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Covid UK: Fife husband, 73, and wife, 71, die within 12 hours of each other

A husband and wife who had been married for 50 years have died of Covid-19 within 12 hours of each other after spending 18 months shielding throughout the pandemic because they both had underlying health conditions.

May Cropley, 71, had been diagnosed with cervical cancer and an autoimmune condition called Good’s syndrome, while her 73-year-old husband John suffered from vasculitis – inflammation of the blood vessels – affecting his lungs. 

Family members did not confirm whether the pair had been jabbed, although they would have been prioritised and offered the vaccine early.

The couple, from Auchtermuchty in Fife, Scotland, ran a business together and were committed Christians who served in ministry together.

They contracted coronavirus around the same time last month, staying in a shared room at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. 

When John died in front of May, she made the decision to refuse her treatment. 

Singing Amazing Grace 12 hours after her husband passed away, May also died. They were laid to rest together on Thursday last week.

May Cropley, 71, refused further treatment after she watched her 73-year-old husband John (both pictured above) lose his battle against the virus

May was the daughter of Tommy Townsend and his wife Cathy, from Glasgow.

With one older brother, Gordon, she moved to Portsmouth as a teenager where her father served as a chaplain in the Royal Navy.

Introduced by her father, May met John – who had joined the Navy as a telegraphist aged 15 – when he was invited to live with her family.

May’s cousin, Janet McKay, said: ‘Uncle Tommy was well known for always bringing back people to the house who needed help. 

‘John was one of them. A lost soul at the time.’

Originally from Lincolnshire, John once wrote: ‘I sailed around the world and spent most of my time drunk and doing the things sailors do. 

‘However, throughout this I had a deep sense of wrong – a sense of judgment.’

He went on to say that, one night in HMS Mercury’s Signal School, a man spoke to him about God.

Little did he know that man would be his future father-in-law and that a life in ministry beckoned for him too.

In Spring 1971 John and May were married. Now a devout Christian himself, John tied the knot with May quicker than expected.

On her website, May wrote: ‘I met John and we fell in love. I was so thrilled that I had met someone who loved the Lord as much as I did.

‘We arranged our wedding for May 1971 but, at the end of March that year, our GP told us that my mum would not make it to then. 

The couple, from Auchtermuchty in Fife, Scotland, ran a business together and were committed Christians who served in ministry together

The couple, from Auchtermuchty in Fife, Scotland, ran a business together and were committed Christians who served in ministry together

‘So after a call to my pastor and lots of phone calls to family and friends, we arranged our wedding on 3rd of April 1971. She lasted three weeks after that.’

Dealing with health issues would repeatedly be part of the Cropleys’ story,  but at this point in their lives their focus was on training for ministry.

The pair began work as missionaries with the Royal Sailors’ Rest for 10 years, two of those in Singapore.

They also studied at Trinity College in Bristol before John was ordained as pastor at Calvary Evangelical Church in Brighton.

In later years they would take on a church in Sunderland before returning home to work for the Scottish Christian Alliance.

John was also chaplain for Rosyth naval base for a time.

While the pair’s ministry would take them all over the world, on returning to Fife they bought a house in Auchtermuchty and began working to help homeless people in Glenrothes.

May managed the Gilven House Project, which is now under the management of Fife Council, and John became assistant director at the Alliance.

Introduced by her father, May met John (both pictured in their youth) - who had joined the Navy as a telegraphist aged 15 - when he was invited to live with her family

Introduced by her father, May met John (both pictured in their youth) – who had joined the Navy as a telegraphist aged 15 – when he was invited to live with her family

John Mills, head of housing services with Fife Council, said: ‘I had the pleasure of working with May when she was the manager for the supported accommodation for young homeless women for many years.

‘She was committed and passionate in her support for the young residents and to ensure that they could always move on to their own tenancy and to take advantage of education and training opportunities.

‘She, with John’s strong support, went the extra mile to make a big difference to young people using Gilven House.’

In 2008, May started becoming unwell. It took 18 months of tests to reveal she had a rare form of cervical cancer – the treatment of which also took its toll on her body.

She also had an autoimmune condition called Good’s syndrome, making her more susceptible to illness.

May wrote: ‘This may not have been what I would have chosen for my life but wherever the will of God leads me, the grace of God will keep me.’

The pair moved into a lodge in Largo, where John discovered he had a form of vasculitis affecting his lungs.

Janet said: ‘They both had these underlying health conditions but they remained so faithful. 

‘They never doubted and just kept going. John was still preaching until a few weeks ago.’

On his website, Fife Pulpit by the Sea, recordings of John’s sermons can be heard up until July. At that point their health problems, combined with Covid, took hold.

After shielding for more than a year, May went out for lunch to celebrate the 60th birthdays of two of her cousins while John was in need of oxygen delivered to their home.

Janet said: ‘They don’t know how they caught it, but from getting it to becoming really ill it was only a matter of days.

May (pictured above) managed the Gilven House Project, which is now under the management of Fife Council, and John became assistant director at the Alliance

May (pictured above) managed the Gilven House Project, which is now under the management of Fife Council, and John became assistant director at the Alliance

‘I had just seen May, and we had talked on the phone. I knew they were feeling ill with it, but I was shocked to get the message to say they had gone into hospital.

‘May was fine when I had spoken to her last but then in the early hours of Tuesday July 13 I got a text that said they had been taken to Ninewells.’

They were in a room together and, on Wednesday, Janet received an update that John’s condition had deteriorated.

A good friend who was part of the same Christian community as the Cropleys, Emma McHale, visited the couple.

Janet said: ‘Just two years ago John gave me away at my wedding, and because my husband recently died, May was worried their situation would be too much of a burden, so she asked Emma to be their person to contact.

‘By Wednesday evening John had passed. I couldn’t believe it.’

On Thursday morning Emma got a call to say they wanted to move May to the high dependency unit.

Janet said: ‘As I understand it, May refused the treatment. They called for the hospital chaplain, who knew them both, and as they sang Amazing Grace, she slipped away.

‘I really can’t believe it. Covid took John and 12 hours later she went with him.’

John and May, who celebrated their golden wedding anniversary earlier this year, were laid to rest at Upper Largo Cemetery in a plot beside May’s older brother.

Committed to his faith until the end, John wrote in one of his final website posts: ‘He is God and can do what He wants, when He wants and where He wants. 

‘If He couldn’t then He would not be God. I am deeply grateful to Him for changing my life.’ 

Janet said: ‘I will miss them both terribly. May was older than me and so I’ve known them both my whole life. 

‘John was so funny. He had a wicked sense of humour. And May was so kind.’ 


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