Real-life ‘Lady’ - who married ‘Tramp’ she found going through bins outside her bookshop in 1970s - dies

A woman dubbed a real-life ‘Lady’ after marrying her very own ‘Tramp’ she found going through her bins in the 1970s has passed away.

A woman dubbed a real-life ‘Lady’ after marrying her very own ‘Tramp’ - who she found going through bins outside the bookshop she owned in the 1970s - has died. Joan Neininger and Ken Selway made headlines around the world after tying the knot in 2017.

The pair had met around 40 years earlier when she spotted him looking through rubbish outside her bookshop in Gloucester. Ken passed away in 2019, aged 92.

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And now Joan - the other half of ‘the Lady and the Tramp’ - has also died. Her daughter Joy Walters said: “She achieved so much in her 94 years.

“She really was a remarkable and unique woman. There’s no two ways about it.” Joan and Ken became friends after their chance encounter in the late 1970s.

She had presumed he was staying in a B&B and just had nowhere to go out in the day - but soon realised he was homeless. Joan later found out that Londoner Ken had nowhere to go because he was an evacuee.

And, after the man of the house died, his mother could not cope with his mental health problems. Ken was evacuated to Wales, where he became a Bevin Boy, and was on a mission to find relatives when he ended up sleeping in a derelict house near the bookshop.

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He refused to accept offers of money or help, so with the blessing of her family Joan started leaving wrapped sandwiches for him to find. And, after speaking to her husband of 30 years, Norman, she began to invite Ken round for meals at their home.

Although Norman also tried to help Ken, he struggled with his schizophrenia and for a time it did put a strain on their marriage. Ken frequently considered suicide but over three decades Joan saved him from himself.

Joan Neininger & Ken Selway share a kiss at their wedding reception at Hannover Court, Cinderford, Gloucestershire. Joan Neininger & Ken Selway share a kiss at their wedding reception at Hannover Court, Cinderford, Gloucestershire.
Joan Neininger & Ken Selway share a kiss at their wedding reception at Hannover Court, Cinderford, Gloucestershire.

She persuaded Ken to take medication for his mental health problems and eventually all three lived together happily in a cottage which Joan described as “like a little paradise”. She says the men were like brothers until Norman died from a heart attack in 1983, leaving Ken and Joan in the cottage until he needed extra care and was moved to supported housing.

She then proposed in 2016 and a wedding followed at a registry office in Cinderford on her 89th birthday in February 2017 – four days after Valentine’s Day. Joy, a retired admin worker from Gloucester, said: “At the time it did sort of split the family slightly.

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“Because she wanted Ken to move in with her and my dad because with Ken, he was always like a child. It wasn’t so much a romance as a real, platonic sort of friendship.

Norman, Joan first husband with Joan Neininger with Ken Selway in The Cannon pub Gloucester.Norman, Joan first husband with Joan Neininger with Ken Selway in The Cannon pub Gloucester.
Norman, Joan first husband with Joan Neininger with Ken Selway in The Cannon pub Gloucester.

“I always put it down to her losing her son Robert, my brother, at nine years old from cancer. It was just that she had to, if you like, save Ken and it did split the family at the time.

“But eventually after many years she ended up in a cottage and my dad lived there with her and Ken. It was all resolved eventually but then my dad had a second heart attack and passed away.”

Joan was left heartbroken by Ken’s death four years ago. She moved to The Knoll care home in Gloucester in October 2020 and passed away peacefully there last week from dementia and old age frailty after her condition deteriorated significantly during the Covid-19 lockdowns, her family said.

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Joan will be given a Buddhist send-off after converting to the faith as an adult. Joy said: “Her death certificate said dementia and frailty in old age.

A photo Ken Selway used to carry in his pocket when he was homeless. The photo is of Ken when he lived in London as a young man.A photo Ken Selway used to carry in his pocket when he was homeless. The photo is of Ken when he lived in London as a young man.
A photo Ken Selway used to carry in his pocket when he was homeless. The photo is of Ken when he lived in London as a young man.

“She developed dementia while Ken was alive but once he died it did get worse and it got extra worse through the pandemic because we weren’t allowed to visit her. She went downhill rapidly during the pandemic because we couldn’t go and visit her.

“The home did what they could but we couldn’t visit her. Eventually we could and they had a pod with a screen across that we could use to visit her but she could never understand why we couldn’t touch her and hold her.

“It was very cruel. She was always an activist for the homeless and against animal cruelty.

Joan and Ken at a summer fete.Joan and Ken at a summer fete.
Joan and Ken at a summer fete.
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“She was a practising Buddhist. She strove to find something all her life and had a massive thirst for knowledge.”

Joan’s funeral will take place at 11.30am on Wednesday, June 21 at Gloucester crematorium. The family has asked that donations are made to Gloucester Feed the Hungry and Greyhound Rescue in lieu of flowers.

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