Harborough family are definition of devotion

Irene and Fred Cowen
Irene and Fred Cowen

Frederick and Irene Cowen were married for more than seven decades, so perhaps it’s not a complete surprise that when one died, the other quickly followed.

Frederick (96) outlived Irene (92) by a matter of weeks, after the two spent the best part of 73 years together, the last quarter of a century of which was in Market Harborough.

They were a “feisty and devoted couple” said daughter-in-law Stephanie Cowen.

They were also a popular duo in their neighbourhood, which is why neighbours decorated the fence and gate of the couple’s Market Harborough bungalow with flowers when they died.

“I was sort of speechless when I saw what the neighbours had done” said the couple’s only surviving child Rod Cowen. “It was really moving.”

But what some of the neighbours might not know is that the couple’s time together in Market Harborough was made longer and more comfortable by their son Rod, a former Royal Marine and policeman.

At first when Frederick and Irene became less active, they moved into the family home south of Leicester with son Rod, wife Stephanie, Stephanie’s three daughters and two family dogs.

It was a very full house, and Frederick and Irene “both hankered to move back to Market Harborough” said Stephanie.

So eventually, it was agreed.

Rod explained: “I was made redundant at about the time that mum and dad were going really downhill.

“They wanted to live in Market Harborough, so I decided to move in with them.”

The problem was that in moving in with mum and dad, Rod had to live separately from his wife Stephanie, who remained in Wigston with her three daughters.

“We did have a few raised eyebrows” admitted Stephanie.

“But it was the only choice really. Rod was devoted to his parents, just like they were devoted to each other, and his mum in particular didn’t want to move into a home.”

So Rod became his parents’ carer, living for most of the week in their bungalow in Market Harborough.

“I don’t regret it at all. But it was tough - a lot, lot harder than I thought” said Rod.

“To live apart from Stephanie was difficult. It was a joint decision all the way, but you’ve got to have a strong marriage to get through that.”

It meant for the last three years of their lives, Frederick and Irene lived mainly in their Market Harborough bungalow, with excursions to a local old folks’ home which - in Frederick’s case - became permanent, latterly.

“Irene would then visit Frederick every day in Lenthall House care home, and then go back to their bungalow every evening” said Stephanie.

Now Rod can get back to full-time employment.

But Stephanie says: “Rod’s always been on the front line, so for him the transition to a carer was huge.

“He’s done a lot of brave things in his life, but looking after his mum and dad - that’s one of the things he needs to be most proud of.”