How Magherafelt couple's brief encounter led to lasting love
Magherafelt couple Joe and Lita Muldoon are spending a special Valentine’s Day together more than 45 years after a chance meeting on a tram in Australia. Nikki Taggart hears the story of their romance
The course of true love never did run smooth. Finding that special one to share a lifelong commitment with is no easy task. And that's what makes Lita and Joe Muldoon's story of true romance even more precious, especially after all the life challenges they have overcome together to keep their marriage strong over 40 years.
After a series of health challenges, 80-year-old Lita now lives in Milesian Manor in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland's only lifestyle care home, while dedicated husband Joe, who turns 80 next month, visits her almost daily when his health allows.
Happily married for more than 45 years, their love is as strong as the first day they met in Melbourne, Australia, in 1973.
Lita remembers their first brief encounter like it was yesterday.
"Joe was a conductor on a tram," she says. "I was on my way home from work. It was a Thursday. I remember that as I had just got paid my wages that day. I asked the conductor if he had change of a $10 note."
This kind of clarity and attention to detail is no surprise - Lita had already earned the admiring nickname 'Hawkeye' because she was so good at her job visually inspecting for faults at a luggage factory.
Lita continues: "When Joe returned with my change, he asked me where I was from as he had heard my accent. I told him I was originally from Manchester, and Joe told me he was from Northern Ireland. We got chatting."
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Two strangers, both from the other side of the world, meet by chance on public transport in rush hour, and in that unguarded moment, a lifetime's relationship begins.
But it wasn't all plain sailing from the start.
In an attempt to impress and woo his lovely Lita, Joe prematurely promised he could obtain tickets for the most popular show in town, Harry Secombe, for the following night, if she would accompany him on a date.
How could a girl resist the offer of tickets to the Harry Secombe show?
In the days before mobile phones, Lita gave Joe her work contact details to set up the date.
Lita takes up the story: "The following day in work, my name was called over the intercom for me to come to reception. Joe was on the phone. He told me that he had been unable to get tickets for the show, but he would still like to see me, so we arranged to meet the following day and had a lovely day by the pool in the sun. Joe got tickets for Harry Secombe the following week, so we had our next date then."
And perhaps, this offers the first clue into why Lita and Joe have remained sweethearts for over four decades.
"If you want to have a long and happy relationship, learn to say sorry - even at times if you are not at fault - and take responsibility," Joe advises. "Be honest and learn to forgive and move on quickly. Never let the sun go down on your anger."
Cupid's arrow seems to have hit the bullseye dead centre from the start for Joe.
"I met Lita on the tram in January 1973, and I knew right away she was the girl for me," he says. "A month later, walking home to her parents' house one night, I just said 'Let's get married'."
"And I turned him down then," Lita laughs. "It was far too soon to be getting married."
But Joe was undeterred in his quest for true love, and he vowed to ask his Manchester lass again. He didn't wait too long.
That April, in 1973, Joe tentatively whispered: "How about we get engaged on May 1?"
They were married in an Australian registry office on October 8 that year. Again, with impressive attention to detail and apparent sweet nostalgia, Lita recounts their special day. "Joe had on a navy suit and tie," she says. "I had a white dress and white jacket that was made for me. I chose a different style of dress - it came up to my knees. We had a very small reception, which is what we both wanted."
Like any lifetime together, there will always be trials and tribulations, joy and sorrow, good times and bad.
Joe went on to work for the housing executive in Australia for 25 happy years and retired back to his native Northern Ireland in 1997, where he and Lita settled in his hometown of Magherafelt.
But health issues came back to trouble Lita. In 1969 she was involved in a serious accident, suffering a fractured skull, losing all her teeth and sustaining permanent damage to her knee.
By the time she turned 70, these injuries, combined with osteoarthritis and the resulting hip and knee replacement surgeries, left the once active Lita in a wheelchair.
But ever-faithful husband Joe remained diligently by her side, taking care of her every need.
"Joe is still and always will be the love of my life," Lita says
"He was always there for me when I needed him. He is still such a caring and loving man, even when he has his own health struggles."
The genuine affection and understanding between the couple are evident as Joe agrees with his wife's sentiments.
"People don't stick at it so much these days - a marriage takes work and determination. We can all have bad times, but it's how we support each other that makes a strong marriage."
Both Lita and Joe's one big regret in life is that they were not blessed with children.
"We are both disappointed that we never had a family of our own. That was very difficult, but we had each other and stayed strong together," Lita says.
Gently taking the hand of the woman he has loved for 45 years, Joe says: "Lita has made lots of new friends here in the care home, and we both really enjoy all the social activities and modern facilities. But in the end, she knows I will always be her best friend. After all this time we still love each other, for better, or for worse."
While the Muldoons may not have children, they are surrounded by a wider family of support at Milesian Manor, voted care home of the year in 2018, where Lita now lives.
Caitriona Doole, mental health nurse and nurse manager at Milesian Manor, says: "Lita and Joe are an inspiration to us all. It is indeed heartening to see a couple still so much in love after all these years.
"You can really see they are great friends and they look after each other in a way that only people who have been together for a lifetime can.
"Joe comes in almost daily when his health allows. They love spending time together.
"At Milesian Manor, we work hard to deliver a life of fulfilment, and we encourage families and loved ones to be involved in our activities.
"We have a stylish café where residents can catch up with friends, a cinema, a bar, hair and nail salon, a wellness garden and even a spa.
"We treat our residents as individuals and, as you can see from Lita and Joe's love story, it's important to understand that everyone has a rich and stimulating past life story and there is no reason why maturing in age should rob a person of the enjoyment of living.
"The team at our home are all natural carers, and that comes from within.
"We believe that caring is a calling in life - an extraordinary form of love. We are entrusted to care for much-loved and important family members, and we take that role very seriously.
"By supporting one another with dignity, we can all aspire to enjoy the same level of trusting and caring relationship that Lita and Joe have worked hard at all their lives to achieve."
- For further information on residing at Milesian Manor or to find out about the Milesian Day Club facilities, please visit www.milesianmanor.com
Lita and Joe's advice for a long and happy marriage
● Never go to bed on a fight - never let the sun go down on your anger.
● Stick together and work through things.
● Invest time and energy - a marriage takes work and determination.
● Be honest.
● Don't keep secrets and don't hide anything.
● Love each other, for better or worse.
● Learn how to say sorry, even when you were not in the wrong.
● Love each other for who you are - flaws and all.
● Be a good listener.