HAPPY 80TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, GEORGE AND FLORENCE!
22nd December 2016
A tribute from their daughter.
During the Christmas period, George and Florence will celebrate their 'Oak' Wedding Anniversary: 80 years of married life here in the Diocese of Leeds.
All of their lives they proved to be an absolute blessing for every Parish Priest: always ready to volunteer and produce the goods. Never seeking profuse thanks, fuss or publicity –which is exactly how they feel now as they approach this milestone anniversary. But such a special occasion shouldn’t pass by without a mention – even though they are not quite at their merry best at the moment, both now being aged over 100 years old – so here is an epistle of recollections compiled with the greatest of respect, admiration and love.
Florence’s father had been born in Pennsylvania, but joined the British Army and was shipped to South Africa as the Boer War had just come to an end. ‘They heard I was coming and decided to surrender,’ he would say. Eventually settling with relatives in Normanton, he worked underground hewing coal until retiring at the age of 70.
George’s father, who was a regular in the Royal Horse Artillery, settled at the end of his term as a blacksmith, wheelwright and coachbuilder in West Ardsley. George (who always joked that the Titanic sank in the April and he was launched in the May!) followed in his father’s footsteps to become a master coachbuilder – mainly in the motor industry. Whether converting Rolls Royces into ambulances or making Leeds public transport vehicles safe, his meticulous skills never varied: ‘All to Westminster Abbey standards, built to last forever!’ was the family joke. His joinery talents also came in handy for church painting and maintenance: he made altar stools, created a mobile Baptismal font and sorted out all the problems with which his priests presented him.
As a young man, George enjoyed weight-lifting, gymnastics, swimming, fishing – and the one which would change his life –cycling. He met Florence when he joined the Normanton Wheelers Cycling Club and soon after their marriage they moved to Leeds. Theirs was the first marriage ceremony conducted by Fr O’Meara, who went on to build a fine reputation at the Holy Rosary and also initiated the building of the Leeds Irish Centre. The couple had two daughters who loved and appreciated their father’s fascinating historical knowledge as much as their mother’s talents as a dressmaker.
On leaving school at 14, Florence’s main choices had been: turn left for Wakefield’s woollen mills, or right for Leeds and tailoring factories. She turned right, catching the 6 a.m. Leeds train until she and some pals bought bikes for their return journey, Mondays to Saturdays. After WWII, her happy marriage and family life were of prime importance and it was quite usual to have additional jobs to earn a few extra shillings to make life more comfortable – so as well as home-sewing and being a barmaid at the Greyhound Stadium, Florence’s love of Leeds United found her working there for 40 years. Running the tea bar and the original Souvenir Shop, she travelled officially with the team to places like Barcelona, Paris, and with George, to two Cup Final Banquets at the Café Royal in London (once as winners; once not).
In her heyday as a tailoress, Florence could make anything: fashionable clothes, gigantic stage curtains and inventive costumes for church pantomimes. She also made superb vestments for home and abroad: for local parishes, for Fr Kelly (then Chaplain to the Little Sisters of the Poor) and even – in 1985 - some alterations for the very tall Bishop David Konstant’s inauguration regalia. Florence had become a Catholic by chance, when the family was persuaded by a Catholic neighbour to send the eldest of four children to St John’s Catholic School, ‘just across the road.’ She is the only one of her siblings who maintained the Faith – but such faith! She still keeps her prayer book near her at all times, says daily prayers, and the couple receive the Holy Eucharist at home from a Eucharistic Minister.
Before health problems took their toll on both George and Florence in the past 20 years, they had enjoyed numerous pilgrimages to Walsingham, Lourdes and Rome. Frustrating, yet successful speech lessons from his daughter helped George overcome speech problems from a stroke – but like many busy, lively people, coping with a more sedate lifestyle has been hard. The loss of their younger daughter last year was devastating, but both George and Florence remain content with peace of mind in the care of their elder daughter and son-in-law. Their faith in God has been fervent for over a century; they have no fear of meeting Him and hope to be re-united with their dear families and friends.
This 80th wedding anniversary will be far quieter than all the lively parties since 1996, now firmly rooted in family memories. Sadly, some of those happy guests are no longer with us, and others fast approaching the centenarian club themselves! There has been a visit and Communion from Bishop Marcus Stock; there will be a few dedicated Masses on the day; another card from HM The Queen; a special Blessing from Pope Francis –all organised by the family with an abundance of love, best wishes and blessings.