One of the sweetest stories from the Communitas archives is that of the romance of Bob Geddes and Annie Clemson. Their love story is a microcosm of the changes that needed to happen in society for their relationship to be allowed. It took three decades before they were finally married, an event that was truly a celebration of love and faithfulness. The wedding was beautiful. The journey to the altar was a true test of love.
Bob and Annie met in one of the most unlikely and unromantic places: Woodlands Institution in New Westminster. Annie and her sister were brought there when they were toddlers, Bob arrived at the age of 16. (For almost a century, Woodlands was where people living with developmental disabilities were placed. Those who lived there had few rights and were often separated from their families, sometimes for their entire lives. It closed in 1996. Communitas participated in the process of deinstitutionalization, bringing people like Bob and Annie, out of institution and into community.
The attraction between Bob and Annie began as teenagers but they were separated when they were moved out of Woodlands and into different living circumstances. Bob moved to a private residence and Annie to a group home. It was years before they’d see each other again, at a weekly social group held in a local church. Their romance rekindled and they began dating. After a few months, Bob popped the question and Annie said “yes!”
With the help of Bob’s caregiver, Bob and Annie began planning their wedding but one day, everything fell apart. Annie’s caregivers were vehemently opposed to the wedding. They forbade the couple from seeing each other, even threatening to call the police if Bob should try to contact Annie. They were devastated.
But the Bible tells us that “love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4) and that was never more true than for Bob and Annie. Annie never took off her engagement ring. Bob kept a photo of Annie at his bedside. They remained faithful to each other despite being apart and losing contact.
When Annie moved into a new care home in New Westminster, she showed her ring to everyone and talked about her boyfriend, Bob. Sympathetic staff finally helped her find Bob, who was also living in a new care home in Abbotsford. A reunion was arranged and when Bob and Annie saw each other again, all the years of separation melted away. It was like they’d never been apart.
When Annie moved into a home in Abbotsford facilitated by Communitas, the couple began to see each other regularly and their love for each other grew. By the time Bob popped the question again, they had the support of everyone around them. On December 8, 2005, in front of nearly 80 witnesses, Bob and Annie spoke their vows to each other and were married.
Lisa McIntosh has been a manager with Communitas’ Community Living Program (CLP) for many years and remembers the wedding day well. CLP is a day service that provides support and life skills to people living with developmental disabilities who want to be active in their communities. At Bob and Annie’s wedding, participants in CLP catered the reception as a way to support the couple. Lisa says the wedding day was “magical and awe inspiring.”
“What I remember most was the moment after they were pronounced husband and wife,” Lisa recalls. “They turned around and there was just a glow about them. It was like they were saying ‘finally!’”
And as much as it was a momentous occasion for Bob and Annie, it was an important affirmation for the staff at Communitas: that the years-long process of bringing people out of institution and into community, supporting people in their desires and goals, was working and was right.
“It was a lift for all of us, seeing these two people who met at Woodlands, participating in a life event that would be normal for most people but was never considered an expectation for people living with disabilities,” she says.
Bob and Annie lived together happily as husband and wife until Annie passed away, just two days before their first anniversary. Bob passed away in August of 2016, Annie’s photo still at his bedside.