A touching story of a father and son reunited after a lifetime apart lies behind the decision of Terry Garn, 71 in June, and his wife Brenda, 67, to move to Wadswick Green.
The family-oriented couple, both previously married, have grown-up children in different countries. Being able to lock up and leave their apartment in the capable hands of the on-site concierge appealed hugely.
Terry is an adventurer who lived in Australia for 30 years working as a sales rep, film stunt man, restaurateur and photographer, finally becoming a residential estate manager in Horsham, West Sussex, when he returned to the UK in 1999.
‘I always say I came back to marry Brenda,’ he says. They were introduced by his sister, Brenda’s best friend, while Terry was visiting the UK in 1998 and married in 2001. Brenda’s son Richard lives in Limerick with his Irish wife and two young children. ‘Richard’s father is not alive and he thinks of himself as my son.’
Poignantly, for many years Terry had no relationship with his own two Australian-born sons. He had emigrated in 1970, aged 25, on a sponsored £10 passage after meeting an Australian girl in London. ‘I asked to be put on a 24-hour standby list and got a call at 8am to say I’d be travelling at 4pm.
‘I’d been an independent, outdoorsy, horse-loving child who’d gone into farm work and then selling agricultural and earth moving equipment for a company who offered me work with them in Australia. I settled with my girlfriend Marilyn on the New South Wales coast north of Sydney and loved the laid-back lifestyle. We married but were unable to have children and that put a terrible stress on us and we split in the early 1980s.’
After meeting a stunt co-ordinator at a party he did movie and advertising work part time – ‘bar room fights, falling off horses, knocking people over.’ He also bought his own 140-seater steak and seafood restaurant, working from 9am to 3am six days a week. After 13 years he moved on, setting up as a professional freelance photographer, specialising in horse shows and rodeos along with newspaper commissions.
It was at a horse show that he met Linda in 1990. ‘It took off quickly, too quickly, and we were married within a year. Our sons were born in1991 and 1992 but when Christopher was a toddler and Matthew still a baby, the marriage broke down. I’d loved being a father and it was heartbreakingly painful to leave them.’ Terry wasn’t able to arrange to see them and made the harrowing decision not to fight for access in order to let them have stability with their mother and her family.
‘I made sure they knew I would always be there for them. My mother and sister kept in contact with Linda and passed on news and photos. I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church and learnt how to deal with my sadness with tolerance and compassion.’
In May 2013, an email arrived unexpectedly from Christopher, then 22, and the pair were soon excitedly making contact several times a day. ‘It was out of the blue and I was emotional and jubilant. Photos and stories whizzed back and forth as I found out about his life. I’d not even had an idea what he looked like as an adult. I cried my eyes out when Christopher explained that he didn’t want to drag up what had happened or recriminate but just wanted to get to know me.
‘Later he announced that he was marrying his girlfriend and, this son I hadn’t seen for 20-odd years, wanted Brenda and me there. If that isn’t forgiveness and moving on, I don’t know what is. As we flew over for our three week trip in November 2014, I was riven with anxiety. What if he didn’t like me? Luckily, we got on like a house on fire and our first meeting was overwhelming. He is the spitting image of me in his mannerisms and qualities like caring for people. We stayed at his house for three wonderful weeks. ‘Now we can’t wait for them to visit us at Wadswick Green and we’re hoping for grandchildren. I’m still not on close terms with Matthew but can only pray that we will get there.’
Terry now has the happy marriage of his dreams: ‘It’s a more complete love than any I have ever known.’ Brenda retired from nursing in 2004 after a ‘nasty’ car accident and does a lot of volunteering which the couple hope to continue inside and outside the complex.
They have bought a two bed top floor home. ‘I’m used to open spaces and we’ll have a wonderful view in this bright and airy flat. I’m young in heart and mind and am retiring this year for a life which will be just as active. We love walking and wining and dining and hope to do lots of socialising when we’re not travelling to see family and friends.’
While Brenda will be treating their new circle at Wadswick Green to her roast lamb and spaghetti Bolognese, Terry will be hoping for good weather so he can get out that essential kit of an adopted son of Australia – his barbecue set.
By Terry and Brenda Garn