Couple with Down syndrome proved all doubters wrong: Lived happily for 25 years before tragedy struck

When Maryanne and Tommy Pilling fell in love, some people told them it wouldn’t last.

But in July 1995, the devoted couple who had Down syndrome took the groundbreaking step of getting married.

Despite all the haters all the hurdles they faced, Maryanne and Tommy’s love story continues to amaze and inspire thousands worldwide.

It’s been 27 years since Maryanne and Tommy Pilling made world history by becoming the first-ever couple with Down syndrome to marry.
But it wasn’t always easy for these two lovebirds. Maryanne and Tommy, both from Essex, England, faced countless challenges. They experienced the cruelty of prejudice from bigoted people due to their condition.

The couple met at a training center for people with learning difficulties. They first laid eyes on each other while working in the kitchen: it was love at first sight, and the two started dating.

Maryanne was born on May 17, 1971. Thankfully, she was raised by people who loved her unconditionally. Both Maryanne’s mother and sister were important pillars for her throughout the years. But, unfortunately, her father rejected her after she was born.

Tommy came into the world on March 21, 1958 – a date that is now known as “World Down Syndrome Day.” Tommy had a difficult childhood and became an orphan at 12. He grew up in a care home in Essex.

When Tommy met Maryanne, he was 32. Maryanne was only 19, but the age difference wasn’t a barrier. Maryanne’s mom Linda recalled her daughter’s reaction after their first meeting.

“The day Maryanne met Tommy, she came home with the biggest smile on her face,” she told Daily Mail and continued:

“She couldn’t stop talking about him and asked if he could come for dinner.

Tommy and Maryanne were a match made in heaven. They were both brave souls who shared many interests. They loved cooking, watching movies, and dining at restaurants.

Tommy was confident Maryanne was the one for him, and 18 months after they started dating, he firmly decided that he wanted to make Maryanne his wife. But he wouldn’t go through with it until her mother agreed.

Maryanne’s mother and the rest of her family were hesitant, in part because of all of the criticism and negative reactions from people in their local community. But in the end, they ultimately gave the couple their blessings, saying the couple’s relationship is “magical” and “pure.”

Some people still thought the idea was absurd and that the union wouldn’t last – but nothing could stop the love these two had for one another.

On July 15, 1995, Tommy and Maryanne got married in front of 250 guests in a beautiful church in Essex. Maryanne’s mother had accompanied Tommy to buy the ring to ensure everything was perfect.

“Maryanne looked like a princess in her beautiful white dress, tiara, and long veil. Tommy looked very dapper in his made-to-measure suit,” Maryanne’s sister, Linda Newman, wrote.

In front of their family and friends, Maryanne and Tommy made their vows and they finally got their dream wedding.

“My wedding was the best day of my life,” Maryanne says. “I was shocked when Tommy proposed, but I didn’t have to think twice about saying yes.”

The couple lived together with Maryanne’s sister Linda during the first seven years of their married life. After that, they moved into the house next door.

“They get their independence, they get their private time which I think is so important for everybody. It works very well, I’m there they you need me,” Linda told Daily Mail in 2018.

Thankfully, the beautiful couple proved all the doubters wrong – Linda says they have faced a lot of prejudice for being together, mostly coming from people’s ignorance surrounding Down syndrome.

“When they walk down the street holding hands they make a statement, but in a good way… Some people stare — they assume people with Down Syndrome and learning difficulties can’t get married,” Linda told People in 2017.

Over the years, the couple gained a lot of attention and support from people worldwide. Many admired their relationship and saw it as a perfect example of love with no boundaries.

“We get so many lovely messages from people who are inspired by their story,” Linda said and continued: “People worried about their own children or grandchildren with Down Syndrome get hope from Maryanne and Tommy’s story.”

Maryanne’s sister also created a Facebook page, which helped the couple gain a huge social media following. Through the fan page, fans could see pictures and read updates from Maryanne and Tommy’s day-to-day lives.

Maryanne and Tommy loved to do things together and lived like most other married couples. They went to the movies, golfed, spent time with their families, and traveled.

Devastating diagnosis

Unfortunately, the couple would face their most brutal battle as Tommy got a devastating diagnosis. Back in 2014, the doctors discovered that Tommy had dementia. 

If you’ve ever witnessed a loved one battling dementia, you’ll know just how horrible and unforgiving it can be.

The condition impairs a host of functions, including memory, communication, focus, reasoning, and visual perception, leaving sufferers a shell of their former selves, and making it extremely difficult for family and friends to connect with them.

Maryanne’s sister Lindi Newman talked to Metro in 2019 and said:

“He’s forgotten who Maryanne is a handful of times. It always happens really late at night. He pushes her away and says, ‘I don’t know who you are’ and ‘I don’t love you’. Maryanne takes that to heart and is absolutely crushed and hysterical.”

”She calls me up and I throw on my shoes and go across the road to try and calm them down. It’s scary for Tommy too, but then he forgets anything has happened.”

Tommy Pilling death

At the end of 2019, Tommy tested positive for COVID-19 as he was admitted to the hospital with suspected pneumonia.

It proved to be a severe case, and two weeks after contracting the virus, Tommy passed away. He was 62 years old.

Following the tragic news, condolences flooded into the couple’s Facebook page. Linda wrote some beautiful and heartbreaking words, describing Tommy as ”the best uncle my children could ever ask for.”

“I will cherish the thousands of memories I have with him. Thank you for being you and making the world a better place, touching the lives of millions just by being you. Marriage made you my brother-in-law, love made you my brother,” Linda wrote.

In another update, Linda stated that Maryanne was “absolutely lost” without her husband.

People with Down syndrome are absolutely the most loving, affectionate, and pure. They deserve respect and support, and to be able to live without prejudice. I am glad that Maryanne and Tommy could be together and experience the happiness that they deserved.

Love knows no boundaries, I hope Maryann has plenty of support now her beloved Tommy is in Heaven, RIP Tommy 🙏🌹❤