Jaimie de Salis OAM and Barry Vincent still admire each other today as they did when they married in 1991.
Jaimie de Salis OAM and Barry Vincent still admire each other today as they did when they married in 1991. Jodie Callcott

Story Of: Jaimie and Barry

BARRY sighs as he watches Jaimie walk away from his office. There's something about her sweet nature and compassion that ignites a spark within him.

But it's a spark he cannot allow to grow into a flame because he's a married man.

Little does he know that Jaimie has similar feelings.

Their story reads like a romantic tragedy - a couple who find one another in their autumn years and must weather the challenges of ageing together.

Jaimie de Salis OAM, 69, and Barry Vincent, 75, both worked in middle management in the public service in Canberra when they first laid eyes on one another.

"I used to have to liaise with Barry and I'd go back to my section wishing that I could meet a really nice man like him," Jaimie said.

"I'd been divorced for about 17 years at the time but Barry was married."

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That was in 1988 and eventually they both moved on to other things and stopped crossing paths.

Then one day, out of the blue, Barry phoned Jaimie.

"I asked how I could help him and he told me it was a social call," she said.

"He asked if I'd like to go to the Black Swan for lunch on Sunday.

"Well, I thought all my birthdays had come at once and I jumped at the chance, not thinking of anything that could possibly stand in the way. But then I had to ring back and cancel."

Jaimie said there were two things stopping their date - he was married and she had a barbecue to attend that day.

But Barry informed her he wasn't married any more and they could go out on the Saturday night instead.

They went to the Canberra Club for dinner, thinking it would be secluded and private.

But they ran into "everyone they could possibly think of from our department'' and by the time they got to work on the Monday news had spread that they were an item.

 

Celebrating new year's eve in 1995 at the Oak Room, Hyatt Hotel, Canberra.
Celebrating new year's eve in 1995 at the Oak Room, Hyatt Hotel, Canberra. Contributed

Jaimie laughs about it now, remembering how they had a special connection.

"There was just something about Barry I was drawn to," she said.

"I think it was his gentle nature. He's very softly spoken but he has quite a forceful personality underneath that. And a beautiful mind. He had a photographic memory back then.

"He used to be able to cite the scores of football games and soccer games from years and years ago and tell you who scored what and who won.

"I had never come across anyone like that.

"We shared a lot of interests. We like history and literature, so we had a common bond in that sense."

Barry said he was drawn to Jaimie's honesty and compassion.

The couple married in 1991. They honeymooned in Thailand and Barry's homeland, the UK, where he was able to introduce his new wife to his relatives.

 

IN LOVE: Jaimie de Salis OAM and Barry Vincent on their wedding day in 1991.
IN LOVE: Jaimie de Salis OAM and Barry Vincent on their wedding day in 1991. Contributed

Back in Australia the couple continued working but their hours forced them to be like ships in the night.

So they took early retirement in 1997 and moved to the beautiful little hamlet of Fishing Point, south of Newcastle.

"We had a lovely home up on a hill that looked across Lake Macquarie, across Belmont and out to the ocean," Jaimie said.

"But the house was just so cold with its 15-foot ceilings and expansive glass and I couldn't get warm there.

"I'm a cold frog, even coming from Canberra, but I felt cold there.

"One day I was sitting there shivering and I even had an oil-filled column heater as well as thermal underwear on and a rug around me, when Barry said, 'let's move to Hervey Bay'.

"And we did. It was 2002 and we moved to Dundowran.

"I can remember you could drive in from there and hardly see another car on the road.

"It was so quiet. But now it's almost bumper to bumper both ways."

 

Jaimie celebrating her 40th birthday in Canberra.
Jaimie celebrating her 40th birthday in Canberra. Contributed

Like the road, things didn't stay the same.

In 2006 the couple received the devastating news that Barry had Parkinson's disease. When they looked back, they realised he started showing symptoms around 2000.

Jaimie said they were advised to enjoy their life during the "honeymoon phase'' of the disease, before it progressed.

"There's a four or five-year period after being diagnosed with Parkinson's where people are still able to live a relatively normal life," she said.

"We went to Lady Elliot Island for my 60th birthday and we went up to Port Douglas for a few weeks.

"But mainly we just enjoyed our home and entertaining friends."

 

Barry giving a fish a kiss in 2001.
Barry giving a fish a kiss in 2001. Contributed

But the disease progressed and they had to move into town.

Barry's speech and fine motor skills were affected.

"He used to have the most beautiful handwriting and in a very short space of time got down to a tiny little almost illegible scrawl," Jaimie said.

"And with his speech being badly affected, it's very difficult to understand what he's saying, especially on the telephone.

"That has a flow-over because people just stopped communicating with him on the phone because they couldn't understand what he was saying.

"It leads to isolation which is very sad, and I have actually given a few people a good serve because they if they cannot speak with him on the phone, for goodness sakes they can write him a letter, so he still feels like he's being communicated with.

"But it's only been the past three years with his Parkinson's that have been very difficult. I noticed a change and he's now got quite a significant cognitive impairment.

"There are mobility issues and other problems that come with certain types of medication, and they cause other problems.

"To see a beautiful mind not working properly is very hard."

Jaimie hasn't sat idly by and watched the man she loves deteriorate. She has spent years working hard to help others like themselves gain the vital services they need on the Fraser Coast.

She became a volunteer with Parkinson's Queensland and started a support group in May 2011.

More than 100 people have joined the group since then and it currently has 40 active members.

The support group provides a meeting place for people with similar challenges, both patients and carers.

It offers emotional and practical support and lets others know they are not alone.

 

Jaimie and Barry whale watching on board the M.V. Norman Allan for a day of whale watching in Hervey Bay.
Jaimie and Barry whale watching on board the M.V. Norman Allan for a day of whale watching in Hervey Bay. Contributed

Jaimie has lobbied for a neurologist and is working to gain a neurological nurse for the region.

It is estimated there are 440 people on the Fraser Coast living with Parkinson's disease.

Jaimie's work has taken her to the State Government community cabinet meeting and meetings with health ministers, as well as the development of a 35-page submission to support the case for a local neurologist or nurse.

"A lot of people are too unwell to travel," she said.

"A nurse will be like a bridge between the patient, the GP and the neurologist.

"Specialist knowledge is necessary because it's such a complex disease."

"There's only about 100 neurologists across Australia who are looking after Parkinson's patients. It's very sad."

Ten months ago, Barry moved into a high-care home as Jaimie could no longer look after him at home.

And Barry still sighs as he watches Jaimie walk away from his room.



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