Couple forced to separate due to the colour of their skin reunite 39 years on

Penny Umbers & Mark Bethel Credit: BPM Media

A couple who were forced to separate due to the colour of their skin have now rekindled their connection almost 40 years later.

Penny Umbers lost the love of her life when he ended the relationship with no warning nor explanation.

She has never known the real reason - until now. He was told he "shouldn't be having a relationship with a white girl".

Towards the end of the 1970s, a 16-year-old Penny Umbers met Mark Bethel, a 17-year-old who had come to study at a private school in Nottingham, far from his home in the Bahamas.

They fell in love and, when Mark returned home, they wrote love letters and he sent poems and paintings.

He returned to the UK on a scholarship to go to university in London, and Penny attended a college nearby so that the couple could be together.

Life was great until, one day out of the blue, Mark told Penny he was ending the relationship without any reason why.

Mark and Penny, 1970s Credit: BPM Media

Penny, who was devastated, quit college and attempted to take her own life.

She went on to have two failed marriages and always thought of her long-lost love, until one day, in 2019, she received a message from him on Facebook.

When they spoke, she was stunned to learn the truth behind their separation and went over to see him in the Bahamas as soon as the Covid pandemic allowed.

She said "When we spoke in 2019, Mark told me, for the first time, what had happened at school".

"He had been talking to my father in the garden and I remember thinking they had so much in common because they both liked sports.

"But in actual fact, my father had said to him ‘you’ve had your fun, now move on boy.’

“It absolutely shattered him, he was such a sweet lovely boy and he was really in love with me."

When Mark returned to England to go to university in London, things worsened.

Penny's father went to Mark's university, called him out of a lecture to threaten him. Mark was told if he did not leave Penny alone, his scholarship would be revoked.

Penny and Mark Credit: BPM Media

Mark finished his degree then traveled the world working in hotel management. He married, then divorced, but had always thought about Penny.

Mark said he fell for Penny the very first time they met, and described it as "magic".

He couldn't believe the way he was spoken to by Penny's father, and the situation he was put in.

The pair were left heartbroken, but thanks to the advances in modern technology, Mark was able to track down the "love of his life" on Facebook and rekindle their flame.

Having not seen each other since they were teenagers, the two have rekindled their flame in their 60s.

Penny is leaving her life in Bromsgrove behind her as the couple prepare to marry.

“When we saw each other for the first time, I believe I shed a tear or two," said Mark. "I couldn’t believe she was here in my country in my arms.

Penny and Mark have written a book about their story, with the help of a ghost writer through Story Terrace, as they want to help raise awareness of this important issue. It is called Thirty-Nine Years in the Wilderness.

"I want to sing it from the rooftops," said Penny.

She added: "I feel very sad and angry about what happened, I was always close to my father so to think of the way he betrayed me my whole life and never let me know, he knew I had very unhappy marriages and had never fulfilled the potential I had. I think he didn’t want a black son-in-law so he justified it to himself.

"My father has Alzheimer's so I can’t talk to him about it now."

Penny continued: "Friends have said 'I’m not racist but as a young person I would never have gone out with a black boy because my father would not have liked it'.

"But I didn’t want to accept that, I thought it was completely wrong. At 16, I had my own ideas.

"And now I’m stepping into a different culture and it’s a bit worrying but I feel I’ve just got to go for it. I hope to make some new friends.

"My values have been shifting ever since Mark reconnected with me, since I realised that he had loved me all along. I have my own self-esteem now, knowing that Mark loved me all those years," she said.