Love and a daily reminder help marriage weather 50 years
On October 6, 1971 Thomas Rothschild wrote a letter to Filomena DeSilva asking for her hand in marriage.
He was living in Portland, Oregon; she was in Bermuda where they’d met the previous year.
The response came by telegram six days later.
Mr and Mrs Rothschild celebrated their 50th anniversary on Friday. As happened on May 20, 1972, they exchanged vows before friends and family at St Patrick’s Church in Smith’s and Mr Rothschild, who served in the US Air Force for 26 years, wore the Air Force Mess Dress.
“My wife Filomena and I met in Bermuda on August 12, 1970,” said Mr Rothschild, who made the trip to see his brother Keith, who was then stationed at the US navy base.
“It turned out she was a babysitter my brother and his wife used for their two small children.”
Unbeknown to Mr Rothschild, his brother’s wife, Valerie, decided to play Cupid.
“My sister-in-law and another friend of the family talked to Filomena’s boss and got her to take two weeks off to show me around the island. And it was fantastic,” Mr Rothschild said.
“But after two weeks, I left to go back to Portland, Oregon, where I was going to college. We knew each other about 21 months from the time we met until the time we married on May 20. And of that, for 19½ months we were thousands of miles apart.”
For nine months they wrote letters, “sometimes every day but at least once a week”. In May 1971, Mrs Rothschild flew to Oregon to watch Mr Rothschild graduate with a degree in chemistry.
Two weeks later she returned to Bermuda “and we started letter writing again”.
“I wrote a letter on October 6, 1971 and in the letter I proposed marriage. And then I received a telegram on October 12 from her, saying yes.”
The couple rarely talked because the cost was way too high, Mr Rothschild said.
“We phoned about once or twice over the 21 months we knew each other. It was very expensive for a long-distance phone call. At one time, I remember she called me from Bermuda to Portland, Oregon and it was $3 for the first minute and $1 a minute after that. And we talked for nearly one hour.”
Although he insisted he would pay the bill, Mrs Rothschild never received it.
The 74-year-old thinks he knew pretty early on that his wife was the one for him.
“I had always been shy, even in college,” he said. “I dated very little — once or twice in Portland — but when I met Filomena there was something different about it.”
Although she was living in Bermuda when they met, his wife was born in the Azores.
“Apparently in the late ‘40s and 1950s, it was common for Portuguese men in the Azores to come to Bermuda to find work. Men and women came — as maids and gardeners — and Filomena’s dad was the head caretaker at the Gibbons estate on South Shore Road.”
A notice of their marriage, and the couple’s plan to live in Florida, was placed in The Royal Gazette.
The couple returned to the island “six or seven” times after they married and were last here in 2016.
“I remember my first visit in 1970 there was only one traffic light on the island and now of course there’s a lot,” Mr Rothschild said.
“I also remember from my first visit that there would be a policeman in downtown Hamilton in the middle of the birdcage, and now of course there’s no one there. And of course, traffic. It has increased substantially.”
He recalls with some humour how shocked he was by the $35 he paid for each of the nights they spent in their honeymoon cottage.
“I've still got the receipt,” Mr Rothschild said. “We rented it for three or four nights before we flew to Florida — and 50 years ago, that was huge.”
In 1976 he left active military duty and began his career as a chemist, returning to Portland with his wife and their first child.
Their three children and six grandchildren flew to Bermuda for last week’s celebration. Mrs Rothschild’s Bermuda family — her brother Jose DeSilva and her sister Adriana Frias — were among the invited guests along with Mr Rothschild’s brother Keith and his wife Valerie.
Tomorrow the family leaves for San Miguel in the Azores, to see where Mrs Rothschild, 76, “was born and grew up”.
The plan had been to visit the Azores in 2020 “but the coronavirus interrupted that plan”.
“Filomena still has two aunts in the Azores. They are quite a bit older. They know we’re come and they're apparently very anxious to speak to Filomena,” Mr Rothschild said.
He believes giving himself daily reminders of just how “fantastic” his wife is, helped their marriage survive.
“I pray every day, ‘Thank you Lord for the absolutely fantastic woman you've given me; that I have on my side.’ And by saying that every day, any disagreements, any arguments we have, that idea just overrides everything.”