Valerie and Maurice Facey: A 60-year marriage that should not have been
O love that wilt not let me go
Published Sunday, April 15, 2012, the day before Maurice and Valerie's 60th anniversary
THE parents of underaged Valerie Hart-Collins were so dead set against her marrying Maurice Facey that the young couple was forced to turn to the then governor of Jamaica for permission to tie the knot.
The dramatic battle of wills was played out in front of the entire nation, providing the first salacious story for a scandal-driven tabloid that had its fortuitous birth in the middle of this sensational marital impasse.
Tomorrow, April 16, the Faceys will celebrate 60 years of a marriage that should not have been, left to her parents, and which Valerie Facey now admits had carried "an awesome burden of proving that I was right in my choice".
If Maurice William Facey, the business tycoon of today, but 26 years old then, could have foreseen the stress and trauma that awaited him, he might not have, on a whim, proposed to the lovely 17-year-old lass whom he first saw leaning from the deck of a banana boat from England which had just docked in the Kingston Harbour in 1951.
Maurice had gone to the pier to meet his parents, the well known Cecil B Facey and his wife Nellie, as well as his younger brother Lloyd. He still gushes about the beauty he beheld on that destinyappointed July morning waiting to disembark the Elders and Fyffe's vessel, the Bayano.
"I saw this good-looking girl leaning over the rail of the ship. I thought she was gorgeous. I just said 'hey beautiful, why don't you marry me?'," Maurice recalled for the Jamaica Observer.
But marrying Valerie Hart-Collins — a white girl to boot — in 1950s Jamaica would be easier said than done.
This startlingly beautiful and independent-minded young woman had lived a life typical of the daughter of an American actress, Juliette Helen Rypinski, and Cyril Hart-Collins, a British Royal Flying Corps officer and radio engineer.
Valerie was born in London but at age one her parents went to live in the United States. Two years later, Mr and Mrs Hart-Collins divorced. Valerie was constantly on the move with her mother and governess Minnie Ranghild Nelson — 'the surrogate mother who saved me' — she said, recalling that up to age 13, she attended no less than eight different schools in California, New York, Texas, Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts.
Her mother remarried and had three more daughters before moving to France, where Valerie's affinity for languages and appreciation for things cultural were reinforced by summer breaks spent in Italy. At age 17, she began the journey by sea with her stepfather to join her mother who had already left for Jamaica, travelling from Paris, France, to Bristol, England, and onto Kingston.
As Valerie recalls, the journey was largely uneventful. "There were 50 passengers on the ship, but I was the only young woman among them, making me the focus of attention, especially of the young men with whom I spent most of the time."
Importantly, among them was Lloyd Facey. Through him, she met his parents, confessing that she did not get to know them very well at the time, because of the age difference.
Lloyd's father is Cecil Boswell Facey, the founder of Cecil B Facey Limited, the trading and manufacturing company which would spawn the Facey empire, including Pan-Jamaican Investment Trust Limited and Sagicor. His older son Maurice worked with him as a salesman but started his own company, Painters and Sprayers, on the side. He had remained behind in Jamaica.
On the morning of July 14, Bastille Day in France, Maurice had an early breakfast, got dressed and headed off to the pier in downtown Kingston to meet his parents and brother. He had a girlfriend, but marriage was the last thing on his mind as he grabbed a vantage point. As the vessel pulled in, he saw a vision that made his pulse and heart race.
Valerie Hart-Collins was swept up in another vision of her own. She had taken her first glimpse of what Christopher
Columbus, when similarly struck by the scintillating beauty of the island of Jamaica centuries before, had described as "the fairest isle that eyes have beheld".
She leaned over the deck and that was when Maurice saw her.
But Valerie was only 17 years old. Under the law, young women under 21 had to get the permission of their parents to marry. It is this fact that would be at the centre of the heartbreak that was to come.
Before that, however, the two young people would go their separate ways, until fate conspired to bring them back together two weeks later.
The plot thickens
Valerie's stepfather, Arthur L Mulling was playing golf at the upscale Liguanea Club with Maurice and Lloyd Facey. He warmed to the two young men and invited them over for dinner with his family.
Lloyd reconnected with Valerie, his shipmate, and the group of young people started hanging out and partying together. Maurice's girlfriend was among them, so nothing happened between him and Valerie. Subsequently, Lloyd went back to England and Maurice and his girlfriend broke up. The plot thickened.
"We started going out together, but only as good friends," says Maurice. "But over time something started to happen."
Remembering, perhaps, that faint heart never won fair maiden, Maurice Facey decided he would seek the young lady's hand in marriage. It was the beginning of sorrows.
"When I decided to get married, we got resistance from my parents. I was now 18 but still below the age of consent, and they insisted I was too young," Valerie recounts.
Says Maurice: "I was very unhappy with their response. It was felt that the reason for the resistance was that here was this American girl getting married to a Jamaican man."
Valerie adds: "This was a euphemism."
Not being able to prevail upon her daughter to drop this idea of getting married, Juliette Rypinski came up with the suggestion that she should spend nine months with her grandparents in California, and if at the end of that time she was still in love, then she would give her permission to wed.
