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HomeNewsLove to a tee: how Jim and Maureen captured our attention (and...

Love to a tee: how Jim and Maureen captured our attention (and hearts)

Forget The Notebook, you’ll find our favourite love story written on a t-shirt.

Four years ago Maureen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. In 2021 she was admitted into hospital due to her debilitating condition.

Her husband, Jim, was told she wouldn’t survive the weekend.

Fast forward to today, the couple is enjoying each other’s company as they celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary at their favourite cafe.

Jim and Maureen on their wedding anniversary.

Maureen’s condition is worsening as the years go on, but Jim has made it his mission to provide the best life he can for his wife. They kindly let us third wheel their anniversary lunch last week so we could share their story of unconditional love.

“My philosophy is each day, I want to give Maureen the best day she can have. That statement stems from when she came out of the hospital, and each day could have been her last.

“We’re very lucky. With dementia, I hear that people change their personality. But she’s the same happy person.” Jim explained.

Jim takes Maureen down to Manly around three times a week for a coffee, some lunch and a nice stroll from Queenscliff to Shelly Beach – if the weather is good for it.

Along their walks, he began to notice his wife attempting to faintly say ‘excuse me’ to ongoers and reach out for people’s hands which unfortunately went unnoticed.

This led him to recall a conversation he had with someone about their father’s dementia experience.

“He was telling me that, right at the end, the last days with his dad, they [communicate] by signals of squeezing hands and so on, so  taking in a whole lot more than they realised.”

Jim and Maureen before the onset of dementia.

Jim didn’t want Maureen to feel forgotten from a community she had spent her life with, on account of her disease, so he got the idea to create a custom-made shirt, resulting in the couple becoming more approachable.

Since then the pair has been pleasantly overwhelmed with how many friendly people from all walks of life are taking the time out of their day to come say hello.

“What surprised me initially was that so many people were foreign tourists from all over the world.

“I’d really like to thank all the people that have stopped by and had a chat to Maureen, they really brighten her day, which brightens mine… just today as I was walking along, a fella came up and wanted to buy me a cup of coffee!”

Although he is not a man of the socials, Jim said his daughter showed him the Manly Observer Instagram post of himself and Maureen and was ‘absolutely amazed’ at the comments.

Jim bought the shirts from local design and print studio CRE8withJAZ.

The owner of the business, Jasmin – who has been operating in Manly Corso for 14 years – says she was touched by Jim’s story and has since received orders from like-minded people after the photo of the couple was posted on the Manly Observer Instagram page.

“Layne Beachley [Australian former surfer] we’re doing a custom one for her dad who has dementia, a few people have requested orders, a few fundraising companies have wanted them for their volunteers and support people.

“I think it’s a great idea to get people talking about it… we printed one off for Jim originally and now he’s placed three more orders,” Jasmin said.

Jasmin posing in front of a freshly made T-shirt for Jim.

Due to the frequency of the couple’s walks and their newfound popularity Jim decided he needed more shirts, with an additional accurate update of his wife’s description.

“This was the third one. This has got the word beautiful added to it,” Jim pointed out as he ran his finger under the colourful wording on his bright yellow custom shirt.

“I’m actually taking my other T-shirts back to the shop for them to insert the word ‘beautiful’ because I felt bad wearing the inferior T-shirt!”

For 55 years Manly has been a location that Jim and Maureen have watched change as the pair grew together.

Jim recalls frequently visiting Manly in the 1950s, watching people dive off the wooden wharf for pennies that were thrown in the water while residents simultaneously fished for bait.

Jim and Maureen on top of Kosciusko

It was also not uncanny to see locals jumping off the Manly ferry as it came into port – a daring action that today, could see you arrested, fined and featured on the Creatures of Manly Instagram page.

The iconic Northern Beaches location offered Jim a lot of core memories but perhaps none more significant than his first date with his wife.

“Our first date was to go to Queenscliff beach, that’s the first time I held Maureen’s hand,” Jim expressed, replicating that gesture while holding a tear back in his eye.

“And every day when I come to the beach, we walk down to Queenscliff and I remind her that this is where we first held hands. But she doesn’t understand.”

“And every day when I come to the beach, we walk down to Queenscliff and I remind her that this is where we first held hands. But she doesn’t understand.”

Jim has communicated that he is not looking for fame, just to give his wife the best possible day every day.

In fact, he only agreed to share his story under the condition that he was able to spread the message that people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia are living people and should be treated that way.

“I’m no expert, but as I walk along Manly Beach, I’ve been doing it for four years, I noticed a lot of people with some sort of handicap or were walking with a carer that looked lonely.

“I’ll go up to them and say hello, to have a chat to them and I think more people should do that and just notice the people around them.”

It was estimated in 2022 that there were 401,300 Australians living with dementia which equates to around 15 people per 1,000 Australians, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Jim and Maureen on their wedding day

Jim wants to ensure these people are seen.

“Manly is a wonderful place, if you get your eyes off the phone and look around, there’s plenty, plenty of ways you can just cheer up someone.”

So, if you see Jim gleefully trotting along in his colourful customised shirt with his beautiful wife Maureen, don’t be afraid to reach out with a smile and friendly word.

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Manly Observer is an experiment in providing non-sensationalist hyperlocal news on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. We cover the big news across the LGA, but with a hyper focus on the Manly electorate encompassing Balgowlah, Seaforth, Freshwater, Brookvale and Curl Curl up to Dee Why. It is run by those living in the community for the benefit of an informed community. We care about an informed and connected community. That’s it. Simple. Thank you for your support in keeping quality local news alive!

Kim Smee, Editor

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