SEAMUS Fagan AM knew his now-wife Jayce was special as soon as they met in the African country of Lesotho.
He waited just eight days after their first conversation to propose marriage.
"I knew I had the right person," Irish born Mr Fagan said.
"She was beautiful and had a beautiful personality and I didn't want to miss an opportunity. It was just something about her."
Mrs Fagan was drawn to his "beautiful sense of humour and gorgeous smiling eyes".
She remembers it being six days before the proposal.
"I said yes and then thought 'What have I done?'" she said.
"My parents loved him."
The Belmont couple married in May 1981 in Lesotho, during Apartheid.
Their relationship was against the law in Mrs Fagan's native South Africa.
"Everything was turned against us not to work," Mr Fagan said.
"We thought 'If we can get through that, nothing is impossible'.
'That's the key for us, we've had challenging times, but it was looking back and saying 'If we can get through that, we can get through anything'."
Fast forward 40 years and the couple have three children, born in Lesotho, Egypt and Australia.
They've set up the Jayce and Seamus Fagan Enabling Program Scholarship as part the University of Newcastle (UON)'s Shaping Futures program, which provides financial support to one student completing an enabling program each year, as well as a creche for disadvantaged children in Mrs Fagan's hometown of Durban.
They believe education is a "great transformer".
They devote time to community groups that support refugees and asylum seekers.
"We both love volunteering and working in developing countries and learning a lot ourselves, but also hopefully making a difference," Mr Fagan said.
"We've always said that working in developing countries actually shaped us, made us better people, better leaders."
The couple relish celebrating milestones, but said they are likely to have a low-key Valentine's Day, before a meal together next week.
"When we go to venues they're too crowded and we like if we're going out together to have time to talk and reflect, rather than hustle and bustle," Mr Fagan said.
This will include reminiscing about past Valentine's Days.
"There was a year in England where we were so poor that when Seamus said to me 'What do you want for Valentine's Day?' I said 'Just some ice cream'," Mrs Fagan said.
"They're the more precious Valentine's Days, because we've got a good memory."
Mr Fagan arrived in the collection of villages called Mapoteng in January 1980, as a volunteer teacher on an Irish government aid project.
Mrs Fagan had arrived a year earlier and was working as a volunteer at the hospital.
She was a midwife, nurse practitioner and ran the hospital's midwifery school and pharmacy.
Their first meeting was 80 kilometres away in the capital, Maseru, on July 12, 1980.
Mrs Fagan had agreed to go to the cinema with a friend, who was dating an Irish man and brought his friends, including Mr Fagan.
"My friend said to me 'Don't go out with an Irish man, they never tell you they love you'," Mrs Fagan said.
He can still remember her long dark hair, peach sari and brown coat.
"I was too stunned to talk to her," he said.
Mrs Fagan said fate must have played a role.
She said she had dreamt about him earlier and then seen him driving in Mapoteng.
"I froze," she said.
"He drove past and that was it, then we met a few weeks later."
Their first conversation was on September 16, 1980, when one of Mr Fagan's students broke a leg and Mr Fagan visited him in hospital.
Mrs Fagan was working and laying tiles on the pharmacy's concrete floor.
"I said to him 'Do you know how to put tiles on the floor?" she said. "He said 'No, but I can learn' and so we put the tiles on the floor together."
Mrs Fagan said she offered him lunch at her home.
He kept making excuses to return.
The couple travelled after Mr Fagan's proposal to spend Christmas with Mrs Fagan's family in Durban.
"Jayce had to bring one of her Finnish friends as a decoy," Mr Fagan said.
"I had to pretend I was getting engaged to the Finnish girl.
"She would turn to Jayce and say 'What do you think of this ring, can you try it on yourself?'
"We had to go through a whole charade because under Apartheid law I would have been deported... and Jayce would have got six months in jail."
They continued to bring decoys whenever they went to South Africa.
They married in Mapoteng - Mr Fagan's brother and sister flew over from Ireland and joined the couple's honeymoon - and had their daughter Fionnuala in 1982 in Lesotho.
They left in 1984 for England and onto Egypt, where their son Seamus was born in 1986.
They left Egypt in 1988 for Australia, where they had son Ross.
While in England they'd met a World War I veteran who spent part of each year in Teralba.
He said if they wanted to emigrate, he'd scan the newspaper for jobs for them.
They lived in Sydney and Rockhampton, before moving in 1996 to Newcastle.
He worked at UON, where he is still a Conjoint Professor, and she worked at Belmont Hospital and for NSW Pathology.
Mr Fagan said their marriage was a true partnership.
"We've always been willing to try something different," he said.
"We always draw on a sheet of paper the pros and cons and discuss it together and then at the end of it make a decision and then we support each other in the decision."
He said they respected each other, shared a similar sense of humour and gave each other time to be alone or with friends.
Mrs Fagan said they didn't let disagreements get personal, or let the sun set on fights.
"We're not yes or no people, we do compromise," she said.
"Our celebrant told us when you start to think evil of the other person it's time to stop and say sorry."
Together they enjoy cooking, walking to debrief about their days and see their home as "a refuge from challenges".
Mr Fagan said the couple was still attracted to each other and loved each other's quirks.
He said his favourite feature about his wife was her inner and outer beauty.
"I love his positivity, his teasing," Mrs Fagan said.
"No matter that we're older and bigger, he'll still wake up every morning and tell me how beautiful I am."
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