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‘They adored each other’: Couple married for 72 years die within hours of each other

'After mum had gone, dad looked at me and smiled and said: I’m going to die today'

25 January, 2018 — By Helen Chapman

Mary and Bill Greenleaf at the Cumberland Market estate

A HUSBAND and wife who were “together every day” over more than 70 years of marriage died within hours of each other.

Bill and Mary Greenleaf, who lived for most of their life in Regent’s Park, had been among protesters who fought against the Crown Estate’s sell-off plans 10 years ago. Their daughter Lesley said: “They were together every day. It was a big comfort to the family that they both went on the same day. It’s almost as if it was meant to be.”

Bill, 92, and Mary, 91, moved to a double room in a Suffolk nursing home last year after 64 years in Cumberland Market. Mary died at 6.45 am on December 23, Lesley said, while her father passed away just five hours later. She told the New Journal: “After mum had gone, dad looked at me and smiled and said: ‘I’m going to die today.’ He went at quarter-to-twelve that day.”

Bill and Mary on their wedding day

The couple had celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary in 2016. “My mum was Irish and had an Irish temperament. She was feisty, whereas Dad was a peacemaker,” said Lesley. “They complemented each other on those two levels. They adored each other.”

The couple moved to the nursing home, with Mary suffering from dementia in her final years and Bill recently spending time in University College London Hospital with pneumonia and norovirus. Lesley said her father had taken an earlier 18-month hospital stay in his stride. “He loved it in there,” she said. “He loved to sing and loved all the hymns. There was one day I went to visit him and all the doctors and nurses were standing around his bed singing with him. He had a lovely sense of humour.”

Bill had been stationed in the Far East during the war. Mary, meanwhile, left school at 14 and became a dressmaker. The couple married in 1946 after Bill finished his service in the army. He went on to work in advertising for 30 years – a job he thoroughly enjoyed – before being made redundant. The last job he had was as a court usher. “He had fun with it,” his daughter said. “He would sit and do The Times crosswords with the judges on their breaks.”

As children, the couple grew up as near-neighbours: Bill in Albany Street and Mary in Stanhope Street. They moved as a married couple to the Cumber­land Market after being on the waiting list for 10 years. Bill could remem­ber the estate being built.

Lesley said that her mother could still remember the people she loved despite her health problems: “She would smile when she saw me and tell the nurses how she loved me. She didn’t forget.”

Bill and Mary are survived by Lesley, two grandchildren, Kelly, 40, and Vicki, 38, and two great-grandchildren, Claudia, 19, and Elliot, 14.

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