When the farming crisis hit Iowa’s economy in 1981, John left his home state to find work. “I moved to Saudi Arabia as a field engineer for an electrical firm,” he says. Soon after starting the role, he met his colleague Robert, who would regularly write letters to his family in Yorkshire, including his sister-in-law, Jane. “Other than working, there was very little to do aside from writing to people in the evenings,” says John. “Robert asked me if I’d like to write to Jane.”
Soon, the pair began exchanging letters and struck up a friendship. “The first letter I sent, I asked him whether Iowa was a city or a town,” Jane says with a laugh. “I’d never heard of it and didn’t know it was a state.” John returned to the US in 1982, before heading back to Saudi Arabia in 1983, but the pair continued to write to each other regularly. “John used to send me lots of cards,” says Jane. “We enjoyed writing to each other but never expected it to lead to marriage.”
At the end of that year, they finally got a chance to meet when John was offered a layover in London on a flight back to Iowa. “Every few months I’d get leave and a co-worker booked for me to stay overnight in the UK,” he says.
Knowing a letter would never reach Jane in time, he asked Robert to phone her and ask her to meet him at King’s Cross station. “I was working in BHS and it was the busiest time of the year. I don’t know how I got the day off,” says Jane. After spending the day exploring the city together, they both knew there was something special between them. “We had so much in common, despite being from different parts of the world,” says Jane.
Rather than returning to the US when he next had leave, in the spring of 1984, John went to stay with Robert’s mother in England so that he could spend time with Jane. “We fell in love in that month,” she says. “We toured various parts of England and Scotland together whenever I wasn’t working.” At the end of their month together he proposed, and returned to the UK in September so they could plan the wedding. The couple married in January 1985, and Jane travelled to Saudi Arabia for the first time that summer. “It was a very different culture but I quite enjoyed it,” she says. Their daughter was born in 1986, and the couple moved to Texas for John’s work the same year. “It was completely different to Yorkshire and I was terribly homesick at first,” says Jane. In 1994, they moved to Kuala Lumpur for two years, then Folkestone, England, before settling in Wisconsin in 1999.
The couple have supported each other through grief, including the deaths of their parents. “In February 2006, my father died on the same day as Jane’s mother. Despite the logistical issues, we managed to attend both funerals together,” says John. Jane also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, which she developed three years after they married. “John has always been a big support. One of the reasons why we travelled so much early on was because we thought I’d be in a wheelchair by now,” she says. Luckily, new treatments have helped her condition.
“I love that Jane’s been by my side for our journey,” says John. “There have been challenges but we’ve made it work; I know I can depend on Jane.” She says they are both “really loyal people” who never give up. “All these years later, we still really like each other. We can argue and then just forget about it. We’re best friends.”
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