‘A bolt from the blue’, Love at first sight leads to 60 years of marriage

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SIXTY years ago, Alan Cooke took Joan McLeod for a coffee on a wet Friday afternoon and asked if she believed in God.

After Joan confirmed she did, the couple took a train trip from Dunedin to St Kilda, where Cooke proposed in a rickety old train shed.

Within a year, they were married at the Presbyterian Church in Garston.

Five children, 14 grandchildren and three great grandchildren later, they’re now celebrating their diamond anniversary.

“It was a bolt from the blue,” Joan says. “He said ‘will you marry me’ and I said ‘someday perhaps’.

The Cookes, now both 82 and two of the most familiar faces in the town, met while at teachers’ college in Dunedin.

“I’ll tell you the story because he was blinded by love,” Joan, who was born in Queenstown, says.

“In those days you didn’t flat, we boarded. Flatting was sinful.

“You didn’t go to bed early though. So at midnight, this handsome man came with a girl he’d taken out to the town hall dance in Dunedin.

“He looked past the girl that he had, saw me, and that was curtains. It was love at first sight.”

The couple moved to Arrowtown the year they were married, 1954, into a crib now used by Sir Michael Hill’s son Mark as a sculpture studio.

There was no running water, and the small water tank emptied quickly in summer and froze in winter. Three years later they moved to Shotover Street, and now live in Fernhill.

Alan, who taught at Wakatipu High School, says they’ll celebrate their anniversary at Christmas when family from overseas are in town.

And the secret to a happy 60-year marriage?

“Living in Queenstown has helped,” Alan says. “We’ve both been involved in the community and it’s been such a lovely place to spend time together and raise a family.

“Other than that, my advice would be to take the rough with the smooth.”

Joan says: “I would say be kind to one another. I think that’s it.”