Alabama couple marks 70 years of marriage

Alabama couple marks 70 years of marriage
Willie and Janie Gray in photos from shortly after their wedding in Oct. 1950 and from 2019. (Source: The Gray family)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A Montgomery couple is about to mark a milestone few achieve, 70 years of marriage. And they’ll celebrate it in a relatively quiet manner on Saturday.

Willie and Janie Gray first met in night school. He was furthering his education after coming home from World War II where he witnessed the Battle of the Bulge. Janie was eight years younger.

The introduction blossomed into a wedding at the Montgomery County Courthouse on Oct. 3, 1950. It was a Tuesday. The first of many Tuesdays in their long marriage.

“It’s a true blessing,” Janie recalled. “The Lord put us together.”

They set off on a lifelong course together that has spanned nearly three-quarters of a century. Saturday will mark 25,568 days since they said their vows, and they haven’t spent many nights apart in the decades that have followed.

After getting married, they moved to Ohio and then to Detroit where he took on a job with General Motors. They raised six children - three sons and three daughters - before they decided to “come home to their roots.”

That was 1979, and in the years since, their children have blessed them with a multitude of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now the first great-great grandchild.

Willie and Janie, now 94 and 87, have settled into quiet lives. It’s been more than 25 years since she retired after a career in Detroit and Montgomery hospitals. Now, they live with their youngest daughter, Tammy Gray Kelley, at her Montgomery home.

Asked for her secret to having such a long marriage, Janie responded, "communication and love, and pray. Lots of prayer.” Willie’s secret? “Agreeing with her.”

It hasn’t always been easy for her parents, Kelley said. “When my father came home from fighting for his country, he could still not walk through the front door” of most public places in the South. “He had to go through the back.”

But Kelley added, "They were never bitter. They just wanted us to love people based on who the people were.”

And there has always been an abundance of love.

“I’ve just seen how they’ve worked through everything together. I’ve always watched them work through it as a team,” Kelley said. “We grew up with love. There was not a day that went by that we weren’t told ‘I love you,’ even to this day.”

As for advice to couples preparing to get married? Janie says “Don’t worry about things. Just love each other and take care of each other and have patience.”

“They both had just one bag of belongings each when they got married,” Kelley said of her parents’ material wealth. “They weren’t rich. They worked hard. They raised us to be the best people we could be.”

“You build together,” she explained. And the building continues for Mr. and Mrs. Gray.

Kelley is planning cake and family hellos from a safe distance for their big day. In the era of COVID-19, she’s made it her mission to keep them safe from the illness.

FUN FACTS

The day before the Grays got married, the Peanuts comic strip debuted in seven newspapers. Snoopy debuted the day after the Grays got married, though he did not have a name at that point.

On the day the Grays got married, Ethel Waters made history as the first African American lead actress in a television show, the comedy show Beulah.

As the Grays said their vows, John Curulewski, an original member of Styx, was being born in Chicago. And Ronnie Laws, a saxophonist and guitarist with Earth, Wind & Fire was being born in Houston.

Gordon Jenkins and The Weavers had the nation’s No. 1 song with “Goodnight, Irene.”

The U.S. population was 150 million in 1950. It’s about 330 million today.

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