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"Everyone's important"

The BaptistCare Gracewood team knows how to create community and celebrate moments that matter. That’s made even easier with beloved residents who do the same!

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01941 Billn Shirley web Blog v01

30 March 2023

News | Aged Care Homes

At BaptistCare Gracewood Centre, the staff know exactly how to create community and celebrate moments that matter. For this year’s Valentine’s Day, there was tea and cake abounding, with seven special couples treated to high tea in a beautifully decorated ‘tearoom’.

A particular highlight was hearing a little of the love story of Bill and Shirley Butts, who read some of the letters they had written to each other over the course of their 65-year marriage.

It was in Dubbo in 1954, when Shirley was a 17-year-old trainee nurse and Bill a 22-year-old first-year Science teacher, that they literally danced into each other’s lives, meeting for the first time in the middle of a barn dance. And while Bill “knew from the moment I met her”, Shirley was far more practical, even turning down his invitation to the next dance since they didn’t know each other well enough!

Marrying in 1957, they moved to Sydney where Bill began teaching at North Sydney Boys’ High School. With a passion for education, he was also a “teacher’s teacher”, writing for the Australian Science Teachers’ Journal and becoming a lecturer – first at Sydney Teachers’ College, then at Macquarie University.

Bill longed for those in developing nations to have access to education, so he worked with UNESCO and travelled to Thailand, Samoa, the Maldives, Indonesia and beyond. He built his own equipment to teach time and motion to students, trained local educators who wrote entirely new Science curricula for a nation amid change, and worked to build a whole new Science training facility.

Shirley wasn’t one to sit idly by, and instead embarked on her own further studies while raising their two boys. She became a counsellor and spent many years having a positive impact on the lives of countless individuals.

Whenever she came across something she wasn’t sure how to do, Shirley “… bought a book and learnt how to do it.” This even applied to coaching her nine-year-old son’s soccer team – to victory, no less!

Shirley with their young sons
Shirley with their young sons

In 1978, Bill took a year’s sabbatical leave, heading to the USA to obtain his PhD. On top of his previous travels, some of Shirley’s friends began to ask why she “let him” go overseas. She was always quick to respond confidently that he would grant her the same privilege if the opportunity came her way.

With a marriage based on fully supporting one another, sharing the load, and just “getting on with it,” they each felt free to take opportunities that arose. And while this led to time apart, it also meant a treasure trove of memories was written down and continues to bring them – and now others – great joy.

Tied up with ribbons, nestled in a hand-painted ‘Memories’ box, are the letters that Bill and Shirley wrote to each other all those years ago (along with the 1957 receipt for Shirley’s wedding dress). These are the very letters that warmed the hearts of others in the Gracewood community on Valentine’s Day.

Bill and Shirley_Memories box
The Memories chest that Shirley painted to keep their letters safe

Bill and Shirley_letters
The letters tied with a pink ribbon were written by Shirley; Bill’s are tied with the blue ribbon

There is a beautiful tenderness in the way Bill and Shirley speak of each other and the longevity of their marriage. Bill describes honesty, faithfulness and “a great deal of trust” as the foundations of their life together.

“Value what you have, and do everything you can to keep it,” Shirley says.

Bill and Shirley moved to Gracewood in mid-2022, where they settled right in, sharing their warmth, compassion and spirit for creating community. They take time to get to know everyone they encounter and are a source of great encouragement to every staff member in the invaluable work they each do.

In Shirley’s own words:

“Everyone’s important. The world is like a big wheel – everyone is a different spoke with a different job to do, but every one of those jobs is just as important as the other.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Bill and Shirley today
Shirley and Bill today