They had been married for more than 70 years and in all that time it was only death that could keep them momentarily apart.
Jack and Sheila Hoxley’s devotion to each other was such that when Sheila died following a five year battle with Alzheimer’s, Jack felt his life had also run its course and it ended in hospital 17 days later.
The couple had been part of the generation that saw the country emerge from the dark days of the Second World War. On a summer’s day in July 1947 they had married at Newmarket’s St Mary’s Church and made their home first in Exning Road then in Croft Road where they raised their three children.
Jack had been a telephone engineer and it was at the Newmarket exchange that he first met Sheila. They fell in love and embarked on a life together that would span seven decades.
The couple had a life-long connection to the church where they were married. Sheila had run the St Mary’s branch of the Mothers’ Union, while Jack was a member of the Guild of Altar Servers. They also volunteered with community organisations including Meals on Wheels, with which they were both involved well into their 80s receiving long service medals.
As well as always being ready to help anyone with a problem, Sheila was a stalwart of the Girls’ Friendly Society while Jack helped out in the early days of the Crucial Crew initiative fixing up telephones so the youngsters taking part could learn how to make emergency calls.
On top of all this they were devoted parents to their daughter, Jill Voss, and her two brothers Peter and Michael.
“They wanted a family as they had both been only children,” said Jill.
“Neither of them had fond memories of their own childhoods so they made sure ours were happy and they were.”
In 1997 the couple had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and, as they had been married in the same year as the Queen, they were invited to celebrate at a special garden party held at Buckingham Palace.
“They were both very proud of that,” said Jill, who had nursed her mum through the last years of her life as well as looking after her dad.
“After we lost mum I thought we might have some time with dad,” said Jill, “but the day he went into hospital he told me ‘I won’t be here much longer. It was as if he knew he had had his time and just wanted to be with mum.”
Sheila had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago.
“She knew she had it for a while and fought to get treatment but the doctors said she didn’t,” said Jill.
When she finally got the diagnosis, I just cried but I was crying with relief that it had been finally recognised that she had it.
“Mum kept a diary. She had done since she was a young girl and had put things in it every day. When we were children, if we got a new pair of shoes it went in mum’s diary. But then her entries suddenly got confused, she was writing things in the wrong place and she knew there was something wrong.”
Sheila, who had bravely fought both breast and bowel cancer, could not win the battle for her mind.
For the past two years, although bedridden, she had been able to stay at the home she and Jack had shared together in Croft Road for more than 50 years, thanks to the care provided by Jill and Jack’s determination that as their lives together drew gently to a close, they should not be parted.
“Dad had watched over her and she could not have stayed at home had he not been in the house,” said Jill.
“I know that neither of them were afraid of dying,” she said.
“My mum once said to my daughter Katie ‘when you get old, you get tired’ I think it was her way of explaining what was to come.”
In their final years together Jack also had his health problems. Three days a week for five years he had undergone dialysis at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds. Then, on Saturday, October 7, aged 92, Sheila died. Seven days later Jack, went into hospital and on October 24 closed his eyes and joined her.
“I did not know it then but he had told the doctors he did not want any more dialysis,” said Jill.
“I believe he felt he had done all he had to do. He had been there for my mum as long as she needed him and he just wanted to go with her.”
On October 31, family and friends filled the church where more than 70 years ago Jack and Sheila had begun their married life together to say their farewells as the couple’s lives were celebrated in a joint service.
As was their wish they were cremated and the family will scatter their ashes somewhere they loved and somewhere they will always be remembered, together, just as they would have wanted.