04/12/13 — They stayed together: Couple celebrates 80th anniversary

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They stayed together: Couple celebrates 80th anniversary

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 12, 2013 1:46 PM

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Robert Gerald, 97, and his wife, Virginia, 95, discuss their long marriage as they look forward to celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary.

Robert Gerald still remembers the moment he first saw the young girl who would become his wife.

It was 1931 and his family had just moved to Goldsboro. He was a student at Dillard High School.

"She was outside playing at 207 W. Beech Street and I asked my friend who she was and he told me her name. I started talking to her. We talked, walked together when school was out, up until April 1933. We married April 12, 1933, at 7:30 in the evening, at 207 W. Beech Street."

He was 17 and Virginia was 15.

The newlyweds spent the first seven years of their married life living with Mrs. Gerald's mother, then moved to 805 N. Greenleaf St. They built a house on Whitley Street in 1947, where they have lived ever since.

"We've been here 66 years," he says.

It may be the same house, but the address has changed. A few years ago, the Geralds' grandchildren approached the county commission and had the short side road off William Street renamed Gerald Lane.

"They're the last original family on this street," said granddaughter Rachelle Williams of Goldsboro.

The couple, who are now 97 and 95, had 11 children and now has 45 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren and 75 great- great-grandchildren.

"I had eight girls and three boys," Mrs. Gerald said, proudly.

"I can't keep up with all these grandchildren," her husband admitted.

Gerald, a self-taught accountant and avid Bible scholar, worked in a dry cleaning plant for 24 years, then ran one himself. He has been a deacon at New Greenleaf Church of Christ for many years, treasurer of the executive board of the Goldsboro-Raleigh District Assembly and worked at O'Berry Center for about 16 years, retiring in 1977.

His wife spent many years raising their children. She also performed domestic duties in homes around Goldsboro, worked at the Visiting Officers Quarters at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base for 10 years, and is the longest serving member of Greater Guiding Star United Holiness Church, where she is the oldest member of the congregation.

Today is their 80th wedding anniversary. But the larger celebration, with about 100 family members and friends expected, will be Saturday at the New Greenleaf church.

There will likely be a few surprises bestowed on the couple. They already know they are being recognized by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a group dedicated to honoring marriage and family, as the state's winner for the 2013 Longest Married Couple.

To what do they attribute the success of an 80-year marriage?

"Jesus," Mrs. Gerald said.

In addition to the higher power, her husband had his own take on their longevity.

"In this world, we have trials and tribulations," he said. "The main thing is love the Lord and love each other. You're going to have your trials and tribulations. If it's love and not lust, you can make it.

"There comes a time that you have to disagree and love hides a multitude of faults. You just sit down and talk things over until you get together and don't let the sun go down on your problems. Solve them by communicating."

Family has always been important to them. And even though the lineage has since now spread out across the family, every July they gather for a family reunion.,

"We've been doing that since 1948," he said.

Many memories and traditions have accumulated over the years, which relatives are quick to share.

"One of the main things that our parents told us in growing up is to be respectful, whatever you do, do your best no matter what it is," said son Robert Gerald Jr. "They also brought us up in the church. They taught us how to be successful."

"My mother told me that sugar was at the bottom of the cup," said his sister, Virginia Atkinson of Goldsboro. "Everything wasn't so good at the beginning, but as you go along, sugar is at the bottom of the cup."

Another daughter, Annette Jamerson, also of Goldsboro, credited her parents with being exemplary role models.

"They wouldn't let us fight," she said of a childhood surrounded by a houseful of siblings. "We would try when they weren't home. But we were not allowed to fight.

"Even now, if we have a disagreement, we discuss it, and it's done."

Having such a large family, she added, meant they had chores and responsibilities.

"We had something to do on Saturdays," she explained. "We made the beds, cleaned, we helped with the babies.

"Daddy made sure that we respected Mom, and she made sure that we respected him. And in our house, I know a lot of families that worry about clothes and food but we didn't because Daddy was a good provider and we always had what we needed, always."

Ms. Williams fondly remembered childhood visits, "going to church with Grandma" and seeing her grandfather studying Scripture.

"That's where I learned you want to have a love for the Lord," she said, pointing out that her grandfather had even obtained an honorary doctorate of religious education from Goldsboro Disciple Institute.

The couple also managed to impart wisdom, especially when it came to relationships.

"(Mother would say), 'Whenever you leave your house, you make sure your husband and family are taken care of,'" Ms. Williams said.

"And of course, Daddy told all the guys who wanted to take out his daughters, 'If you don't want my daughter, you bring her home just like you took her,'" added Ms. Jamerson.

Gerald, comfortably seated in his recliner, his wife nearby taking it all in as relatives begin arriving in time to celebrate this weekend, are admittedly content and comfortable with the life they have shared for 80 years.

"I'm thankful that the Lord has blessed me to live this long," Gerald said. "To me, we have had a beautiful married life."