When Charles and Margaret Verheyden set eyes on each other 65 years ago at a rowing club in Amsterdam little did they know that their life together would take them across the world, bringing adventure, music, family, faith, fun, sadness, but always, love.
The Northmead couple have now been married for 62 years and were among the many couples to attend the annual Diocese of Parramatta Marriage Mass on October 28 at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
“We met at the rowing club, because we both had the same hobby of rowing,” says Margaret.
“Charles spotted me first – he was the coach.”
“And,” says Charles, “we’re still rowing the same boat together after 65 years.”
The pair became engaged in 1954, but shortly after that, Charles left the Netherlands for Singapore where he worked for an import/export business.
“His company said, if we send you, you have to stay there for two years, so we didn’t see each other for the next two years,” Margaret says.
“We wrote a lot of letters,” Charles recalls.
At the end of the two years, Margaret set off by boat from Amsterdam to Singapore, where Charles had the wedding all arranged. Unfortunately, the Suez Canal was closed at that time, and Margaret had to sail around the bottom of South Africa and then back up to Singapore and she was late arriving.
“I had to change all the wedding arrangements because she arrived later,” Charles says.
But Margaret eventually arrived and the wedding took place, with no family members present, but many of Charles’ colleagues and friends. It was celebrated by the local parish priest, who by chance, was a Dutchman.
They honeymooned in a cottage in North Borneo, which was part of Charles’ work territory and they were later posted to Johor Bahru in Malaya.
Over the next 11 years, the couple had nine children – four boys and five girls – born in five different countries.
“We have been very blessed with our family,” Margaret says. “We have a lot of fun in our family and all of our children get on very well together and love each other and it’s such a blessing.”
At the end of their time in Southeast Asia, the family moved to Australia, having decided a life in the Netherlands wasn’t the right fit for them.
“We arrived in Sydney at 12pm on the 27th of February, 1965, and by 2pm on that first day I had a job, painting,” says Charles.
Initially they lived in the Leightonfield Migrant Hostel, but within six months had bought their first house in Guildford. They later lived in Carlingford and Baulkham Hills and have now been at Northmead for 33 years.
Charles forged a career and business in property valuing and was an expert witness in court matters for many years. He is a Life Fellow of the Real Estate Institute of Australia and was Chairman of the Institute at one stage. As he approaches his 90th birthday, he has only recently retired.
While managing their nine children, Margaret also applied for a job as a teacher’s aide at Macarthur Girls High, and worked there for 25 years. She retired at 68 and then worked in a friend’s shop until she was 70. Now in her 80s, she has continued to operate as Charles’ secretary, doing all the computer office work.
Throughout their long life together, Charles and Margaret say their Catholic faith has been a constant anchor for them throughout all the ups and downs.
“Without faith we wouldn’t be sitting here,” Charles says. “We’ve always said our morning and night prayers and always Church on a Sunday, without fail. Our faith was central to the way we brought up our family and to our marriage.”
Faith also helped sustain them when their youngest daughter Carmen died at age 22.
“That was very sad, very difficult,” says Margaret. “Our faith did help.”
They have been involved in parish life at both Christ the King Parish, North Rocks and Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Baulkham Hills and are good friends with Fr Wim Hoekstra, through his family connection with the Catholic Dutch Migrants Association.
The couple, who enjoy the arts, have sung in church choirs all their lives, as well as other community choirs, including the choir for the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games.
“Singing in choirs gives you happiness and a feeling of being with a nice group of people,” says Margaret.”
Asked what makes a happy marriage, Charles, who has a great sense of humour, shoots straight back with: “Sex! Sex almost every day. Almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday, almost on Wednesday …”.
But, after that joke, he says that respect and humility are the key components for a good marriage.
“Without respect, you’ve got no communication. It’s a growth process. Love cannot persist unless it’s on the basis of respect for one another,” he says.
“It’s an ongoing revelation of one another. At 90, I’m slowly getting to know her.”
“Yes,” says Margaret. “You have to keep him interested.”
The couple attended the annual Diocese of Parramatta Marriage Mass at the Cathedral on October 28 as they do every year.
“Oh yes, we wouldn’t miss it,” says Margaret. “You feel good when you go to that Mass. It’s a special Mass. You listen to the words they say and you meet some lovely people with like interests.”