1. Life & Culture

Sun City Center couple married 75 years share the secret to their success

Tess and Paul Silverman met in 1945, on the day news broke of Japan’s surrender in World War II.
Tess and Paul Silverman pose for a portrait in their Sun City Center home on June 18, 2021, days before celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary.
Tess and Paul Silverman pose for a portrait in their Sun City Center home on June 18, 2021, days before celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. [ CHRISTOPHER SPATA | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 21
Updated Jun. 28

All hell broke loose when news of peace reached Louisville, Kentucky, on Aug. 14, 1945.

Japan had surrendered to end World War II, and Louisvillians flooded into the streets by the thousands. The university canceled classes, factories blew their whistles and the authorities halted the sale of booze across the state.

It didn’t stop celebrants from firing guns in the air or sailors from “kissing every girl they could get their hands on” (said the following day’s newspaper) or prevent a large group of revelers from lifting an entire streetcar off its tracks. Two police officers were suspended for leaving their post to get drunk.

Amid all that, Tess and Paul Silverman found what would be the most steady, stabilizing force in their lives for the following seven decades: each other.

Tess had been waiting at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association for a streetcar that would never come. Paul walked in wearing his Army uniform and introduced himself. He’d served in Europe with the 7th Armored Division, but was then stationed at nearby Fort Knox.

Tess needed to get to her father’s law office. Paul said he had a car.

“In those days,” Tess said, “you wouldn’t think twice about taking a ride from a handsome stranger.”

She stood him up for their first date after a beloved uncle died, but he called and made another.

She went off to college at the University of Illinois. He went back to New Jersey a civilian. When he made the long drive to visit, he’d park outside her sorority house and honk the horn that played the tune The Campbells Are Coming. Everyone knew who was there, and who he was there to see.

They married on a Tuesday, Tess’ parents’ anniversary, for good luck. There may have been something to it.

On Friday, the Sun City Center couple celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary.

Tess and Paul Silverman on their wedding day in 1946.
Tess and Paul Silverman on their wedding day in 1946. [ Courtesy of Tess Silverman ]

“It’s difficult to believe,” Paul said.

Indeed. Though it’s hard to pin down for sure, some estimates have put the number of couples living in the United States married for at least 75 years around only 1,000.

The milestone could become rarer in the future. The median age for brides and grooms was 21 and 23, respectively, in 1945, but census data says that nowadays it’s closer to 28 and 30.

The record, at least according to Guinness, was a nearly 87-year marriage between North Carolina’s Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher.

The Silvermans made their home in New Jersey, where Paul had taken over a clothing store from his parents.

The key to a good marriage, they said, is communication about what you really want. They charted a clear plan for their lives and always made those decisions together.

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Like when Tess went out of town and came home to find Paul seated on the sidewalk watching a devastating fire consume the building that housed their store.

They sat down and talked out what to do after that, when the insurance money wasn’t enough to rebuild without taking on debt. They decided to move on to something else. Paul built an even more successful business renting caps and gowns to graduates. Tess had a travel agency with another woman as a partner.

They had three children (and now three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren) and have traveled all over the world. Tess keeps a handwritten list of the countries they visited on a table next to the armchairs where they spend much of their time these days, Tess reading novels and Paul listening to classical music. Israel, Peru, South Africa, Japan and dozens more are listed.

Another key ingredient to achieving a marriage of 75 years is practical. You have to live a very long time.

About half of all marriages end in divorce. The rest usually end in death well before 75 years have elapsed, a fact stated nonchalantly and matter-of-factly by both Tess, 95, and Paul, 97, during an interview at their Sun City Center home.

“Most of our friends are dead. We outlived them all,” Tess said with a shrug. Asking why they thought that might be brought more shrugs.

The Silvermans seem to have at least one advantage. Theirs is an anecdotal example, but studies have suggested a link between gratitude and physical health.

Paul and Tess have gratitude in abundance, for the travels they completed, for their children, who take turns visiting Florida to help care for them, and for the present moment.

“When you get to this stage, we think about that a lot — a lot,” Tess said. “How lucky we are to have each other.”

On Friday, they won’t have a party, but maybe they’ll have a glass of wine and toast another year, and another day, together.