Penny Umbers, 60, and Mark Bethel, 61 were forced apart as teenagers in the 1970s because their parents did not approve of their interracial relationship.
As a teen, Bethel flew from his home in the Bahamian capital, Nassau, to attend boarding school Trent College, near Nottingham, where Umbers attended school. They went on to study at separate universities in London — it was at this time that Umbers’ father secretly visited Bethel, telling him that he could pull strings to have Bethel’s scholarship revoked if he continued the relationship with his daughter. Bethel’s parents disapproved of the relationship as well, and had even withdrawn financial support, so he made “the hardest decision of his life.”
“I didn’t have much power. I was 3,000 miles away from home in a foreign country. I was totally dependent on my scholarship,” said Bethel. “I had to make the hardest decision of my life and I had to make it in isolation. It was heartbreaking.”
Umbers was heartbroken and quit college. She went on to marry and divorce twice. Meanwhile, Bethel finished his degree and had a career managing hotels all over the world. He also got married and later divorced, and neither Bethel or Umbers ever forgot about their first true love.
Throughout the years, Bethel searched for Umbers, but was unsuccessful due to her surname changes. Finally, at the end of 2019, he found a photo of her on Facebook. The couple was kept apart for several more months due to pandemic travel restrictions, but finally flew to Bethel in the Bahamas in June 2021.
“There was that feeling of reuniting,” Umbers said. “But it was like we hadn’t changed one iota.” When she visited the Bahamas again at the beginning of October, Bethel proposed immediately. The couple wrote a book detailing their story called Thirty-Nine Years in the Wilderness.
“I feel like a whole new person. I’ve never loved anyone the way I love Mark,” said Umbers.
“We have had 39 lost years but we are looking forward to a really great future,” said Bethel.
Image source: Daily Mail
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