Now, here’s a Valentine’s Day story worth reading: Ronald and Dorothy Hildreth recently celebrated an astonishing 72 years of marriage.
Ron and Dot, as they’re known, are life-long Salvationists. Ron has been a dedicated bandsman since he began playing the baritone at 12 years old. To celebrate their anniversary in December last year, the local corps organised a flash mob to play Christmas carols outside their house.
It all came together on one busy day, recalls their great-niece Carla Lindsey. She put the call out on Facebook—and as evening fell, over 50 people turned up outside Ron and Dot’s house. Band member Joanna began with a lone cornet, playing ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ outside their window.
More brass band members joined in, before a chorus of voices joined them. That wasn’t the only surprise on the day. Carla asked Hamilton Mayor Andrew King to sign a card. Instead, he turned up at Ron and Dot’s house to give them his personal congratulations. A card from Simon Bridges (leader of the opposition) was also hand delivered by their MP, and a local florist
pulled out all the stops to source a bouquet with Christmas lilies—which had been the original wedding flowers.
‘It was lovely that all these people came together at a moment’s notice to celebrate their anniversary,’ says Carla. ‘It made them feel connected to their community again.’
Ron and Dot met in 1945, in true Salvationist tradition, at a friend of a relative’s house. Ron was freshly back from WWII, where he was in the airforce, stationed in the Solomon Islands. There wasn’t much money after the war, so Dot got married in a friend’s wedding dress. They made a handsome couple. ‘Well, he wasn’t too bad, I guess,’ quips Dot.
Ron has worked with aircraft—his passion—all his life. They had two children, Craig and Sherryl. Craig shared his father’s love for planes. They worked together for 11 years in the aircraft industry, and Craig even got his pilot’s licence. ‘He took me out for a flight, and when we got back he said, “Well this is the first thing I’ve ever done where you couldn’t
tell me how to do it”. They were marvellous words, I’ll never forget those words,’ recalls Ron.
Tragically, Craig was killed in a car accident at the age of 27. Today, as we chat, it would have been his 65th birthday. It was their faith and the Army community that got them through, says Dot. ‘You couldn’t do without it, I don’t know how people do it. No, you wouldn’t do without your faith.’
There has been joy, too, in the everyday commitments that make up family life. Dot’s eyes light up as she shows a picture of her six-month-old great-granddaughter. And they are grateful for their daughter, Sherryl, who visits daily.
Can they imagine life without each other? ‘No, we can’t imagine it. That’s the problem,’ says Dot poignantly. She is in the end stages of terminal illness. ‘I’m quite happy for her to go because I don’t like to see her suffer, but I don’t want her to go,’ says Ron.
So, what is the secret to a long and happy marriage? ‘I don’t know, it just happened!’ laughs Ron. But he further reflects: ‘Back in our day you had to
stay together, because if you split up the wife had nothing, so we didn’t think about it. Today it’s too easy to pack up and leave.’
Dot adds her wise advice: ‘You just have to work together. You’ve got to work at it.’
Now, that’s a true love story
(c) by Ingrid Barratt - 'War Cry' magazine, 9 February 2019 p3. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.