How we met: ‘He had to marry me or I’d sue him!’

When Mary moved from Bedfordshire in the UK to Michigan in the US on a Fulbright scholarship in 1985, she wasn’t expecting to find love. Her mind was focused on the nutrition course she had enrolled on and her plans for a future career. In the spring of 1986, she was cycling home from a meeting with her tutor when she approached a fence covered in ivy. Roy, who had been pushing his bike, emerged from behind the fence before she had the chance to stop. “I hit his wheel and, because my hands were cold and I was wearing a backpack, I went sailing over the handlebars,” she remembers. “I landed on my chin and broke my jaw on the concrete.”

In typical British fashion, she told him she was “absolutely fine”, but Roy says it was clear she was badly hurt. “My apartment was pretty close by so I got my roommate to drive her to the university health centre,” he says. The next day, Mary had to have her jaw wired shut, meaning she couldn’t eat solid food for three months. “Roy came to my apartment with some juice to suck through a straw. He said that when my jaw was unwired he would make me dinner,” she recalls. Although it was an accident, Roy felt “terrible” about what happened. “I was really concerned about her,” he says.

Over the summer they went their separate ways, with Mary returning to her home in the UK for the holidays. When she arrived back at university, Roy had moved in two doors down from her. “By chance, my roommate had moved home and a place turned up in Mary’s building,” he says.

That September, he followed through on his promise to make her dinner. They quickly hit it off, and realised they had more in common than they’d thought. “He was on a PhD programme in geography and also had a Fulbright scholarship,” says Mary. “We were both vegetarians and had an interest in reading and travel. Roy had been all over the world and spoke different languages.” He was equally impressed. “I liked that Mary rode horses and had a different accent. She was the nicest person I’d ever met and was very easy to be with,” he says.

Before long they were a couple. “We’d go for day trips to Lake Michigan and study together,” says Mary. “We met in such an intense way, through the accident, that it sort of got rid of that usual period where you get to know someone slowly.”

In 1987, they married in the US before moving to England. “It’s a running joke in my family that he had to marry me or I’d sue him,” laughs Mary. By the following January, they had moved to Sudan for Roy’s work. He was studying the impacts of climate change in Africa, and Mary took a contract with Unicef, working in nutrition. “There was a coup while we were there and it became hard to get food, so it was a tough experience, but amazing, too,” Roy says. They returned to Michigan two years later, and their two children were born in 1990 and 92. Mary found a job as a dietitian while Roy became a professor at Grand Valley State University. When Mary suffered a brain bleed in 2012 and was put in an induced coma, Roy cared for her. “She was in hospital for two months and it took two years to fully recover,” he says. “We kept going together and it brought us even closer.”

Just as the pandemic hit, they moved to St Louis to be close to their children, now adults themselves. “Having kids was always a priority for us,” says Mary. “We loved having them and they were the best thing that we ever did. We share the same values and always compromise for the same reasons.” Roy appreciates his partner’s poise and calm nature. “She doesn’t jump into the fray – she’s measured. It’s easy to have meaningful conversations and there’s never any drama. We laugh together all the time.”