Maureen Justice and Hugh Robertson have rekindled their love after more than 50 years and are happier than ever.
Maureen Justice felt her heart quicken as she saw the email. It was from her first love, Hugh Robertson, whom she had not heard from in more than 50 years.
She had thought about him often but, reading the opening line her heart sank. He appeared to have forgotten her.
“Dear Mrs Justice,” the email began, too formal to be from the teenager she remembered so fondly.
“I thought, ‘My goodness! Have I remembered this chap for 50 years and he doesn’t even know who I am?” says Maureen, 70.
She needn’t have worried. For as she read on, it was clear Hugh had held on to their special memories as much as she had. Hugh’s email continued: “If you’re the Maureen Fallon I last saw on Monday, September 7, 1959, at Piarco Airport, I’ve never forgotten you.”
“I was thrilled,” says Maureen with a smile. She was 14 when she last saw Hugh, then 17, as she boarded a flight from Trinidad back to Venezuela, where her father was working at the time.
Hugh was then living in Trinidad and they had planned to meet up again just months later. But her dad lost his job, dashing their plans. And despite years of letter-writing they eventually lost touch.
Maureen settled in England, married and started a family. Hugh, now 72, also married and had a son, settling in Australia. But Maureen would often think of her first love, especially when she heard “their song”, Cliff Richard’s Living Doll.
And now she knew Hugh had never forgotten her. Their resurrected friendship saw their old feelings resurfacing and they met again when Hugh visited England three years ago. Last September they married.
“One of the lovely things is how much we laugh together,” smiles former civil servant Maureen at their home in Southport, Merseyside. “I’ve never laughed so much or been so happy. I didn’t even know people could be this happy.”
They first met in September 1958. Maureen’s father was working in Venezuela for an oil company and the family were making their annual visit to Britain. They flew to Trinidad to pick up a transatlantic liner. While waiting for the boat, her father called Hugh’s father, a former colleague who was living on the island.
Maureen remembers: “It was a Friday night and usually they’d be out shopping. But Hugh’s sister Thesbina had an infected mosquito bite so they decided not to go. “Hugh and I clocked eyes on each other. He was good-looking with long eyelashes and blue eyes. He was very shy, really into his music and just lovely.” Hugh’s recollection of meeting Maureen was just as clear as hers.
“I remember this cute chick,” he recalls, “and when I saw her sitting on the fender of my father’s pick-up truck, I thought, ‘Wow’.” The families met twice in three days and Hugh and Maureen spent as much time together as possible, accompanied by Hugh’s sister.
“There was a lot of flirting between Hugh and me. We went swimming and we saw the local sights. Hugh treated me like a princess. "And then he kissed me goodbye on the steps of his house. It felt so grown up, so romantic.”
The pair wrote regularly and the following summer, Maureen travelled alone to Trinidad to spend a “wonderful” fortnight with the Robertson family. She laughs as she recalls meeting him at the airport with his dad and sister. “Hugh shook hands with me and his father said, ‘Go on, kiss the girl!’
“We went to movies, parties and for walks. He taught me a few chords of King Creole on the guitar which meant he could put his arms around me. “His sister still had to accompany us but there was one afternoon we were allowed to a coffee bar together alone to sort out my return visa.
We had a milkshake in town and we felt so grown up. Hugh made plans to visit Maureen in Venezuela that December and their innocent childhood romance seemed sure to continue.
Then Maureen’s dad was made redundant, and they instead embarked on a tour of the US and Canada visiting friends as he looked for another job. Maureen remembers it as a miserable time. She missed a year of school by being uprooted as they travelled around.
Yet there was one saving grace. “It was awful,” she says, “but I’d write to Hugh to let him know where we were headed next. "And by the time we arrived, there would be at least one letter waiting for me from him at the general post office. It was lovely having those letters to look forward to.”
By 1961 Maureen was back in England and it was clear they would probably never see each other again. Hugh was still abroad and as they started other relationships their letters faded, ending around 1963. Maureen met her husband Tom at a dance.
They married in the mid-60s and had two daughters, now aged 49 and 44. Her family knew of her teenage romance and whenever Living Doll was on the radio, she’d turn to them and say: “Ooh, I’ve just had a Hugh Robertson moment.”
Eventually Hugh, who was working as a service co-ordination manager, settled in Perth, Australia, with his wife and son Stuart, 45. But his marriage was not a happy one and occasionally his mind would drift back to memories of Maureen.
He says: “I even looked online for Maureen in the late 1990s but I found nothing. I often wondered what happened to her because there was no closure. "I always felt guilty about not calling quits properly. Maureen didn’t realise this but I had every intention of marrying her.”
Then in 2009 Maureen was clearing out her attic when she came across a shoebox filled with Hugh’s letters and photos. “Reading them over was like stepping back in time,” she says. “I wanted so much to see him again.”
She searched on Facebook and found no trace of Hugh but, thanks to her unusual name, she found his sister Thesbina. Maureen sent her a message, which Thesbina emailed Hugh about. He says: “Incredibly, the day before I’d heard one of our songs in my office and as I sat there listening to it, all these memories came flooding back.”Thesbina forgot to include Maureen’s email address in her message but Hugh now had Maureen’s married surname and was able to trace her. “I emailed her and the following day I had an email back,” he says. “I was elated to hear from her.” They began constant contact and within weeks they were Skyping twice daily, in the morning and at night.
Maureen says: “I didn’t really recognise Hugh. He wears glasses now, he didn’t back then, but he’s still the same person. And he had a lovely voice. “We caught up on each other’s lives, and it was just lovely talking to him.” And this time they knew they wouldn’t let each other go again.
Maureen’s husband Tom, who was 15 years her senior, had suffered long-term health problems and in November 2010, his mobility became so bad he was admitted to a nursing home. While Maureen was visiting her husband five times a week Hugh’s friendship was a source of strength but she focused on Tom. She says: “I thought quite early on that things would change and we’d eventually be together, and so did Hugh.
“While I wasn’t about to lose Hugh again, we had the here and now to sort out first. As you get older you’ve got less life and you can’t be as noble and brave as you could when you think you’ve years and years to go.”
In September 2011 Hugh, his marriage “virtually over for many years”, visited Maureen in England. Maureen’s husband knew about the visit and wanted his wife to be happy. Hugh says: “Seeing her was absolutely great. It was like all those years melted away and I felt like I’m 18 again.” They spent three weeks walking, travelling the country, visiting Hugh’s parents’ graves in Cornwall and meeting Maureen’s youngest daughter.
At the end of the trip Hugh went back to tie up loose ends in Australia – but this time he took Maureen with him. “Hugh didn’t want to say goodbye again because the last time he did, it was 50 years before he saw me again.”
After two months they returned to England. Maureen still visited Tom and was there when he passed away peacefully in May 2013. Near the end of the year Hugh’s divorce came through and last April he gave Maureen his mother’s engagement ring.
She says: “We didn’t get engaged in a grand way because we always knew we’d get married eventually.” Last September they married in Southport Town Hall, watched by family and friends, who all support their relationship. Sadly Hugh’s son Stuart was unable to attend.
Smiling, Maureen says: “We sat watching television the other day and I said to Hugh, ‘I can’t believe I can feel this happy sitting here doing nothing’. “Finding him again really is the stuff of dreams.”