Wednesday, 28 Oct 2020

Bay of Plenty couple die 20 minutes apart after 66 years of marriage

They were married for 66 years and had just celebrated their wedding anniversary. But early on Monday Kevin and Maureen Gallagher passed away 20 minutes apart at home. Leah Tebbutt tells their story of life, love and devotion.

“Where you go, I go.”

These were the words Maureen Hollis told her soon-to-be husband when they first met. Kevin Gallagher was explaining to the young woman he was courting that he lived and worked on the back block stations around Gisborne.

Little did she know the words would ring true more than 66 years later.

Maureen Gallagher took her last breath about 6am on Monday this week – and just 20 minutes later, so did Kevin in the home they shared in Tauranga.

“‘Where you go, I go.’ Kind of appropriate, I think,” the couple’s youngest son, Craig Gallagher, tells me as we sit soaking up the picture of their lives written over the walls in countless photo frames.

On October 2, the couple celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary and the years spent by each other’s side raising eight children and bestowing the importance of family.

But their greatest love was for each other.

“She was everything to him, that’s for sure,” Craig Gallagher says.

“Dad wasn’t prepared to go until she did, he didn’t want to leave her behind, he told me that.

“And mum never said anything but I think she was waiting for him to go.”

Kevin Gallagher left home at the age of 14 and went milking and soon became a shepherd. But it was through his sister that he met his soul mate, as the women both worked at the hospital laundry in Gisborne.

Both born in 1931, the couple married aged 22. By the 1970s, they had moved to the Bay of Plenty due to whispers the Mount Maunganui wharf was going to become the next Auckland.

There he worked unloading ships, while at home he spent his days in his big vegetable garden and fixing the house or cars as necessary.

While he never had a trade, Kevin took it upon himself to work out the problem, something he passed down to his children, Craig said.

“They worked well together, dad went out and worked, brought home the bacon, so to speak, but mum ran the house,” their son says.

“They were just really loving people, totally committed to their family. Their support and strength in tough times was second to none. Great parents, great role models.”

About 20 years ago, the couple decided to subdivide their section where they lived in Gate Pa and build their retirement home, with all the bells and whistles they might have needed in their old age, including a shower with wheelchair access.

The couple also enjoyed fleeting fame in 2002 when they appeared on the front page of the Bay of Plenty Times after winning a 1973 Datsun 240Z.

Maureen was diagnosed with dementia about five years ago and just four months ago Kevin was given two months to live due to lung complications.

“They never wanted to go into a home, that’s why they built this, they were determined.”

That’s why in February when Kevin had a fall and broke his femur, Craig moved into the garage to better care for him.

But following another fall, Craig decided to sleep in the spare bedroom with his father, leading to the pair talking through the night.

“That was an honour, I feel really blessed for that opportunity.”

But just after they celebrated their anniversary this month, Kevin and Maureen Gallagher’s health deteriorated and the couple became bedridden.

On Friday, the family wrapped support around each other, as Kevin and Maureen had taught them and three days later, surrounded by their loved ones, they both died.

“The last words he spoke, he just asked how mum was.”

Due to his medication, Kevin was unaware his Maureen had died as he slipped away.

On Friday, the couple will be laid to rest, laying side by side in the one coffin at Pyes Pa Cemetery.

“It’s kind of bittersweet, you lose both your parents, but we wouldn’t want it any other way,” Craig says.

Hope Family Funeral Services director Tony Hope said the Gallaghers dying only minutes apart was a beautiful story and he felt privileged to be part of it.

“This is the first time I have experienced a couple passing away so close together and the first time I am aware of that a couple has been buried in the same casket.

“We had to check with the cemetery if it could be done and they had to check too because they hadn’t experienced it before. But it is such a wonderful thing to do in a small way to help the family.”

For more than 20 years, the Gallaghers’ doctor, Geoff Esterman of Gate Pa Medical Centre, cared for the couple.

“They were a lovely couple with a lovely supportive family, who were a joy to look after for the last 23 years,” Esterman told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Kevin and Maureen are survived by their eight children, Jacqui Harris, Anne and Charlie Scanlon, Trish and Doug Rehutai, Paul, Robert and Anita, Kim and Paula, Brian and Maree and Craig.

They also leave behind their 21 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

A Requiem Mass will be held for them at St Mary’s Catholic Church Tauranga on Friday at 1.30pm.

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