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John Jackson (then 18) was driving his ’34 Chevy Junior coupe sedately along Cashel St one April evening in 1959, when he caught sight of a young girl running towards him, her face streaked with tears.
Sue Cann (then 16) had just broken up with a boyfriend and was running away from him when John spotted her.
“She looked upset and cute so I quickly pulled over and asked if I could help her.
“She settled down and eventually told me that I could take her back to the nurses’ hostel at Burwood Hospital where she was studying to be a nurse,” he said.
Sue recalled it was a really weird situation: “I was running away from the other guy, I was crying, but when I saw John and he stopped to help me, I somehow knew then that this would be the man I wanted to marry.”
“Matron caught me once and she took me into a room and gave me a one and a half-hour-long lecture,” said John.
Sue said: “He didn’t know then that she was my guardian, my parents had left me in Christchurch when they returned to England, so she was all I had.”
Love blossomed and on September 20, 1961, the pair walked down the aisle at the St Faith’s Church in New Brighton.
“It was a lovely warm day and a friend stepped in to give me away,” Sue said.
However, John remembers that she was over a 30min late because the wedding car had broken down at her house.
Sue was born in Bombay (Mumbai) and spent the next decade travelling with her family to England and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) before finally arriving by ship in New Zealand.
“Mum died giving birth to my younger sister in India and dad then married her cousin.
“He worked for an asbestos company until we came here, he got a job on the railways and later at James Fletchers in Christchurch.
“But when I was just 16 the whole family went back to Devon and I stayed here on my own to train as a nurse.”
“I’m a Brighton boy,” he said, “I was an apprentice cabinet maker machinist when we met and I stayed in that trade for most of my life.”
“We just clicked, although she broke the door and window on my car on our first official date,” he said.
The couple settled in New Brighton and raised three children – two boys, John and Michael, and a daughter Christine.
When the children were older the family took charge of the Anglican Church Children’s Home at St Albans in 1974.
It already had seven children from two broken families living in separate parts of the house.
Sue was house mother and John worked as the house security officer.
“We decided there and then that there wouldn’t be any separation in the families, so
we joined the three families together, had our meals together, the kids played together and we even went to a Cilla Black concert together.
“She came up to us during the concert and made the whole family stand up – it was a great sight as we took up a whole row in the town hall, we were one big family.”
Over the next five years, the couple also looked after many short-term stay children.
This started a long association with child care and volunteering by the couple.
Five years later the couple brought a large double-storey house in New Brighton and three of the care children joined them there.
“We still stay in touch with them and we are called Poppy and Grandy by their children,” Sue said.
While John returned to cabinet making Sue eventually worked for 25 years at the Donaldson Residential Trust home for the intellectually handicapped.
But that wasn’t the end of the couple’s work for both have received commendations from care groups and the police for their long years of work with Victim Support, Pregnancy Help, Community Watch and others.
Sixty years after that side of the road meeting the couple agreed that the secret to wedding peace has been communication and trust.
John said he never goes to bed without saying he loved Sue: “Even if we’ve had a row, I still say it every night.”
“I can’t stay mad at him when he says that, I still love him to bits,” Sue said.