John and Debbie Smail met at a dance in Nelson in the 1950s – 65 years on their love is still strong. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Secrets of love 65 years on


They met at a dance in Nelson and she thought he was a pretty good dancer.

“So she says,” says John Smail, now 90-years-old.

Last week he and his wife Debbie celebrated 65 years of marriage in the region they lived their whole life.

They both worked at Kirkpatrick’s – a canning factory that was a major employer in Nelson. John was the chief engineer.

The couple had four children and built two cottages by hand.

“We never had any power, we did it ourselves.”

John was recently admitted to Nelson Tasman Hospice, where they were surrounded with family and friends for their anniversary.

However, John was looking forward to going to a care facility this week.

Debbie says the secret of their marriage was “working together”.

“My mother once said, ‘don’t go to bed until the argument is settled’. But we only had about six in all our married life.”

Debbie says the pair have had a good life.

“We have travelled well and we have a wonderful family. But we just take one day at a time.”