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When Vivian was 6, she met a cute boy named Ray. 86 years later, this is their story.

On Valentine’s Day, we present a look at love.
When Ray Whitehurst was in the hospital recently, his wife couldn't sleep without him. So a stuffed animal from Walgreens took his place. Raymond recently returned and put George out of a job. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
When Ray Whitehurst was in the hospital recently, his wife couldn't sleep without him. So a stuffed animal from Walgreens took his place. Raymond recently returned and put George out of a job. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times]
Published Feb. 14
Updated Feb. 14

Their love story spans eight decades, carried them to nine countries, gave them two children, two grandchildren, six great-grandkids.

Ray and Vivian Whitehurst, both in their 90s, don’t leave their Sun City home much any more, except for doctors’ appointments.

These days, love looks like sitting in side-by-side recliners, watching reruns of Rawhide, helping each other remember a lifetime, using those two magic words.

1933:
Vivian Whitehurst, pictured with her second-grade class. (Second from the right in the front row) [WHITEHURST FAMILY PHOTO | Times]

They met in the parking lot of the Presbyterian church, playing marbles -- the last year of the Great Depression.

“He was kind of quiet,” she said.

“She was sweet,” he said. “And really pretty.”

He was 7. She was 6.

They lived four houses apart in Virginia Beach, rode the bus together to school, started spending time at each other’s homes.

In second grade, love is skipping on hopscotch grids, playing spin-the-bottle, stealing kisses on her parents’ couch.

“I still kiss him every night,” she said.

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1947:

Ray and Vivian Whitehurst were married Sept. 14, 1947. [WHITEHURST FAMILY PHOTO | Times]

During high school, they lost touch. His family moved across town. He dropped out, joined the Navy, swabbed decks across the South Pacific. She graduated and became a bookkeeper for a Norfolk department store.

They met again, by chance, in a drugstore -- two years after World War II ended.

“He didn’t recognize me,” she said.

“She had grown up,” he said. “And filled out.”

They never dated. “He never asked me out,” she said. “But he was always around.”

“I spent quite a bit of time at her mother and father’s house,” he said. “She’d come home from a date and I’d be there, with them, on the glider. She’d tell her date, ‘He’s a friend of the family.’ ”

He proposed that spring, on the ferry to Portsmouth. He didn’t have a ring, but he’d rehearsed his pitch: “I told her, ‘The only thing I want in life is to be with you for the rest of my life.’ ”

“He was so shy and had that black, curly hair,” she said. “I knew we’d have good-looking children.”

They got married in September, in that Presbyterian church. He was 21. She was 20.

“We didn’t dance at the wedding,” he said. “But we smooched. A lot.”

1956:
Ray, pictured in the 1950s, with his son, Raymond Jr. [WHITEHURST FAMILY PHOTO | Times]

They had a daughter, then a son. They moved to Cuba before the kids started school -- five years before the Bay of Pigs invasion.

He ordered supplies for the Navy. She sent out bills for a civilian contractor. Their kids learned to swim at the beach.

“We moved a lot after that, every two years: New Jersey, Texas, Japan, back to Virginia, then back to Cuba,” she said.

“She made every new place feel like home,” he said.

They divided the chores. He kept up the yard. She cleaned the house. He fried chicken. She did the dishes.

They didn’t fight much. When they did, he always got the last say. The secret of a successful marriage, he said, comes down to two words: “Yes, dear.”

1997:

After their kids were grown, once the grandkids started coming, they retired to Florida -- the year Titanic came out.

They celebrated their 50th anniversary on a cruise.

“We’ve been on 50 cruises,” she said. “Sometimes with family. Mostly just us.”

They loved walking on the deck in the dark, smelling the sea. Seeing the stars. Holding hands.

2020:

They both lean on walkers now. His hearing is gone. Her memory is slipping. Their daughter moved in years ago, to help keep them at home, together.

Family photos, medals and souvenirs fill their duplex. Sometimes, they scan the walls to remind themselves of the life they have shared.

“We’re old,” she said recently, stroking his shoulder as they sat on the sofa. “Too old.”

He laughed. “I’m the old man. You’re only 92!”

Last fall, he had a heart attack, then fell and fractured his leg. The six weeks he spent in rehab was the longest they had been apart -- in 72 years of marriage.

“I couldn’t sleep. The bed was too big,” she said. “I had my daughter go to Walgreens and buy me a stuffed bear to fill his side. I didn’t want to be there all by myself.”

Now that he’s home, she lets him have the TV remote, after All My Children. In your 90s, love is holding each other, holding on.

And what happens down the road?

“We’ve got plots in our family cemetery, at the Presbyterian church, up in Virginia,” he said.

“We’re not going back to Virginia,” she said, shaking her head.

“Well, that’s where our cemetery is. That’s where it’s always been.”

“I’m not going back to the cold,” she said. “Even after I’m gone.”

He patted her arm, smiled and said sweetly, “Yes, dear.”

Contact Lane DeGregory at ldegregory@tampabay.com. Follow @LaneDeGregory.

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