Secret to the Tutus’ 58-year marriage

2013-10-20 14:00

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It was a less-than-romantic start: The parents of a young Desmond Tutu ordered him to ditch his girlfriend and propose to Leah Shenxane instead.

But after 58 years of the kind of marriage that role models are made of, the world’s favourite “Arch” says he’s one happy husband.

At a crowd-pulling event at the University of the Free State on Thursday to mark Leah Tutu’s 80th birthday and launch a symposium in her name, the First Couple of the cloth described their enduring love.

Leah Tutu – evidently the more practical half – dwelt with dry humour on the endurance part.

“When you get married, you say these vows: for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.

“Well, I had the worse and the poorer for a long time, but I waited for the better and the richer. And then one day, finally, we could walk into a restaurant without borrowing money from the neighbours.”

Her husband, typically, waxed more lyrical. “I know I would have been nothing without Leah. She never stood behind me, always alongside me and even sometimes several steps ahead of me?…”

As Leah left the stage after making a short, modest speech about her lifelong advocacy for the rights of domestic workers (her mother was one) she was engulfed by her husband and given a whopper of a kiss.

The key to the Tutus’ successful marriage, as revealed throughout the day by their family and friends, included them presenting a united front as parents and making sure there was always laughter around the kitchen table.

There was hardly a dry eye in the house – either from laughing or crying – after the Tutus were serenaded by sopranos, teased and praised by old comrades and even treated to a spirited piano recital of Mahalia Jackson’s If I Can Help Somebody by the university’s irrepressible leader, Professor Jonathan Jansen.

At a family press conference at the end of the festivities, Leah, a keen gardener, said: “We believe in servant leadership and hope our legacy will be to encourage people to grow things: things of beauty; things that are edible; to see beauty in cleanliness; to pick up that paper or that orange peel; and to use (their) God-given gifts.”

Amen to that.

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