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Husband of famed couple with Down syndrome in 25-year marriage dies of COVID-19

The family mourns the loss of Tommy Pilling, 62, after he was part of their family and Maryanne's life for more than 25 years.
/ Source: TODAY

Tommy and Maryanne Pilling exceeded expectations. Both had Down syndrome and when Tommy and Maryanne fell in love nearly three decades ago, many doubted they could make it work. Those critics were wrong and the two enjoyed a happy marriage for 25 years.

Over the past several years, though, they faced challenges when Tommy was diagnosed with dementia, and in December he tested positive for COVID-19. His family announced that Tommy, 62, died on Jan. 1 of complications related to the coronavirus.

“Our beautiful Tommy peacefully passed … after a battle with covid pneumonia,” sister-in-law Lindi Newman wrote on the couple’s Facebook page. “Thank you for showing me what unconditional love was, I will remember your beautiful ways forever, your pure heart, your love of music, Elvis, your dancing. Your positive attitude and how you appreciated the small things. Thank you for making Maryanne so happy.”

When Tommy and Maryanne Pilling married 25 years ago, few people with Down syndrome got married. Courtesy Maryanne and Tommy

The family shared a post asking followers of the couple on Facebook to participate in a "wave of light" on Sunday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. U.K. time as a way to celebrate Tommy's life. They're asking people to light a candle and snap a picture of it before posting it along with the location of where the follower lit the candle.

"He cannot have the funeral he so dearly deserves due to lockdown and the restrictions, so this would be a good start," the family shared. "We are still in shock and are barely processing what has happened. We hope you are all OK, we know Tommy's passing has broken a lot of hearts. Thank you all for the love, support, kindness and care."

When the two met in the 1990s, Maryanne’s family fully supported the relationship. When Tommy was ready to propose, he planned on using a plastic ring from a vending machine. Though Maryanne’s mother, Linda Martin, balked at that and took him to a jewelry store to pick out a proper ring. When he popped the question, Maryanne “jumped with joy,” and started planning a 250-person wedding. At the time, few people with Down syndrome married, as many did not believe people with Down syndrome should be allowed to do so.

“My mum has been 100% supportive,” Newman, Maryanne’s sister, told TODAY in 2017. “Anyone should have the right to marry the love of their life without prejudice or discrimination.”

Tommy and Maryanne thrived in their married life. The two were well suited for each other. Maryanne loves talking while Tommy was reserved and happy to hear what his wife had to say.

“He sits back and listens, and she likes that,” Newman explained three years ago. “What keeps their marriage so strong is that there is never a hidden agenda. They love each other with their whole hearts and are honest with one another.”

Maryanne and Tommy Pilling credited their long, happy marriage to good communication, honesty and enjoying time together. Courtesy Maryanne and Tommy

The couple lived in their own apartment next to Maryanne’s mom and across from Newman’s in Southend-on-Sea in England. Maryanne worked one day a week at a local charity store but spent the rest of her time with Tommy. The two loved to bowl, golf, see movies, visit theme parks, have dinner and drinks and spend time with family. They even started becoming adventurous in the kitchen. Newman believes others can learn from Tommy and Maryanne’s relationship.

“Anything is possible with love and there should be no limitations for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are,” she told TODAY in 2017.

While the family tried to protect the couple from COVID-19, Tommy became sick and was hospitalized on Dec. 10. The family said he caught coronavirus then. Still, they are grateful to all the care he received at the hospital and throughout his life.

Maryanne, who began living with her mom when Tommy was ill, knew her husband was sick. Martin also shared her thoughts on the couple’s Facebook page.

Tommy and Maryanne Pilling were a perfect match. She loved to talk and he loved to listen.Courtesy Maryanne and Tommy

“Our darling man Tommy has left a vast hole in our lives that no one will ever fill. I considered him as my son although he was my son-in-law,” she shared. “I have never regretted a single moment of the 30 years he was in my life and care, (he) brought so much joy just by being him, I will always be thankful for the laughter and fun he brought to our lives.”