In 1955, Desiré O’Connor set off for Johannesburg. Fresh out of school, the high-spirited, adventurous girl from Brooklyn was ready to “see the world”, but, as things turned out, she found all the world she needed in the mesmerising blue eyes of a dashing young man with blond hair.
Sixty years later, Desiré and the man of her dreams sit side by side, surrounded by family who have gathered to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
“I met him at the Mellville swimming pool. He fancied me, but there was another guy after me. He said, ‘If he tries to kiss you, spit in his face’.”
Desiré giggles like a schoolgirl as she recalls the memory.
“Do you remember that, Keith?” she says, turning to her husband.
Keith nods. He’s 82, and his blond hair is now grey. Age has brought with it hearing loss, but other than that, he carries the years well.
He sits quietly next to his wife, his blue eyes drinking in the presence of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have all met at Doodles in Table View for the celebratory lunch.
“Oh it was definitely love at first sight,” says Desiré.
“I lived at the YWCA in Johannesburg, and I wanted to see the world. Then I met Keith and that was it.”
The two were married in court on February 18, a year after they met. Desiré was only 18 and her new husband was four years her senior. There was no white wedding dress, but there was a beautiful diamond engagement ring which was thrown back at Keith a number of times.
“This one time we must have had an argument or something because I threw the ring away in a taxi. We went back the next morning to look for it and found it in the taxi. It was a beautiful engagement ring, but I lost it over the years,” says Desiré.
Married in Johannesburg, the couple had their first two children before they moved to Cape Town.
Keith says he moved because Cape Town was his wife’s hometown. Desiré worked as a secretary and Keith was a welder, and together they built a warm and loving nest for their family, which grew from two children to three.
They moved quite a bit: Thornton, Mowbray, Southfield, Claremont and finally Table View, where they spent 20 years before moving to the Ria Abel old age home in Brooklyn.
Asked what the secret is to a long and lasting marriage Desiré cocks her head to the side. “What is it? Sex?”, she jokes.
Their daughters, Michelle Rossouw and Tracy Short blush and reprimand their mother.
Michelle, the eldest, says, “My father is definitely the calm to her storm.”
Liam Dormehl, the couple’s youngest and the only son, flew in from Australia to celebrate his parents’ anniversary.
He says it’s hard living abroad and not being able to be there for them when they need him, so he tries to come out as much as possible.
“I think them celebrating their 60th anniversary is amazing. We love them a lot,” says Liam.
Asked what they treasure most in life Desiré says, “Family is everything. Our family is our world.” And Keith nods in agreement.