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Decades-long love born in Bermuda

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Jakob Leeuw fell madly in love with Maria Cabral the first time he saw her. She was at work, selling souvenirs in Riihilouma's, and wasn't at all impressed by the Dutchman's sense of style.

Plus, at more than 6ft tall, he towered well above her 4ft 9in frame.

“I thought he was very skinny,” Ms Cabral said. “I couldn't understand the sandals and socks thing.”

It was 1975 and Mr Leeuw was in Bermuda courtesy of the cruise ship Rotterdam, on which he worked as a film operator.

He travelled to the island once a week and regularly visited the Queen Street store, ostensibly to add to his collection of animal figurines.

But it was Ms Cabral he really wanted to collect. She was born in the Azores and had moved to the island when she was 16, hoping to open a bridal shop. But it didn't work out.

“I thought she was nice, and pretty,” Mr Leeuw said.

“I got quite a collection of figurines before I finally got up the nerve to talk to her.” He took his chance when he found her arranging postcards one day. They chatted a little and she gave him her postal address.

He went back to the ship and began a letter-writing campaign to win her over. He wrote daily about his life, sometimes starting the next postcard or letter just as he finished the last.

“We didn't have the internet then, so we wrote letters,” Ms Cabral said. “He wrote nice letters.”

His plan worked and, in March of 1976, she invited him to her birthday party. He proposed and they were married that September. She wore six-inch platform shoes with her dress because of their height difference.

“I made my own wedding dress,” Ms Cabral said. “There have been occasions when I've been mistaken for his daughter. Especially when I was young.”

The couple moved to the Netherlands right after they were married in Bermuda. They now live in Zwolle, an hour outside of Amsterdam, but return to the island every year to visit Ms Cabral's sister, Lucy Botelho, and other family and friends.

Ms Cabral has been running her own bridal dress shop in Zwolle, Atelier Bruidscouture Cabral, for decades.

“Within two weeks of moving to Holland I had a job as a seamstress,” she said.

“There were more opportunities there. Eventually, I was able to open my own store.”

Now 63, she's considering retiring soon. Mr Leeuw, 70, retired a few years ago from running films in movie theatres.

He still has all the figurines he bought and all the letters they exchanged over their courtship.

Their 40th wedding anniversary brought the couple back for a vacation on September 9.

“Bermuda is still so beautiful and so safe,” Ms Cabral said. “We always feel so comfortable and peaceful here. When we left Holland to come here for this trip, I said it felt like we were coming home, even though we've never lived here together.”

Her best friend, June Hassell, threw a barbecue at Port Royal Golf Course to celebrate the milestone.

Decades of happiness: Maria Cabral and husband Jacob Leeuw met in Bermuda in 1975 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Wedding day: Jakob Leeuw and Maria Cabral tie the know in September 1976 (Photograph supplied)
Island lovers: Maria Cabral and Jakob Leeuw during a visit to Bermuda in the early 1980s (Photograph supplied)

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Published September 28, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated September 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm)

Decades-long love born in Bermuda

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