The other half of a famous married couple has sadly succumbed to COVID-19. Keeping a marriage intact is a difficult task in itself, which made the 25-year marriage of Maryanne and Tommy Pilling all the more remarkable. Married in 1995, the couple from Shoeburyness in Essex became the first pair with Down syndrome to marry in the United Kingdom.
While the discrimination against people with disabilities, including Down syndrome, has reduced in the past few decades, there is still prevailing concern.
The milestone marriage was met with both skepticism and criticism. Many people believed that their relationship wouldn’t last, and that they should not marry. But Maryanne and Tommy defied all expectations and proved that their love is stronger than their condition.
Maryanne and Tommy met in 1991 at a day center, and after dating for 18 months, got engaged after Tommy proposed. He had initially planned to use a plastic ring from a vending machine, but Maryanne’s mother, Linda Martin, intervened.
She accompanied Tommy to a jewelry store so he could choose a proper ring. Maryann jumped with joy when Tommy proposed, and immediately started planning a wedding with 250 guests.
After the wedding, the couple decided to live independently in their own home. The family was always ready to offer assistance, as Martin lived next door, and Maryanne’s sister, Lindi Newman, and her family, were just across the street in Southend-on-Sea in England.
Maryanne worked one day a week at a local charity store but the couple essentially spent most of their time together. By all accounts, the Pillings were a typical family who loved to bowl, golf, see movies, visit theme parks, and have a good time with family and loved ones.
The Pillings’ relationship only grew stronger, giving credence to their decision to get married. Maryanne recalled, “My wedding was the best day of my life. I was shocked when Tommy proposed but I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes. Tommy and I never argue. I love my husband very much. He is my best friend.”
Maryanne’s mother was particularly supportive. Martin received a lot of flak when she gave her blessing for Maryanne and Tommy to marry, but she insisted that she simply respected the decision of the couple.
Newman shared the reason why their mother agreed to the wedding, “Maryanne had dreamed about a big white wedding since she was a little girl and that’s exactly what she had. It was a beautiful day.”
She added, “My mum has been 100% supportive. Anyone should have the right to marry the love of their life without prejudice or discrimination.”
Maryanne and Tommy thrived in their married life, which they credited to good communication, honesty, and enjoying time together. While Maryann loved to talk, Tommy enjoyed listening to his wife.
Newman explained, “He sits back and listens, and she likes that. What keeps their marriage so strong is that there is never a hidden agenda. They love each other with their whole hearts and are honest with one another.”
When Maryanne and Tommy reached their 22nd anniversary, millions around the world showered the admirable couple with love through social media. Positive Outlooks featured their journey as well given Maryanne and Tommy’s undying love and inspirational story.
The couple celebrated by re-enacting their first dance on their wedding day. Many people were in attendance to celebrate their big day, but decades into the marriage the two only had eyes for each other.
Newman attested to the positivity generated by Maryanne and Tommy’s relationship, and the need to strengthen compassion and understanding for people with Down syndrome.
She said, “When they walk down the street holding hands they make a statement but in a good way. Some people stare, they assume people with Down’s syndrome and learning difficulties can’t get married. But we also get so many lovely messages from people who are inspired by their story.”
Newman added, “People worried about their own children or grandchildren with Down’s syndrome get hope from Maryanne and Tommy’s story, hope that their children can also fall in love and live happily ever after.”
In the past several years, Tommy had to face health challenges, and was diagnosed with dementia. While the family took great pains to protect the couple from the pandemic, Tommy unfortunately contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized on December 10, 2020. The family then made the sad announcement that Tommy passed away on January 1 from complications caused by the coronavirus.
He was 62. Newman posted in the couple’s Facebook page, “Our beautiful Tommy peacefully passed … after a battle with covid pneumonia. Thank you for showing me what unconditional love was, I will remember your beautiful ways forever, your pure heart, your love of music, Elvis, your dancing. Your positive attitude and how you appreciated the small things. Thank you for making Maryanne so happy.”
Martin shared her thoughts as well, “Our darling man Tommy has left a vast hole in our lives that no one will ever fill. I considered him as my son although he was my son-in-law. I have never regretted a single moment of the 30 years he was in my life and care, (he) brought so much joy just by being him, I will always be thankful for the laughter and fun he brought to our lives.”
Despite this intolerable loss, Maryanne and Tommy’s love continues to inspire in the Facebook page managed by Newman. The page chronicles the married couple with Down syndrome through the years, full of happy smiling photos, and evidence of the unconditional love the two hold for each other.
Proving that love conquers all, Newman encouraged others to learn from the Pillings’ relationship. She said, “Anything is possible with love and there should be no limitations for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are.”