Back in 1990 Maryanne Newman was a young woman residing in Essex, England. She was living with Down syndrome, a genetic condition that typically affects growth and intellectual development.
She attended Southend’s Maybrook day centre, a training facility near her home specially designed for people with disabilities. And it was here that Newman met someone very special indeed. His name was Tommy Pilling.
The two clearly hit it off immediately. “The day Maryanne met Tommy, she came home with the biggest smile on her face,” Maryanne’s sister Lindi told the Daily Mail in February 2017. “She couldn’t stop talking about him and asked if he could come for dinner.”
Tommy, who also had Down syndrome, clearly had similar feelings, and the two soon began dating. Fast-forward 18 months, and the couple were still going strong. It was time for the next step.
Tommy decided that he was ready to marry Maryanne. However, he was careful to approach the subject properly with Maryanne’s mom. So he asked her if could propose to her daughter. He even had a ring.
Maryanne’s mom, Linda, was fully behind the idea. However, she clearly wasn’t entirely convinced by Tommy’s ring, which he had bought from a machine. So she accompanied him to a jeweler in order to pick out another ring.
What’s more, the proposal went to plan. “I was shocked when Tommy proposed but I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes,” Maryanne told the Daily Mail. Consequently, the couple then went on to enjoy their big day in the summer of 1995.
“My wedding was the best day of my life,” Maryanne added. The bride’s sister told the Daily Mail that Maryanne had “always dreamed of a big white wedding since she was a little girl.” And that’s precisely what she had, complete with fairytale dress and tiara.
Some media reports suggest that this was the first marriage between two people with Down syndrome. Instead of celebrating the Pillings for this, though, at the time some people were critical of the couple.
According to the Huffington Post, some people criticized the Pillings’ relationship, believing that it was somehow “wrong” and expressing doubts that the marriage would last. Meanwhile, others were very critical of Maryanne’s mother.
She was condemned for letting the pair go on dates and ultimately for allowing them to get married. And although it was Maryanne’s choice whether to get hitched or not, some people thought it was wrong that her mother had “blessed’’ the union.
But since then, the Pillings have shown incredible resilience. In July 2017 the couple will celebrate an incredible 22 years of marriage, silencing all the prejudiced haters who doubted their relationship.
Indeed, two decades on, they are still having a blissful time together. “Tommy and I never argue. I love my husband very much. He is my best friend,” Maryanne told the Daily Mail. The couple are able to live alone, but their next-door neighbors are family members who can assist them when necessary.
However, unfortunately the couple have hit the headlines in recent years for reasons other than their inspirational love story. In particular, one horrible incident that took place in a thrift store in 2015 really stands out.
Thieves targeted the Pillings as they were out shopping together. Two men walked up to Tommy and shook his hand in an effort to distract him. In the meantime, the other man robbed him of his wallet.
The despicable crime left both Tommy and Maryanne scared to go out. Moreover, their families were furious that people would target the couple because of their disability. However, the incident triggered an outpouring of support from the online community. Indeed, people even offered to chaperone them around town.
In addition, the couple have been spreading their own positive message with the help of Facebook. Maryanne’s sister, Lindi Newman, launched a page called, “Maryanne and Tommy.” It celebrates the couple’s union, with the aim of inspiring and encouraging others with Down syndrome.
In a February 2017 interview with Dose, Newman said that she created the Facebook page to encourage parents of people with Down syndrome. “Their children can also fall in love and live happily ever after,” she declared. And the reaction to the page has been hugely positive.
Indeed, many people across the world have left heartwarming comments for the loved-up couple, who are “always cuddling, always laughing,” according to sister Lindi. One read, “Love comes in all forms, and yours should be celebrated, not criticized and judged. Wishing you both many more happy years together in the future.”
And for a couple who have been through so much together, it’s reassuring to see the level of support that they’ve received. So far, the page has garnered over 17,000 likes and continues to spread an important message: namely, that times are changing and that attitudes towards disability must change, too.