Torn apart by hate... brought back together by love 40 years later: Web search reunites teenage sweethearts who split after their parents disapproved of mixed-race romance
A couple who were forced apart as teenagers because of racism are getting married nearly 40 years later – after reuniting through Facebook.
Penny Umbers, 60, told yesterday how she was giving up life in the UK as an executive assistant to live with Mark Bethel, 61, in the Bahamas.
The then 16-year-old private schoolgirl fell for Mr Bethel in the 1970s when he flew from the Bahamian capital, Nassau, to board at public school Trent College, near Nottingham.
The pair went on to study at separate universities in London, where, unbeknown to Miss Umbers, her father paid Mr Bethel a visit.
Claiming that he knew people in high places and would have Mr Bethel’s scholarship revoked, he ordered the travel and tourism management student to end the relationship.
Mr Bethel had also faced similar threats from his own parents – who did not want him courting a white girl.
Facing further pressure from his family, who had withdrawn financial support, he made ‘the hardest decision of my life’.
‘I didn’t have much power. I was 3,000 miles from home in a foreign country. I was totally dependent on my scholarship,’ he added.
‘I had to make the hardest decision of my life and I had to make it in isolation. It was heartbreaking.’
Devastated at the break-up, Miss Umbers quit college, later marrying and divorcing twice.
Meanwhile Mr Bethel finished his degree and went on to manage hotels around the world. Although he also had a failed union, neither ever forgot their first love.
Over the following decades, Mr Bethel kept searching but couldn’t find her because she had changed her name when she married.
But, at the end of 2019, he found a picture he thought was her on Facebook and messaged, asking: ‘Is this Penny?’
‘And then it was!’ he said.
The couple were kept apart for another 18 months due to coronavirus travel restrictions. But in June Miss Umbers flew out to New Providence island in the Bahamas to see her childhood sweetheart.
‘There was that feeling of reuniting,’ she said. ‘But it was like we hadn’t changed one iota.’ When she returned earlier this month, Mr Bethel proposed as soon as she stepped off the plane.
The couple have now written a book about their story, called Thirty-Nine Years In The Wilderness, to raise awareness.
‘I feel like a whole new person,’ said Miss Umbers. ‘I’ve never loved anyone the way I love Mark.’
Mr Bethel added: ‘We have had 39 lost years but we are looking forward to a really great future.’