Parachutes, partnership and a peaceful retirement

October 8th 2021

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One of the things Val Watson loved most about living in the Coffs Harbour region was strolling along Sawtell Beach to catch the sunrise before work. Val and her husband Bruce recently farewelled the Coffs Coast for an exciting new chapter in Anna Bay (Port Stephens). And much to her delight, Val can now enjoy beautiful walks along the shoreline without thinking about the busy workday ahead. Recently retired after working for the better part of 50 years, Val is more than ready to slow down…  

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Val and Bruce Watson make a fantastic team. It’s been just the two of them for 47 years and whilst the past few years have taken a toll on Bruce’s health, Val and Bruce feel very blessed to be able to spend their retirement years together living simply and without the financial pressures of days gone by. Coffs Harbour-based financial adviser Gretel Chiswell takes great comfort in seeing Val and Bruce so content.  

“The Watsons are such beautiful people with the kindest hearts and I’m pleased to have set them up for ultimate retirement success. It couldn’t have happened to nicer people.”

As they prepare to move into a retirement community in Anna Bay, Val reflects on a busy few months during which time her working life ended (a former nurse, Val worked in pathology for over 30 years) and the couple’s home of 20 years went on the market. Fortunately for the Watsons, the house was listed on the Thursday and sold by the Monday! This enabled them to make the move south debt free – a move driven by the wish to be closer to family in light of Bruce’s poor health. At 68, Bruce has had a tough few years health wise and he’s less able than he was. Val was keen to share with me that in his younger years, Bruce was as a fit as a fiddle and was regularly jumping out of planes! He joined the Commandos as a reservist in 1976 and gained his wings after an incredible 75 parachuting jumps. The companionship of army life brought Bruce much fulfillment and it’s something he remains immensely proud of.  

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And so, his parachuting days may be over, but he’s still that same Bruce to Val. She speaks about her husband with such warmth and devotion. “I’m really blessed he’s still here. It could have gone the other way. I believe we’ll have years together yet and while his health will impact certain aspects, that’s ok because I’m by his side to help.” Things first came to a head for Bruce in 2017 while the Watsons were on a cruise overseas. What doctors first assumed were flu symptoms picked up during travels or a simple case of jetlag, turned out to be far more worrying. In time, Bruce was diagnosed with the rare neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in which your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your nerves. Bruce has also since been diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder CIDP and more recently, non-idiopathic Parkinson’s. Bruce’s deteriorating health meant that he was unable to work from 2017. This had a sudden and devastating financial impact.  

The household income halved immediately, and the couple feared that they would lose their home and everything they had worked so hard for. “I was stressed and worried. To be honest, I was in a bit of a dark place,” says Val.

Fortunately, a knight in shining armour was ready to step in and help (well, more like a capable and intelligent financial adviser) and the Watsons ended up in the hands of Gretel Chiswell.  

Val (now 65) wishes she had sought financial help long before it got to the panic stage. “I think a lot of people think they can manage their finances themselves. We certainly did and in hindsight I realize that if we’d gone to someone earlier, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in such dire straits when Bruce fell ill.”

Val will forever be grateful that they connected with Gretel. “Sometimes you just can’t thank people enough. She really has made a huge difference to our lives.” It was the right fit from the start. “From the first moment I met Gretel, I thought ‘you’re going to be so easy to talk to.’ I felt comfortable right away. She was young, lovely, and so kind. It was a bonus for me to have a woman helping us as I had noticed that in many business-related meetings in years prior, the men would always direct conversation to Bruce which I found disappointing.” Val appreciates the easy catch-ups that occur when the three of them get together.  

“Gretel is very personable. She’s intelligent, approachable and a wonderful communicator. She’s very good at what she does. She knows everything about our finances and never forgets a single detail. When we all meet up, she gives us her all and we really appreciate that.”

Thanks to Gretel, Bruce and Val are well set up for their retirement and well into the future. “Gretel has helped us enormously. We can now have a good life. Having worked since the age of 16, I felt such relief in retiring and slowing down. I’d hate to think but if Bruce didn’t get sick, we’d probably both still be working.”   You may be interested in reading more on

Val looks forward to all that retirement brings; road trips with Bruce, putting her feet up to enjoy a good read, having the time to cook many delicious meals and getting to know her new community. As we wrap up our conversation, Val adds, “I’ll go and give anything a go.” It sounds like she and that parachuting husband of hers have the same outlook on life. It’s no wonder their partnership is an enduring one.  

Featuring Financial Adviser

Gretel Chiswell

Connect with Gretel on LinkedIn here.  

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