McDonough couple’s lifelong romance a true Love story
By James Saxton
Some romances evolve quickly. Romance for Bill and Lee Love took nine years to openly spark – all the way from first grade to 10th.
Once it began, the love story for the hometown sweethearts never ended. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the McDonough couple is celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary.
Lee Love, left, hands her husband Bill a pan for outdoor grilling, a favorite pastime of the McDonough couple. The Loves, who first met in first grade in their native Pennsylvania, will celebrate 53 years of marriage on Wednesday. Photo by James Saxton
And the relationship sparked under awkward circumstances in 1960 at East Deer Frazer High School in Creighton, Pa. Lee was dating a friend of Bill’s, a football player for another school.
Bill, an offensive and defensive tackle and MVP his senior year, said ironically it was Lee’s desire to see her boyfriend that drew the two of them together. “I was pretty good in football and the coach liked me and he’d give me a little money to go scout the other teams. So I had two tickets and I took her to the game – to see her boyfriend play. He and I were good friends and arm wrestled a lot. I could beat him.”.
Because Lee’s boyfriend got a concussion while playing that night and had to go home, Bill took Lee with him to Henry’s, a soda fountain and local hangout where teens would chat and preen while the alpha-male boys would arm wrestle. The two danced and “had a marvelous time,” despite Lee’s watchdog brother’s disapproving glances.
“Afterwards,” Bill said, “while a buddy of mine was driving with his girl and we were taking Lee home, well, we were in the back seat together. She kissed me. I should have kissed her but I was backward. So we kissed and, well, it changed everything. We started dating.”
There was one hiccup in the romance, Bill admits. “We and broke up in 11th grade, reason being, I couldn’t afford to take her out or take her to her prom. My family was dirt poor. My dad died when I was 10, and left seven of us at home. We didn’t even own a car. So she went with that other guy to her junior prom.”
Lee shows a portrait of herself in a beautiful pink dress with some young man in a suit, then flips the page to a photo much like it with an unsmiling but content-looking Bill at her side. “By senior prom he’d gotten ahold of himself,” Lee said triumphantly.
The couple graduated high school in 1962, and Bill said he knew he’d never be able to afford college, so he joined the Navy while Lee attended Clarion State College in Clarion, Pa. After Bill was trained in piloting Navy airplanes on three Naval bases, he was sent to Norfolk, Va. “I was missing Lee something awful,” Bill said, so, on a 1963 weekend pass, he visited her and proposed to her.
Lee closed the distance gap some by transferring to Old Dominion College in Norfolk. They married Feb. 8, 1964 in Tarentum, Pa. The newlyweds rented an apartment in Norfolk. Lee worked for the JC Penney general office in Pittsburgh, Bill flew jets, and their first son Rich was born later that year.
Bill, honorably discharged from the Navy in 1968, learned airline mechanics at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, and was hired by Delta to work on their jets in Hapeville, Ga. The couple moved to an apartment in Forest Park in 1969, where Lee transferred to the JC Penney Logistics Center and second son Eric was born in 1970. A year later they bought their first home in Lake City.
Bill and Lee stayed busy while raising their family. Bill played softball with three teams, coached little league football and girls’ softball, and served on the Lake City and Clayton County zoning boards. Lee bowled with the JC Penney bowling league and travelled to Bill’s and both sons’ football, basketball and soccer games.
In 1989 the family moved to their current home off Highway 155 in McDonough. Delta allowed Bill to volunteer for both the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and he took Lee along for both. With 33 years of service, Bill retired from Delta in 2002 and worked at the Walnut Creek Nursery on Highway 155. Lee retired from JC Penney, also with 33 years of service, in 2003, and worked at the Clayton County Magistrate Clerk’s office until 2012.
The couple makes retirement look like a license to work even harder than before. Bill and Lee are both master gardeners, spending much of their free time cultivating and tending to plants and trees on their property and creating fanciful planters out of chairs and other items. Avid hunters in their younger days – Lee, her dad and Bill went duck hunting in 1961 and Lee was the only one who shot a duck that day – the couple still love to target shoot. They travel all over Georgia, preferring its mountain areas and historic sites.
And they love bird watching. “My favorite bird is the eagle,” Bill said. “They’re free, and they take one mate for life. For us, that’s the way it’s always been. I don’t plan on going anywhere without her.”
They work hard at preserving their romance, Lee said. “He brings me surprises all the time. We collect stuff and he’s always bringing me presents for those. For years he bought me a dozen red roses plus one white rose for each year of marriage. So when a young lady is in a new marriage I tell her, ‘you have to do things he likes, and vice versa. You have to communicate.’ We never leave angry, we talk it out. We check with each other all the time. And we always kiss and we always say I love you. That makes marriages stronger.”
The couple would need every fiber of their strong bond to weather almost relentless tragedy. Bill and Lee both lost parents, siblings and other close family members, one after another. Then in 2005, despondent over a failing marriage, their oldest son Rich committed suicide at age 41. He left behind two children. Three years later, only remaining son Eric died in a motorcycle accident on a sharp curve on a McDonough road.
“The first year after Rich’s death we both lived in a fog,” Lee said. “We didn’t work in our yard at all, didn’t attend church, never talked about it. We just existed. After Eric died I couldn’t handle the grief by myself any longer. Cannon Cleveland Funeral Home offered grief counseling, which Bill and I both attended for a three-month period. It was the best thing we did for both of us. Now on occasion we’re asked to speak at grief counseling classes to help others.”
And joy returns through their grandchildren and great grandchildren, with another great grandson on the way this month. “What better gift could we receive in our 53rd wedding anniversary month?” Lee asked. “We know we’re blessed. We know that if we hadn’t had God in our lives, the tragedies would have destroyed us. And we know that a love like ours is the best that this life gets...”
Bill finished her sentence. “…And, love is something to celebrate.”