‘God blessed us with gift of living to 100 together’
At 100 years old, both Carm and Dolly Vella have lived through a century of change to make it as Malta’s first centenarian couple.
Their birthdays are only a few weeks apart: Carm from Cospicua, turned 100 on July 14, while Dolly, from Vittoriosa, will celebrate her centenary tomorrow. The couple marked the momentous occasion with a family Mass and party at Casa Leone where they now reside.
Their love, too, has transcended decades, and this year Mr and Mrs Vella celebrated 72 years of marriage.
“God is so great that he blessed us with the beautiful gift of living up to 100 together,” Carm said, his eyes welling up.
His wife looked at him tenderly and excused him: “Lately he’s becoming very emotional... especially when there’s all the family.”
Dressed smartly in shirt and tie, Carm held his wife’s hand throughout the interview. “I always thought Dolly was beautiful,” he said, as he looked at her “... and always is”. Then he turned, and as an aside whispered: “And her mother was even more beautiful.”
Dolly was yesterday dressed in a flowered blue dress, reminiscent of her wedding day.
The couple were married in 1940 and had a very modest reception at Dolly’s mother house. “It was during the war, so it was not a time for white dresses,” she said.
Carm recalled exactly what his wife had worn on the day: “She was wearing a pale blue coat over a flowered dress, I still remember it clearly.”
They had met a year earlier, at a wedding. “I was witness at my friend’s wedding and I noticed her dancing at the party – she was there as a guest of her sister – but she was with someone else so of course, I didn’t approach,” said Carm.
But cupid’s arrow had struck and when a few days later he saw her walking down Kingsway (now Republic Street), he stopped her and asked her to walk with him.
From then on they have never left each other’s side. Soon after, Carm, a top civil servant with the British government, was posted to Egypt. She had her own teaching career in Malta, as she was a piano teacher.
“I went with him! That was one of the best times, lots of dancing and music,” she recalled enthusiastically.
At one point, during the war she was evacuated to Pakistan, but their separation did not last long. “She sent me a letter saying she was very ill and I immediately caught a train and went to get her,” he said. The next day, she was back to her usual self and full of life.
“I was missing him. I was not ill, just heartbroken,” she recalled.
On their return they moved to a large flat on St Anne’s Street in Floriana and every year hosted a large party for the family to celebrate the feast of St Publius. Theirs was a big family: Dolly was the eldest of seven children and Carm was the fifth of 11 surviving siblings. They never had children of their own, but were kept busy with about 50 nephews and nieces.
“The older ones were the centrepieces of their lives,” said nephew Sergio Vella, 56.
“Because we were six siblings, I used to spend Thursdays with Aunty Dolly and Uncle Carm – there was always such an affinity between them,” said Alfred Naudi, 65.
After Egypt, the couple’s travel bug never died and over the years they holidayed all over Europe, particularly in the UK where her sister Malou still lives.
They reside at Casa Leone, a home for the elderly, though as recently as eight years ago, when both were in their 90s, they were totally independent and lived in their own apartment in Sliema. “To this day I miss being in my own home,” said Dolly.
Nephew Ino Cordina, 69, said they would eat out almost every day and were very active at the Union Club. Until three years ago, before they had to take to their wheelchairs, they would take the bus to Qawra every Thursday to lunch at the Suncrest Hotel.
The celebration Mass was celebrated by Fr Adrian Caruana Colombo, also a nephew who reflected that perhaps the secret to a blessed long life was that they lived every moment to the full.
That, and perhaps lots of love. “I love her to this very day,” Carm said as he kissed his wife’s hand.