Their lives were entwined years before they met, so it wasn’t a surprise to their family when Desmond and Ruth Peate, who had been married for 67 years, died on the same day.
“I always knew that when one of them went, the other would go very quickly after,” their oldest son Graham said.
“It’s a blessing in a way that we didn’t have to tell one of them about the other passing.”
Desmond – known as Des – went first in the early hours of October 11 at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital.
Ruth followed just before 9pm, likely unaware her husband had died only hours earlier.
The Auckland couple were married in 1953, but their lives were linked long before then when Des’ youngest sister, Phyllis, struck up a correspondence with a young girl on the other side of the world.
In 1943, Ruth was living in Catford, London, when her school was hit by a German bomb, killing students and teachers. That day, however, 10-and-a-half-year-old Ruth had been at home sick.
Back in New Zealand, Phyllis and her classmates at Auckland Girls Grammar School heard about the tragedy. They decided to adopt Ruth’s school, Sandhurst Road School, and send the children food parcels.
Some of the food that came from the Peate family ended up going to Ruth and her family. The ‘thank you’ note Ruth wrote back started a near-decade-long correspondence with Phyllis.
When, eight years later, Des headed to England to further his studies, his sister told him to look up her pen pal.
He was invited around for “tea”, which turned out to be his soon-to-be wife’s 19th birthday bash. It turned out they worked three buildings down from each other in the heart of London, so they ended up spending a lot of time together.
Des was smitten, and soon after he wrote in a letter home that he’d met “a very friendly and bright” young woman.
“She has the cutest way of moving her nose and making faces especially when forced to play the piano without decent music,” he wrote.
A year and a half later they were engaged and on July 11, 1953, they married on a sunny day in Carshalton, Surrey.
They set sail for New Zealand on the RMS Rangitiki a year later to start their lives together.
“They were totally in love with each other, Dad was always looking after Mum,” Graham said.
They had three children – Graham came first, then his sisters Jennifer and Heather.
Des, an engineer by trade, worked hard at everything he did, making sure he could always provide for his family, Graham said.
Soon they bought a house in Takapuna, then later in Bayswater, where they lived until 1981, when Des’ work took them first to Singapore, then the United Kingdom.
While there they entertained many travellers from around the world – including their kids who were now on their OEs, Graham said.
When Des retired in 1988, the couple came back to New Zealand and bought a hobby farm in Whangateau, near Matakana. Des had often said if he hadn’t been an engineer, he would have taken up farming.
As both a noted history aficionado and computer enthusiast, Des combined both his hobbies in later years and digitised all the letters the couple had shared with their families and each other.
He typed each one out and collated them into a small volume for the couple to be able to look back on.
Ruth spent much of her time doting on her family, helping her community, playing the piano and making crafts, Graham said.
Eventually they moved to Stanmore Bay, until ill health meant Ruth had to move into a retirement village. Finally, they both moved to Summerset Falls in Warkworth, where they lived out their twilight years together.
A service was held at the Chapel of the Faithfull Funeral Services on the Hibiscus Coast and the couple were later cremated together at a private ceremony.