Now Vernon, who has Down’s syndrome, has defied all expectations to celebrate his 70th birthday – a milestone that has even surprised doctors.
Vernon, described as an “absolute gent”, marked his special day with a Christmas-themed party, as it is his favourite time of year.
His cousin Keith Shuttleworth said: “We are very, very pleased. We are looking forward to Christmas 2016 when we can have another party.”
Originally from Pool-in-Wharfedale, Vernon was brought up as part of a close family and lived with his parents until they died.
Keith said: “Brenda, Vernon’s mother, used to say that if he lived to be 21, he had had a good life.
“When he was born in 1946, there were not the facilities that there are today.”
After losing his dad in 1988, Vernon lived in various care settings in the Horsforth area and now lives in supported accommodation run by social enterprise Aspire.
He receives round-the-clock help as he struggles with mobility and is starting to suffer with dementia, but he still enjoys watching cowboy and Carry On films, and especially loves Christmas.
“He is a very loving and caring person, and very gentle with it,” his cousin added.
“His health is as good as you could expect it to be. He had a short stay in hospital a while back and the doctor was absolutely astounded at his age.”
To mark his birthday, Vernon enjoyed a Christmas-themed party at Yarnbury Rugby Club in Horsforth, surrounded by family and friends.
There was even a special appearance from Father Christmas himself.
Keith, from Wrose, Bradford, added: “It was absolutely fantastic.”
Annette Monroe, a support worker at Aspire, said on behalf of the team: “It’s a pleasure to work with Vernon and to support him.
“He is an absolute gent.”
* Hundreds of readers have sent their congratulations via the YEP’s Facebook page.
Robert Harrison: “Happy birthday and merry Xmas. Have a wonderful day!”
Julie Mcrae: “Happy birthday Vernon, was great to be a part of making your party magical.”
Rebecca Rhodes: “Happy Birthday Vernon, Christmas twice a year, how wonderful!!”
Jackie Batley: “What a wonderful achievement.”