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Same but different makes for happy marriage

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Graham Spurling thought he was quite the man about town as he wore his flashy blue suit to a party for students who had graduated from St Aloysius College and Christian Brothers College in December 1953.

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Having left Sacred Heart College a year earlier to work at the SA Harbors Board, an end of school party photo shows the 15 year old in his new navy suit, standing out among the grey-suited CBC boys.

Not that it helped him make an impression on the striking Peggy Ryan who had caught his eye.

It would take eight refusals from her before the spirited Peggy agreed to a date.

“I had to get past all of those other fellas who wanted to take her out,” Graham, 82, recalled.

The party where Graham wore his blue suit.

When Peggy finally relented, Graham rode his bicycle to her West Croydon home and they went by train to see Oklahoma at the Theatre Royal. But only after he forgot to turn up for a previous date, much to the fury of Peggy’s mother.

Graham was working and studying engineering at university, Peggy was a laboratory technician and their social life revolved around Catholic youth groups and social gatherings.

With both their ancestors arriving from Ireland in the 1850s and settling in the Mid North, as well as both growing up in the western suburbs, Peggy and Graham had plenty in common – but also some differences.

Peggy’s parents were teachers and Liberal voters while Graham grew up in Mile End, a suburb he says “slid down from the West End” along with its “wonderfully colourful and generous characters”.

He was also strongly influenced by his Labor voting maternal grand-father who had an “abiding hate” for the Protestant Black and Tans of Ireland. While Peggy was less fiery about her faith, Graham liked the fact that she was a “glamorous, good-looking larrikin”.

“She wasn’t the eye-fluttering sort of girl…she played tennis, she could kick a football, all that stuff…and we were friends, as distinct from just looking into each other’s eyes,” he said.

In 1959, during his final year of university, Graham saw an advert for a Chrysler scholarship to complete his Masters in Detroit, USA, and was accepted. When he learned he had to leave within six months Graham told one of his good friends “I’ve got a bit of a problem, I have a girlfriend”.

His friend’s sage advice was “marry her…she won’t be there when you come back”.

The couple on their wedding day in 1960.

And so at the age of 21 on July 23 1960, they were married in Sacred Heart College Chapel. Their reception was held at the Ryans’ home and the couple had a one-day honeymoon at the Brighton Esplanade Hotel before heading off to the USA.

“We’d never even been on a plane,” Peggy said of their grand adventure.

Their first few nights in Detroit were spent sleeping on a Murphy wall bed with no mattress, pillow or blankets in an unfurnished apartment. They relied heavily on the kindness and generosity of the locals who delved into the basement of the apartment building to find them furniture and other essentials.

“The kindness we were shown was spectacular,” said Graham, who proudly describes himself as “very pro-American”.

In 1962 their first son Tom was born and six months later the family returned to Australia where Tom was joined by Michael, Kate, Jane and Anna.

Graham went on to have an exciting career in the manufacturing industry with Chrysler and Mitsubishi and having accepted a new job at Pacific Dunlop he spent the next year working and living alone in Minneapolis.

“Graham travelled a lot…that’s why we’re still married,” Peggy laughed. She subsequently joined him in the USA for the following nine years where he continued with his manufacturing career, after which they returned to Brighton.

A constant in their life has been their association with the Brighton parish, from attending Mass at St Joseph’s when it was a still a shed to helping to organise the annual parish ball and parish picnics. More recently Graham was chair of the finance council and he has been heavily involved in the life of the Archdiocese, including the construction of the SA Water building in Victoria Square. His immense contribution was recognised with being appointed a Knight of the Pontifical Order of
St Gregory the Great in 2013.

Peggy said their Catholic faith had been “very important” to their marriage and she had been impacted by her mother’s deep devotion to prayer. “Wherever we are Graham and I always go to Mass,” she said.

Reflecting on the reason for their long and happy marriage, Graham said one of his grandsons had summed it up by saying that Peggy and he were “different but the same”.

“Peggy sees it like it is,” he said. “I am always looking for the raison d’etre and am challenging things.”

Graham’s “boom boom spirituality”, as Peggy calls it, goes back to his days growing up in Mile End where he learned from his parents’ friends “what life really is” and what he hopes the Church is “heading towards now”.

“Their friends were not doctrinal nor even formally religious, they were generous and caring…I learnt to understand how people think,” he explained.

“That understanding for spirituality really got strong in my mind in my working environment…I was fortunate to have had the great opportunity of practising my faith at work.

“It’s about demonstrating and applying the principles of dignity of man, and love of your neighbour.”

With five children, 15 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, Peggy and Graham are familiar figures at local sporting events, particularly those involving Sacred Heart College and the Old Scholars football. They also have a close and valued association with the Mid North community through their heritage and Bundaleer Wines.

A highlight of their 60th wedding anniversary was having their family at Sunday Mass to witness a blessing by Fr Michael Kyumu,  followed by a party with close friends and relatives hosted by the family at Jane and Damian Kitschke’s home

To top it off, their children had arranged for a Papal Blessing of their marriage, a surprise which brought tears to Peggy’s eyes. “I thought it was wonderful,” she said.

While Graham might not have cried, he was clearly touched: “I thought it was very, very, very thoughtful. My non-Catholic friends were amazed.”

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