If Australia wasn’t so hot, Warren Cooper – who married Aussie girl Lorraine in Brisbane 50 years ago last Saturday – would have stayed in Queensland, not Queenstown.
Cooper, who was either Queenstown’s mayor or National Member of Parliament for 38 of the past 50 years – and at one stage both – first clapped eyes on his future bride while signwriting at his father’s Queenstown hotel, Wicked Willies.
He says her figure initially attracted him.
“The attraction grew and grew and grew until it got to the stage where I knew I had to pursue her in Australia.”
Just 19, Lorraine and two woman friends had come to Queenstown for a working
holiday in the golden summer of 1956-57.
“I saw [Warren] in the hotel as soon as I arrived and said to my friends, ‘He looks OK’.
“I didn’t know he was the boss’s son.”
Fortunately for Warren, his father Bill Cooper – aka “Wicked Willie” – employed Lorraine as well as her friends.
Warren: “I told dad, ‘You didn’t put all those scatty Aussie girls on, did you?’. I reckoned we only needed one.”
Lorraine says Warren’s parents treated the trio – known as Faith, Hope and Charity – like family.
She came back to work for “Wicked” in the winter of 1957, then Warren followed her back to Brisbane soon afterwards.
After a month working for a signwriter, Warren got a clerical job with a stock and station agent.
He would have stayed in Australia, Lorraine says: “But when we got engaged, he decided it was too hot there so after we got married we came back.
“I never regretted it.”
And there have been few regrets – full stop.
Lorraine: “Married to Warren for 50 years, you couldn’t say life has been dull.
“Apart from a few hiccups, we’ve been blessed with good health and had five great children, though growing up in a political environment wasn’t easy for them.”
Sadly one daughter, Jo, died of cancer at 32 – “It affects you for the rest of your life,” says Lorraine.
She reflects on the busy days after she and Warren bought Four Seasons Motel in Stanley Street in 1970, when she was also mayoress.
“In those days, mayoress duties were considerably more than now. I was the three Ms – mother, motelier and mayoress – I never knew which hat to put on.
“Regulars to the motel thought I must be a widow because they never saw Warren.”
When Cooper ended up in the hurly-burly of national politics, including almost 12 years as a Cabinet Minister, Lorraine says “like most women, I took it personally when my husband was criticised – more personally than him”.
Warren says his wife was definitely a political asset: “Voters thought there must be something all right about Warren if she married him.”
He says in 50 years he can’t recall Lorraine ever saying he shouldn’t do something like go for a run or a drink. “I suggest she’s one of those unique people who doesn’t get fazed.”
Lorraine thinks they’re fortunate in having different personalities.
“Warren always speaks his mind, I spend a little more of my time trying to calm the waters.
“And we don’t get under one another’s skin – half the time, we don’t know what the other one’s up to.”
Reflecting down the years, and particularly the interesting places she’s travelled to and people she’s met like Pope John Paul II and the Queen, Lorraine has no hesitation saying: “Given the chance I’d do it over again like a shot.”