Man Who Was Part of the First Couple with Down Syndrome to Marry in the U.K. Dies of COVID-19

Tommy and Maryanne Pilling were one of the first couples with Down syndrome to marry in the United Kingdom

Maryanne and Tommy
Courtesy of Linda Newman.

Tommy Pilling — who gained fame in the United Kingdom after he and his wife, Maryanne, became one of the first couples with Down syndrome to marry in the country — has died of coronavirus complications.

In was in July 1995 that Pilling and Maryanne exchanged vows at a church in Essex after they met two years earlier at a training center for people with learning difficulties.

While the two were the target of critics who believed their marriage wouldn't work because of their disabilities, they remained together until Pilling's death from coronavirus-related pneumonia on Jan. 1, just months after he and Maryanne celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in July.

According to the family, Pilling, 62, had been in isolation during the pandemic but contracted the virus during a recent hospital visit.

"Our beautiful Tommy peacefully passed… after a battle with covid pneumonia,” Pilling's sister-in-law, Lindi Newman, wrote on the couple’s Facebook page on Monday. “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.”

Maryanne and Tommy
Courtesy of Linda Newman.

In a 2017 interview with The Express, Maryanne called her wedding "the best day" of her life, and Pillings her "best friend."

Their union was a historic one: the two are one of the first couples with Down syndrome — a genetic disorder that causes intellectual disabilities and developmental delays — to marry in the country, according to the BBC.

"Thank you for being you and making the world a better place, touching the lives of millions just by being you," Newman wrote on Facebook of her brother-in-law. "Marriage made you my brother in law, love made you my brother."

Maryanne and Tommy
Courtesy of Linda Newman.

Newman previously told PEOPLE that one of the keys to Pilling and Maryanne's marriage was their trust in one another.

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“They love one another dearly, respect one another and are completely honest,” she said.

Linda Martin — Pilling's mother-in-law — said the loss of her daughter's husband "has left a vast hole in our lives that no one will ever fill."

"I have never regretted a single moment of the 30 years he was in my life and care, [h]e brought so much joy just by being him, I will always be thankful for the laughter and fun he brought to our lives," she wrote. "Fly high Tommy we will love you forever."

As of Tuesday morning, more than 86 million people around the world have contracted coronavirus, and 1.8 million others have died from it, according to a New York Times database.

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