The dining room inside The Wildwood Senior Living commonly seats dozens. But last night, a sharply dressed couple had the room completely to themselves, sharing dinner together over soft candlelight and, sometime after, a kiss.
Paul and Mary Sue Williams, both 94 years old, were celebrating their 74th wedding anniversary.
Since they'd celebrated their 65th anniversary 10 years ago, they’ve been peppered with questions by friends and family alike concerning the longevity of their marital bliss, both admitted. After all, the divorce rate per 1,000 married American women currently sits at 16.9, according to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research.
“Everybody wants to know that, don’t they?” Mary said with a grin. Standing behind her, hand resting lightly on her shoulder, Paul just chuckled.
Eventually, the two gave up their hard-earned secret: “If we had a problem," Paul said, "we’d sit down and talk through it."
In other words, Mary added: “We agreed to disagree. Because he has his own ideas, and I certainly have mine.”
When asked for details concerning those disagreements, Paul just shrugged his shoulders. “They were just little things — not anything major."
“It made things bumpy," Mary said, "but it always ended smooth. We never went to bed mad."
The two Mt. Vernon natives were married, as bright-eyed 20-year-olds, on July 12, 1945, in Oakland, California. Paul was serving with the U.S. Navy — a “dry land sailor” he said with a laugh — and stationed at Treasure Island. Though America’s war in Europe had ended that May, there were fears that Paul would have to sail across the Pacific and participate in the invasion of the Japanese home islands. Just weeks later, when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering a close to the war, both were greatly relieved.
“That’s the reason I went out (to California),” Mary said, “to get married. I went out there on a train. Boy, was that an adventure.”
The two first met as 16-year-olds at Mt. Vernon High School. A grade apart though separated only by three months in age, their first date took place in October 1939. Unlike a Hollywood movie, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Paul said with a chuckle. “That took a long time. (But) I was attracted to her.”
“He chased after me,” Mary said with a cute smile. "I was kind of hard to get, wasn't I, Paul?"
"Yes, you were," he said, giving her hand a squeeze.
But it was Mary who ended up chasing after Paul once he’d joined the Navy in 1943. After their marriage and Paul’s release from the Navy, the couple moved back to Missouri. They lived in both Mt. Vernon and Joplin for short stints before settling permanently in Miami, Oklahoma. Paul worked at the BF Goodrich tire factory for 30 years, while Mary worked an equal number of years at First National Bank and Trust.
They have two children, with their respective spouses: Marilyn Cheatwood and husband, Carl, of Miami, Oklahoma, and Marla Heydt and husband, Tim, of Loveland, Colorado. They have five grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“We’ve really been blessed,” Paul said.