Nowadays, a marriage with any appreciable amount of longevity is difficult to find. Yet, as rare as they are, there are couples who still believe in the sanctity of their wedding vows. One such couple is Keith and Patty Harrison.
The Harrisons have been married for 73 years, which makes them the senior advisers on all matters related to matrimony at the Woodlands Retirement Community.
Patty grew up in Charleston, while Keith grew up more than 600 miles away in Freeport, Illinois. A dinner invitation by Patty’s father drew this couple together with unusual circumstances.
“Patty is the youngest,” Keith said. “She’s just 92, I’m a year older. We were both quite young when we married in Charleston. The first time we met, she thought I was a little crazy, and her mother thought I was just a passing fancy. I may have acted a little crazy because the first time I saw Patty, it was like being struck by lightning — everything just seemed to stop. As soon as I got my voice back, I told her we were going to marry one day. Within a week, I began making payments on her wedding ring.”
They began dating while Patty was still in school. Her dream was to become a teacher, and she didn’t let her future husband’s fascination interfere. She graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in 1945, where she was involved with the Spanish and Latin Clubs. When Keith left for the Navy, she refused all invitations to attend the high school prom because of her loyalty.
Keith eventually obtained his high school equivalence GED while in the Navy. Leaving high school, he worked for the Burgess Battery Company in Freeport, Illinois, for a few months.
“Before I was drafted, my uncle asked me to come to Charleston and work with him in a department store he managed,” Keith said. “So I decided to try it. As fate would have it, my uncle and Patty’s father were good friends, and one day my Aunt and Uncle were invited over to Patty’s house for dinner. They asked me to come along, and that’s where Cupid blindsided me.”
While Keith was in the Navy, this couple exchanged more than 1,400 letters! Each one of those letters has been chronologically placed in transparent covers, put in three-ring hardback binders and stored in a special trunk. They are periodically taken out and read again while alone together. While in the Navy, Keith’s name was yelled so often at mail call that he became the most well-known individual on the ship.
“We dated for six months following my discharge from the Navy,” Keith said. “Even the night before we married, I had to have her home by 10 o’clock.”
Keith says in 1946 he got his best Christmas gift when they were married Dec. 28 in Charleston. He gave his young bride a $400 ring, which he had finally paid off. They honeymooned for five days at the Daniel Boone Hotel in Sea Island, Georgia.
Patty continued her education while Keith was serving in the Navy. She went to finishing school in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually obtained her doctorate degree and taught school for 24 years. I asked when was she sure that Keith was serious about his intentions: “If you read some of those letters he sent, you knew,” she said. “We both believed God arranged our first meeting. Keith was my first and only love.”
Keith eventually went to work for her father operating a few Piece Goods stores. Eventually he sold his interest and began buying and selling real estate and working for the City of Huntington’s tax department.
Their recipe for a long and successful marriage is simple, according to Keith: You never tell your spouse a lie, and always be understanding even when you really don’t understand a word she said. Finally: Never be disrespectful.
Seventy-three years and a few months later, this couple raised five children who had 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren with one more on the way.