“Always be kind and loving.” That, according to 95-year-old Isobel Harvie of Melrose, is the secret to reaching your platinum wedding anniversary, which she celebrates this week with her husband of seven decades, George, writes Sandy Neil.
For Isobel and George, 94, married exactly 70 years ago tomorrow, on November 2, 1942, in Motherwell, where the two grew up, and met.
Both were born in the Lanarkshire town – Isobel on October 5, 1917, and George on March 1, 1918 – and both attended the same school, Dalziel High School, even heading off to Glasgow University together, where George studied English and history, and Isobel, French and German.
Almost immediately, the couple were split up by the Second World War. George served first in the army with the Highland Light Infantry, and then volunteered to join the RAF, as a photo reconnaissance pilot, flying Spitfires.
“He was always being trained for something,” said Christopher, George and Isobel’s son, “and happily, he never heard a shot fired in anger.”
Sadly, the couple’s best man, and George’s best friend and cousin, was not so lucky. Dr Tom Notman was killed by a shell aimed at the hospital where he worked unprotected. The medic was awarded the Military Cross for bravery while evacuating the wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino, but died before learning of his decoration.
George and Isobel’s first two children, Christopher (born 1944) and Jane (born 1946), grew up in a prefab house for returning servicemen in Motherwell, where George was teaching. In 1949, the ex-soldier became head teacher at St Boswells Primary School, and the young family moved into the schoolhouse, where the couple’s third child, Stephen, was born in 1950.
Here, George organised the village’s television showing of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, and pressed for the building of St Boswells’ new, and current, school.
And it’s not just George’s marriage that has staying power: in 1950 he founded the St Boswells Drama Club, which is still going strong 62 years later.
“They have had interesting careers, with continuing Border connections,” Christopher said, “but they’ve always liked challenges and Dad wanted to move into secondary education.”
So in 1958, George started teaching English at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh, and from the mid-1960s on the family rented Sundial Cottage in Redpath – “a wonderful place,” Isobel recalls.
“He was a very good teacher: he even managed to teach subjects he couldn’t understand at all,” explains Christopher, who became Professor of British and Irish Studies at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
George rose to become Head of Humanities (then called ‘Liberal Studies’) at the Edinburgh College of Commerce, which is now part of the city’s Napier University. After bringing up the family, Isobel also taught French and English there part-time.
When George took early retirement in 1979, the couple moved from Redpath to Melrose, where, Prof Harvie reveals: “They eat like horses. They like their food, they like their telly, and their fantastic view of Darnick, the Gala hills and the Tweed Valley.”
He added, mystified: “They eat the house down – but they don’t put on any weight! Dad’s still got his figure: I’m sure he could still fit into his old army uniform.”
In retirement, George was also singing baritone for the Eildon Singers well into his eighties, and playing jazz and classical music on the piano, while Isobel, a keen quilter and writer, penned a series of four books telling her ‘patchwork’ of family stories.
Prof Harvie, who served as an SNP MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife from 2007 until his retirement in 2011, joked about the political differences between him and his mother. “She’s a solid Liberal,” he said, “and regards me as a sort of menace.” George also stood as a Liberal candidate for Edinburgh Council in the 1960s.
“They’ve had Liberal loyalties all their lives,” he said, “except when Isobel voted in 1945 for her minister’s son, and helped return Dr Robert MacIntyre as the first SNP MP. She hasn’t forgiven herself!”
George and Isobel’s carer, Wilma Hewitt from Melrose, paid tribute to the couple, saying: “There’s not many people that get to 70 years of marriage. It’s kind of special. George said to me yesterday, ‘I love Isobel the same now as I did when I married her’.”
“Age has caught up with dad’s hearing and mum’s memory,” Christopher concluded, “but thanks to their carer Wilma, they still enjoy their food and television, and Jane and Steve tour them round the land they love and see every day from the great window.
“They couldn’t have been better parents to us.”