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Torbay pensioners find love in lockdown

Engagement for couple with combined age of 160

Love has blossomed in lockdown for a couple who had both previously sworn "never again". And now septuagenarian Sylvia Harrison and octogenarian Graham White are to be betrothed. 

Sylvia had nursed her second husband Don for more than 10 years before he died and now lives in Brixham. Graham, who has lived in Preston for 32 years, was equally adamant that his three marriages would see out his days and was most definitely not looking for another relationship.

After the pair met through social events organised by Ageing Well Torbay, they kept being thrown together through a mutual love of music and dancing – jive in particular. They first met at a meet and mingle at Brixham Rugby Club organised by Community Builder, Rosemary Clarke and whilst they exchanged pleasantries there no fireworks.

But their friendship initially was just that, a friendship, and they began to meet up regularly for coffees after Graham, a former rep and holiday camp photographer, worked out Sylvia’s address and dropped a card through her door asking to see her again.

Graham, with his white hair, pulled back in a ponytail, cuts a memorable figure dressed, as he often does, with a full-length black leather coat and fingers adorned with silver rings. Although Sylvia spotted him (she describes him as quirky), her head was not turned. “I was very clear that I did not want a relationship,” said Sylvia, a former nurse in Bristol, before laughing and saying “I didn’t  want some old chap that is in his eighties.

Don was the love of my life, and I was happy with that,” she added. It was the same for Graham who at 85-years-old was happy with his lot attending the odd Ageing Well Torbay event in the Bay along with his meetings of the Jordan Lodge of the Masons in Torquay and the Knights Templar. “I was quite happy. I know a good few people and have enough friends. I wasn’t looking,” he said.

But as lockdown loomed they both realised they did not want to face it alone and instead agreed to spend it separately and together, at first flitting between each other’s houses without ever seeing anyone else. The times apart became fewer and both realised that things were changing or as Syliva, who is in her mid-seventies, puts it: “I realised that I was ready to bring someone else fully into my life.” Graham felt the same. 

Looking back on lockdown Sylvia sums it up: “As Charles Dickens said, and it is particularly relevant to us, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, we have loved it.”

During the second week of July, as they again started to go out and about, they celebrated by getting engaged. As lockdown continues to ease, the next steps are to introduce each other to their families – Graham has four daughters, one son, eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great, great-grandchildren. Sylvia, on the other hand, has one daughter, one son and three grandchildren.  They expect to be on the road and away from the Bay for some time visiting friends and family and no doubt listening Willie Nelson, one of the musicians who helped to bring them together.

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