By Steve Hubrecht

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Andy and Kelly Stuart-Hill’s marriage is a love story that spans several continents and multiple decades.

On the afternoon of Sunday, January 29, a great many local residents (almost half the Columbia Valley according to some who were there) stopped by the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 71 in Invermere to take in the open house 90th birthday celebrations of Andy Stuart-Hill. 

Less than a week later – on Friday, Feb. 3, Andy and Kelly marked their 61st wedding anniversary. Then a week and half after that, they shared their 62nd Valentine’s Day as a married couple. In short, they are another great Columbia Valley case study in the longevity of love.

What’s the secret to reaching your diamond-plus-one anniversary still smiling as much as you did on your wedding day? To hear Kelly and Andy tell it, it comes down to tolerance, understanding and a sense of fun.

The couple grew up in South Africa, where their families knew each other. They were married in 1962, and moved to England. From there they immigrated to Canada, coming by ship to Montreal, then train to Edmonton, and finally up the freshly-opened Mackenzie Highway to start a new life in the Northwest Territories.

Perhaps a globe-trotting marriage was always in the cards for the pair, since despite both their families living in the gold mining country west of Johannesburg, they did not begin dating until they met again thousands of miles away as young adults.

“I went to school with Andy’s brother and sister. I had met Andy at a swim meet, through his siblings. But we were kids then, and he was five years older than me, so I didn’t know him all that well,” recalled Kelly. “Then Andy grew up and we went off to work overseas. Years later, I did the same thing. Well, one day I was walking down the street in London (England) with an Australian girlfriend. She said ‘Hey, now there’s a good-looking fellow,’ and she pointed. And you know what? It was Andy. So I said ‘I know him.’ And she didn’t believe me, so I went up to talk to him. That’s how Andy and I met again.”

Romance was in the air, and the couple were married back home in South Africa. But neither was much interested in staying there long-term, so they went back to the United Kingdom. After some time there, it was on to Canada, eventually to the country’s still-then-quite remote northern reaches.

“We went to Yellowknife, which at the time only had a population of about 1,000. The ride in on the bus was a long one. They had just put the highway in, and it was not paved yet. I had a job in the gold mine. There was a sort of wild west, frontier-type feeling to the north in those days. It was a rough place,” said Andy. “Kelly definitely had to put up with a lot, but she adapted to everything. She’s an incredible lady.”

Andy’s work took him on trips into the high Arctic, staying with Inuit families. Kelly stayed behind in Yellowknife, establishing the couple’s home. She quickly found work herself. 

After a few years in Yellowknife, the Stuart-Hills moved to work at another mine near Prince George. There, Andy worked with Sandy Laird, son of J. Alfred Laird (the namesake of Invermere’s current elementary school). 

When a job as school district treasurer with what is now known as Rocky Mountain School District Six opened up in Invermere, Sandy encouraged Andy to apply, telling the Stuart-Hills they’d love the Columbia Valley. Andy applied and was hired by J. Alfred Laird. 

“That was in 1976 and we’ve been here ever since,” said Andy.

A long career in the school district followed for Andy, while Kelly worked for the conservation officer service, Radium Resort and the Greywolf golf course. The Stuart-Hills raised two kids in Invermere. Those kids are now adults (one lives in Denver, the other is a professor at the University of Victoria) and have their own kids (four grandkids for Kelly and Andy in total). Andy kept busy with many volunteer efforts, particularly the Rotary Club. As one of the first ‘mountain friend’ guides at Panorama Mountain Resort. After retiring he became one of the Columbia Valley’s most popular marriage commissioners, joining a total of 512 couples in matrimony here. He also authored a book on the history of Panorama Mountain Resort and still travels widely, having visited every continent, including Antarctica. Kelly doesn’t like to jet-set around the globe quite as much as Andy anymore, but she kept just as busy, volunteering with the Brownies, and teaching swimming for the Scouts and the Red Cross. She helped found the Go Go Sisters, a local nonprofit group that has fundraised extensively over the last 16 years for the Stephen Lewis Foundation. In between she plays tennis and golf. And, as neighbours in the Wilder subdivision can attest, the couple still find time to keep a beautiful front garden.

“It’s been a wonderful life, and a wonderful marriage. I was really fortunate to find Kelly, blessed really,” said Andy. He noted they come from similar backgrounds, but added he feels their successful relationship owes much to their similar personalities.

“There’s a shared sense between us of fun and a desire to face the unknown… There’s a lot of tolerance and understanding and mutual respect. That goes a long way,” said Andy.

Kelly lets out a laugh when Andy’s answer of ‘tolerance’ is re-iterated to her, and adds cheerfully, “Yes, letting Andy go off on all his travels, that helps.”