Tom and Dot Delaney: 56 years and counting

 |  January 28, 2010

This portly pair can often be spotted ambling along Nimmanhaemin Road, hands clasped firmly together, heads bent towards each other in conversation. He, gentleman that he is, walks on the road-side of the pavement, instinctively protecting his wife from any possible harm. She, impeccably accessorised at all times, is always dressed in loose brightly-coloured dresses of her own design. To the outsider – who we all are – they often appear to be in a little world of their own, oblivious to friendly waves I often frantically send from across the street.

I have seen the pair, and socialised with them often, over the course of their twelve years here in Chiang Mai. The one word which just about everyone, including myself, uses to describe them is ‘nice’. Not the bland, innocuous, rather insulting nice, but the genuine, warmhearted, solid, salt-of-the-earth nice.

Not many articles are written about nice people, simply because we seem to enjoy reading about the more salacious sides of life. But as this is the Love. Sex. Marriage. issue, and since divorce rates world-wide seem to be on a constant rise, one of the most remarkable things about the Delaneys is that they have been married, and happily at that, for 56 years. An achievement definitely worth writing, and reading about.

“We met at school when I was 16 and Dot was 14,” begins Tom in his now-diluted Yorkshire accent. “It seems as though we, and our family, were always in each other’s lives. We lived in the same avenue and frankly I never had a chance,” he chuckles, as Dot nudges him with an affectionate grin. “Well I thought he was a showoff,” says Dot tartly, “he was good at sports you see, his whole family was. We were married when he was 21 and I was 19. In those days everyone got married at that age, otherwise you were on the shelf.”

In spite of Tom’s military enlistment at the age of 18 and his many months, even years, of absence from home, the Delaneys began courting old style via letters and, once married during one of his leaves, they managed to produce four children within the first four years of marriage. Today they have a total of five children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandson.

The first few years were tough on the young family, with Tom being deployed to Malaysia, where he was sergeant in the Malay Emergency. “Tom was in the jungle fighting the communist and he lost a few friends,” started Dot who was quickly told, “hush now, it was a long time ago, I don’t like talking about it.”

“Well, you only came home once in two years,” complained Dot who was quick to add that distance in this case did not make the heart wander, but actually grow fonder and stronger. “We then lived in Germany for seven years, which was a great time because of the military community, which was like one big supportive family,” continued Dot, who seems to be the allocated spokesperson in this relationship, though Tom, not wanting to miss out, often interjects mid-sentence. “There was one time when he told me he was going to Kuwait for two weeks during the crisis, but didn’t come home for eight months!”

The Delaneys enjoyed military life, “if you didn’t like somewhere, you knew it wasn’t for long because you would leave soon anyway, so you made the most of it, and it was exciting not knowing where you were going to go next,” said Dot.

Being apart a fair amount in their early married life was beneficial to their marriage she added. “It bonded us together, and because we weren’t living on top of each other, we developed our own personalities and interests.”
“She was with the children all the time,” said Tom. “That’s why I am so bossy,” she giggled, “I am, I am”. “All women are bossy,” Tom nodded sagely.

Having put in 25 years military service, Tom retired in his mid forties and the pair opened a pub in Yorkshire. Though they thoroughly enjoyed their pub, and two others which they opened over the years, they had developed itchy feet from years of travel, so once the children had flown the roost, they decided to move to Hong Kong. “We loved Hong Kong,” said Dot. “We loved Hong Kong,” repeated Tom, who is slightly deaf, relying somewhat on his wife to navigate him through conversations with others.

For fifteen years they lived in Hong Kong while holidaying in Thailand, a country they grew to love. After the 1997 handover, the pair decided to move closer to their children, who were now scattered all over Europe – England, France, Germany _ but before heading back west, they stopped over in Chiang Mai, thinking to stay for a year or two. It took them twelve years to leave Chiang Mai, which they finally did two years ago.

Sadly the couple didn’t find Cyprus to their liking, having lived in Asia for 26 years. “We learnt our lesson,” grinned Tom, “Chiang Mai is home, so we returned in March to live in Mae Taeng with our son Tom and his wife Kitty, at their farm, but finally moved back to Chiang Mai in December”.

Having at last decided where to spend the remainder of their days, the Delaneys are very excited to get settled back into their favourite apartment on Nimmanhaemin Road, P.T. Place, and reestablish their friendships here.
So, what is the secret to their marriage’s longevity?

“We have our ups and downs of course,” ponders Dot, “nothing is easy. We are complete opposites. Tom likes country and western, I like modern music. I am a people person, and while Tom doesn’t dislike people, he is more private than me, but he still always encourages me to go out. Tom watches documentaries and news,” – “I like to watch educational things,” he interjects – “while I like Oprah, Martha and quizzes. Tom likes sports while I like dressing up and dancing.”

While they may not have much in common, the one thing they do have in common is the most important of all: family. “Our family’s wellbeing is number one, and we talk by phone or email with them every week,” explains Tom. “Oh, and we both like a good gin and tonic,” he grins.

In twelve years, I have never actually seen one without the other, and asked them about it. “We are never apart,” says Tom. “I think that when couples go their different ways that is the beginning of the end.” I also ask them whether their hands are actually fused together, as, even during the interview, I notice their fingers are often entwined. “It’s not for the reason you think, if I let go, Dot goes shopping!” A good humoured huff by Dot is followed by a quick confirmation, “I get excited and wander off when I see a shop, thank God for mobiles, so we can find each other again!”

The pair agree that they are saddened by the rate of divorce these days. They speculate that couples probably don’t know each other because they don’t work hard or try hard enough. To them, it took them at least seven years to get to know each other, and believe that people should give one another at least that amount of time. “When you are married you have to change the way you think, you are not just thinking for yourself anymore, you are thinking of, and sometimes for, someone else. It is not Tom or Dot, it is Tom and Dot,” – I wasn’t even sure who said what in that sentence, as they seemed to start, add and complete it between them.

“I go out at lunch time with my Thai lady friends,” says Dot, whose friends, including her daughter-in-law Kitty, are mostly Thai, “but in twelve years here I think I have only been out at night without Tom once. I know it may not work for everyone, but it does for us.”

“We have been married for so long, and our children have all grown up, so it is just us left,” smiles Tom, adding, “our secret is that we like each other. We enjoy each other’s company. We really do.”

“If we had to give a tip for a long-lasting marriage,” mused Dot, “it would be to realise that it is not easy. You have to respect each other. Of course love is important, that is how it all starts off, but it doesn’t hit you for many years that you can’t live without each other and that you need each other to survive. At that point you realise that you really really like and need each other.”

“Then there is romance,” said Tom, leaning over for a shoulder squeeze, “Dot looks after me well, she fusses over my health and keeps me alive and I always make the gin and tonics and bring her a cup of tea in bed every morning.”

So there we are. A ‘nice’ couple who are so obviously still in love after 56 years. Not many of us can lay claim to that. And while their recipe for longevity may not suit all palettes, their story of love, romance and marriage should silence some of the cynics out there.