Norman and Val Wallis met at YMCA Maidstone in 1968. Norman had been a member of his local YMCA for some time and was a part of the management team. He ran the football team and chose Friday nights to mark out the white lines on the field. Little did he know that decision would have a great impact on his future life.
In January 1968, Val started as a voluntary receptionist at YMCA Maidstone, mainly working Friday evenings.
Talking about their first encounter, Val said: “I probably made more initial impact on Norman than he on me. Although we spent a lot of time in each other’s company, it was usually at YMCA events. It took a while and quite a few lifts home before our first date.”
Norman added: “I finally had the courage to invite her out for a drink, but the real turning point in our relationship was when I made the wise decision to undertake a Mountain Leadership Course. It involved several Bank Holiday and weekend trips with groups from YMCA Maidstone to Snowdonia and the YMCA centre at Lakeside, on the edge of Lake Windermere. The fact that Val bought a pair of mountain walking boots and waterproofs was an indication that, perhaps, this was getting more serious.”
It was on the journey home from one of these trips that Val decided this was a relationship to keep.
Norman proposed to Val in 1970, an August bank holiday, on the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Val said: “Ever since Norman proposed I have teased him that I didn’t have a choice but to ‘say’ yes because I wouldn’t have got back to camp by myself.”
Val and Norman were married on 23 October 1971 with a very large group of YMCA friends and colleagues at their wedding. Even after their wedding, the couple’s YMCA involvement continued and their Saturday nights would be spent at the Y. They attended National Assemblies together and, when their first child arrived, she started going too.
Val said: “Our daughter once slept through a National Executive Committee meeting. I often took both our daughter and son to YMCA events. Even now, they have a fondness for Dunford House, where I still serve as a committee member.”
As in every marriage, Norman and Val had their fair share of ups and downs. Norman said: “Serious back surgery for our daughter gave us months of worry and Val’s cancer treatment in a year that saw her graduation from Kent University and the wedding of our daughter was one of huge emotion. Coming through those troubled times can strengthen the whole family.”
Talking about their secret to their happy marriage, Val said: “There is no magic secret to 45 years, except lots of loving, lots of laughing and giving time to each other. Patience, tolerance and understanding play a big part of working through the lows life throws at you, but there is always more keeping you together than pulling you apart.”
Family time is the most important thing for Val and Norman and getting everyone together is what they love doing most. Norman said: “There are now two grandchildren to add to our fun and Val and I still enjoy walking.” Val added: “Although we walked to the summit of Snowdon on the 40th anniversary of our engagement, our next journey up may well have to be done by train.”
Over the years Val and Norman have been leading characters of the YMCA Movement and after 49 years of membership, Val became President of Maidstone YMCA in December 2016 and also serves as Vice President for YMCA England.
In 1997, Val received a MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in recognition of her service to the YMCA movement, a day she describes as one of her “proudest” moments. She said: “I see myself as a lump of seaside rock with YMCA lettering running through the middle. YMCA is part of our lives and our lives are richer for it.”