After 24 years of dating, pensioner Neil Farnworth has married his girlfriend in one of his final acts of love.
The 75-year-old proposed to 69-year-old Eileen Marsh after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Within a week – and in secret – they managed to organise a wedding at Preston Registry Office in Bow Lane, and yesterday celebrated with friends and family who had been lured to a pub under false pretences.
“The diagnosis came out of the blue”, said Neil, who worked at the Evening Post as a sports reporter and sub-editor.
“At Christmas everything was ok, or we thought it was.
“Then I developed a persistent cough and I wanted to find out if everything was ok.
“The doctors were concerned it was terminal lung cancer, so I had to go for all these scans and injections.
“I was told I wouldn’t get better, but they might be able to prolong my life if I undergo chemotherapy, so that’s what I’m doing.”
The shock spurred widower Neil to think about Eileen’s security after his death, and although admitting marriage was “not top of his priority list” while healthy, he decided he wanted to walk her down the aisle.
But time has been of the essence, as his chemotherapy sessions are due to start on Tuesday.
He said: “I’d lived with Eileen for a number of years, but before I became ill, getting married was never my top priority.
“We’d both been married before - my wife died in her 40s and Eileen is divorced, but then I realised she wasn’t as well protected in law because we weren’t married.
“Eileen told me she was going to propose to me because it was a Leap Year, and I was going to do something pretty similar.
“We went to the registry office to tell them I was poorly and we wanted to get married as soon as possible.
“They said it would be 28 days unless we were prepared to pay, and then certain things could be overcome, so that’s what we did.
“But I had to take in a letter from my consultant to prove it wasn’t any kind of scam.”
Neil – who says he has been excited despite feeling “pretty grotty” – admits most of the organising has been done by Eileen, a retired NHS care nurse. After the ceremony, attended by only two close friends, the couple held a small celebration at the Black Bull in Fulwood.
Neil said: “We told people we were having a few drinks in the pub before I started my chemotherapy, then made a surprise announcement.
“Nobody knew, though I’m sure the majority guessed.”
The couple met when Neil was working on a campaign that the Evening Post was running to fund new medical equipment.
When he visited a rest home in Watling Street Road, Eileen was working as the matron and they got chatting.
So taken was he, that he returned the next day to ask her out.
He said: “I’ve been a widower a long time and you get used to it, but at the end of the day, you do get lonely and I preferred being in a relationship to not.
“Eileen has a saintly touch about her. Everybody loves her and I feel very lucky to have her.
“I love her to bits and she’s earned this.”
He added: “The punchline is, I’ll be spending my honeymoon at the chemotherapy department at Rosemere. But getting better is the priority.”