Valerie reluctantly agreed but said only for three months and on condition that they be allowed to get engaged before she left.
"The night before she was to leave, I pleaded with her to stay because I feared I would lose her," Maurice confesses to the Sunday Observer.
She had already packed, but instead of heading for the airport where her mother was waiting, Valerie decided that very morning, they would elope.
"I went to Maurice's parents' home because I was now without a home. They agreed to let me stay there. It was a very emotional time for us," Valerie relives the moment.
As if to symbolise the gathering storm and the turbulence of the young couple's woes, Hurricane Charlie pounded Jamaica with merciless winds and rain two weeks after her 18th birthday.
"It was like my baptism of fire. Everything was a mess," she remembers.
Depressed, she was taken to the country parts — Newport, Manchester — by her devoted fiancé to allow her to cool out with friends. The determination to marry strengthened.
The Star newspaper had opened its doors at this time and saw the unfolding saga as likely to delight its readers. One of its first and biggest headlines was "Valerie and fiancé in the country seeking kind parson to marry them".
But her parents were not giving up. Valerie had no right over her own passport and she could not work. They retained the eminent barrister, Norman Washington Manley to help prevent the wedding.
One Saturday morning, her friends brought the newspaper around and pointed to an item. It was an advertisement warning all marriage officers on the island of Jamaica against breaching the law.
The newspaper ran an article in which it interviewed the Roman Catholic Archbishop, the Anglican Bishop and a non-conformist minister about what they would do if the young couple came to their church to be married. All said they would have to comply with the law of the land.
Meanwhile, photographers chased the couple everywhere. Even the popular cartoonist Urban Leandro got involved.
So caught up with the intrigue was the country that when the two went to the trendy Glass Bucket nightclub in Kingston, the disc jock devoted Nat King Cole's classic love song Too young, to them.
Norman Manley vs Vivian Blake
Valerie and Maurice got themselves a lawyer too. Ironically, he was Vivian Blake, a political brother to Norman Manley. One of the options raised by Blake was the possibility of staging the marriage outside Jamaica's three-mile nautical limit.
Her spirits revived after imbibing the fresh country air, Valerie returned to Kingston with Maurice. Within 20 minutes of her resuming work as a graphic artist, two plainclothes police officers turned up with a warrant for her arrest. Her parents had struck again.
The charge was working in Jamaica without a permit, a regulation which nobody paid any attention, until then. Valerie was taken before the chief immigration officer, Inspector Harper, an Englishman.
"He told me that if I left Jamaica with the ticket that my parents had bought, he would not press charges against me," Valerie remembers. "I asked him what was the alternative and he said imprisonment. I told him that he was going to have to put me in prison because I was not leaving."
Outside, her stepfather was waiting. The immigration chief summoned Maurice to come and get her after telling her she had 24 hours to sort herself out.
The Colonial Secretary Dudley Soutar was an actor and friend of Maurice. He had been following the story and called up the immigration chief to enquire if he had Valerie's passport. He did. Soutar saw that although she had an American passport, her father was British and that made her a British citizen as well. No one would answer when he asked "when is it that we are now arresting British citizens?"
Blake, in the meantime, had found that under law, an underage young woman could marry without the consent of her parents or guardians, if the Colonial Governor agreed!
The British Governor, Sir Hugh Foot, later Lord Caradon, was asked and agreed to sign a Governor's Licence — by what was referred to as a veritable deus ex machina, granting permission for Valerie to wed her love. Finally, the torment was over.
On Wednesday, April 16, 1952, Valerie and Maurice Facey were married in the St Andrew Parish Church, Half-Way-Tree, at which Cecil B Facey was the people's warden. The church was packed to capacity and large numbers of curious Jamaicans watched the celebrity wedding from outside. Lord Bishop Hardy and the Rev John T Clark presided.
"I remember many people perched in trees to get a view. Many people also tried to touch my wedding dress," says Valerie.
She also recalls that while Maurice's parents attended, hers were nowhere in sight. It was the only sad moment on that fairy tale day.
In time, after she divorced Arthur Mulling, Juliette Rypinski left Jamaica, remarried and later came to visit her grandchildren, bringing a measure of closure.
"But I carried the awesome burden of having to prove that I was right in my choice. Interestingly, there isn't a single member of my family who has not been divorced," she reflects.
She says that she and her husband had a lot in common, and they worked hard to make their marriage last.
"Meeting Maurice and finding a new country and culture, being welcomed by his family, stabilised my life. I was so ready to put down roots in Jamaica and I have had no regrets," she says.
Life has been good to Maurice and Valerie Facey. Their union produced two children — son, Stephen Brian Facey, the current CEO of Pan-Jamaican Investment Trust, and daughter, Laura Frances Facey-Cooper, the internationally renowned sculptor who may well be most remembered for the debate about the Emancipation Park statue that nearly tore Jamaica asunder, but is now a tourist attraction in New Kingston.
Maurice, whose contribution to Jamaica's development has earned him the national honour of the Order of Jamaica (OJ) and an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Technology, says he married the right woman.
"It was not always easy, but she is a great woman," he says. Of Maurice, she says: "My husband is a visionary."
It's a love that only death would let either of them go.