after talking.”

They married in a church in Farnborough, before moving to Birmingham, where they lived for 11 years. With two children, they moved to Kington and took on Dunfield House, just over the border from Presteigne. The house became the property of the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in time to be known as The Community of Christ. It was developed into a Conference Centre for the use of Church members and other organisations.

Taking a risk, they worried their children wouldn’t settle. “We went into an empty house. Our church brought us here. we moved in October and our life changed,” Mary said. “Our only reservation was whether or not our children, Sue and Chris, would settle down. If they didn’t, then we wouldn’t have stayed, but they settled.”

Sue now lives in New Radnor, helping to support the re-opening of the Radnor Arms pub.

They started the children’s holiday, which still runs today. “Some of these children came with nothing,” Mary said. “I remember one girl coming to us and when she was leaving she didn’t know where she would be going next. It was an eye-opener for us.”

“It was very hard work for us and the staff,” Bill says. “But it was rewarding. We met a lot of people through Dunfield House. I think everything fell into place for us when we moved here.”

In 1995, Bill and Mary retired but kept busy by volunteering at the local museum in Kington, where they eventually started a small teashop to raise funds. “I made all the cakes for that,” Mary said. “I helped raise the money for the museum so that they could pay their bills. When we got to eighty, we decided we had enough and retired.”

“We don’t even know where the 70 years have gone,” Bill said. “It doesn’t seem like 70 years. You can’t comprehend where the years have gone.”

They had their celebrations on their anniversary, Wednesday, March 20. Their morning was busy with opening cards sent to them from friends and family, including members of the church. They even had one special card from royalty. “The postman came and said ‘I’ve got an envelope here from Buckingham Palace’. When I told him it was our 70th wedding anniversary he said ‘flipping heck.’ We’ve got it on our wall now for safety sake.”

Bill and Mary received a card from King Charles III and Queen Camilla
Bill and Mary received a card from King Charles III and Queen Camilla (B&R)

Over the weekend, they hosted a celebration back at Dunfield House. “My brother was there. He gave me away at the wedding,” Mary said.

“We would have liked to have seen people who came to the wedding, but there are probably only four or five who are still alive,” Bill said.

When asked about their secret for a healthy, long marriage, they credit their faith for keeping them together for so long. “We worked together for thirty years, and some people can’t even stand thirty minutes together. I don’t think we’ve ever had a properly bad row,” Mary said. “I think being in the church meant we never felt pressurised. You feel like people are your friends.”

“It’s one of those things of life,” Bill said. “I think we just clicked and that was that. I think we can look back and say we did the right thing.”

“I met the right fella,” Mary says. “It’s give and take, and the lifestyle we have had has been good for us. We’ve had a strong family through it all.”

“We’re just a couple and that's it,” Bill says. “That’s how we’ve lived. I don’t think either of us have ever looked at anybody else.”