Love story: A year after her death, 92-year-old Bishop's Stortford widower John Simkins publishes tribute to his 86-year-old wife Jean – 'the great love of my life for 44 years'
They say a picture is worth a thousand words – and two photos, taken 41 years apart, of John and Jean Simkins gazing lovingly at each other say all you need to know of their life together.
The first was taken at their wedding in September 1975 and the second in May 2017. They are among some of the poignant pictures that are included in a tribute booklet to Jean, who died in May last year, entitled The Life, Work and Loves of Jean Simkins.
John, 92, decided to embark on the project on the first anniversary of her death at the age of 86, to remember and celebrate the life of the woman who he loved dearly but who was not fully aware of the esteem in which she was held.
“I was married to her for 44 years, but we had different careers. I was travelling a lot and I didn’t realise some of the work she was doing,” said John from his Bishop’s Stortford home.
Jean had joined the Economist Intelligence Unit as a senior consultant, first in press work and then later in research. The focus of her work was how governments ensured families affected by disability had adequate incomes. Even when she officially retired in 1996 she continued in a liaison role helping fellow pensioners.
It was only when she went on a month-long lecture tour of Australia in 1981, when the authorities hung on her every word on the value of independent living for disabled people in the UK and the costs of disability, that John understood the vital work his wife was carrying out.
The two had met through a mutual experience. Jean married Geoff Millward, who had multiple sclerosis (MS), and John’s wife of 24 years, Marjory, died of the disease in 1975.
Jean said that people thought her “crazy” to marry a man already paralysed with MS but, despite his death in 1974, she never regretted it, saying: “Never underestimate your resources, your faith... they grow with the challenge. You cannot swim on dry land, you have to get into the water.”
After they were married, John and Jean lived in London for a while before moving with Jean’s daughter Ruth to Stortford in 1977. Jean also became stepmother to John’s two children, David and Jenny, who by then were living independently.
The house at 4 Parsonage Lane was to become the family home Jean wanted. John said: “She loved it, our friends loved it, our grandchildren loved it, for 40 years.”
The couple became grandparents to Ruth’s daughters Chloe and Ceara, then great-grandparents to Chloe’s sons Jamie and Ollie. Jenny’s marriage to Phil brought his sons Jamie and Matthew into the family and, in due course, Jamie’s son Tyler and Matthew’s son William and daughter Aimie.
Faith played an important part in John and Jean’s lives, with both being active members of Bishop’s Stortford Methodist Church.
It was on their first visit to the South Street church that they were met by George and Mione Goldspink, both of whom they had known through their membership of Hinde Street Methodist Church, Marylebone.
John and Jean took on a number of roles at the church and Jean was a member of the choir.
Jean took an active interest in politics, having stood as a Liberal Party candidate in council elections in London in 1959 and 1965 and as the party’s candidate for West Ham North at the General Election in 1964.
In July 2018 Jean had an accident in the street in which she fell on the pavement and hit her head, meaning she spent seven days in intensive care.
In the March of the following year the couple moved to a retirement flat in St Catherine’s Court, Windhill, but as Jean needed more care than John could provide, a place was secured at Premier Court, the Bupa residential care home in Thorley Lane East.
John visited his wife every afternoon, but one day in the spring of last year the manager came to him and said that, due to Covid-19, he could no longer see her.
Jean died not long afterwards, on May 1, with John tragically unable to see his beloved wife in person again. She was cremated on May 20.
“Jean was the great love of my life for 44 years and the family we built up around us,” said John. “I love them all for the love they give me still.”