I’m always writing. For better or worse, that is what I’m up to usually. But I have an important announcement- I got a wonderful Valentine’s Day feature in the Burlington Times-News!! 🙂 I’m so happy! I wanted to share it with you guys. Here is the actual story.
By: Alyssandra Barnes
Beverly Thomas slowly, but steadily, pushes her husband, James, in a wheelchair down the hallway to the library. James has Parkinson’s disease and doesn’t walk very much anymore. They move as one, a now-effortless bond of trust formed from almost 60 years of love and dedication. It’s their 58th Valentine’s Day as a married couple.
“She’s very devoted to him,” says Bonnie Thompson, executive director of Homeplace of Burlington, an assisted living retirement community, where they have been residents since June. “She pushes him all over, to every meal. She’d be lost without him, and he would be, too.”
The Thomases are the only couple living in Homeplace, a smaller residential community that can hold 87 individuals, Thompson said. Although they have been residents for less than a year, Beverly and James are happy being there and being part of the daily activities.
Beverly, 77, and James, 81, respectively, met in Warner Robins, Ga., a then-rapidly growing town, in the early 1950s. James is originally from Gibsonville. One of seven children, his mother took care of the demands of a busy home and rowdy children while his father worked in the textile industry, the main job source of thousands in the areas around Burlington and Greensboro for decades. As a young adult, he volunteered his services for the U.S. Air Force, a military branch that he felt was best suited to his needs and interests.
“The Korean conflict was along towards the end, and they were going to draft me,” James says. “But I wanted to get something better than the Army, so I joined the Air Force. It has better opportunities and was better suited to my needs.”
Beverly was born and raised in Warner Robins, which is adjacent to Robins Air Force Base. Her family was an active part of the community, and her mother taught adult Sunday school classes at First Baptist Church. When James was assigned to Robins Air Force Base, he began going to the services at First Baptist and was soon regularly attending the Sunday school classes taught by Beverly’s mother. Before too long, the 17-year-old Beverly was introduced to 21-year-old James and the two quickly began going steady.
JAMES SAYS THEIR first Valentine’s Day together was when they were dating and was one of the most memorable. Very much a traditional gentleman, he gave her a box of chocolates.
“Oh yes, it was nice,” Beverly warmly recalls with a smile.
After two years of dating, building the base of a friendship and romantic connection that would last a lifetime, the two lovebirds tied the knot on Sept. 3, 1955, in a place close to both of their hearts— the very place they first met.
“We got married in the chapel of the First Baptist Church. It was a small wedding,” Beverly says.
A few months after celebrating their first wedding anniversary, James retired from the Air Force as staff sergeant in December 1956.
“I got out after four years. I wanted to pursue other interests,” James says.
James got a job working for the U.S. Postal Service in Georgia, but he quickly requested a transfer to Burlington, where he and Beverly began to raise a family. There, the Thomases reared four sons: Steven, Jimmy, Dennis and Greg.
For many years, Beverly worked off and on at Park Avenue Finishing, and James continued to work for the postal service until he retired in 1988. With a large family and the pressures of working and other community events, times weren’t always easy. But the Thomases credit their marital success to their strong, unwavering faith.
“We’ve led a happy life, but it was wonderful when the boys were growing up. We got along pretty good. Of course, all people have times when they get upset with one another, but in our family we always put God first.”
After moving to the mountains of North Carolina for a few years, the Thomases moved back to Burlington and then into Homeplace on June 8, 2012. Beverly’s macular degeneration, a medical condition that rapidly decreases vision, began to more severely affect her retina and her vision became too poor to properly take care of herself and James in their home.
Their son Jimmy Thomas, 52, is pleased with his parents’ decision to live in Homeplace.
“I think it suits their needs, I like the setup, and the people seem real nice,” says Jimmy, who lives in Morrisville, Va. He visits his parents when he can and arrived unexpectedly to spend a morning with them on a recent Friday.
Beverly and James will be spending their 60th Valentine’s Day together this year (including their dating years) beneath the pink, red and white hearts that are scattered around the halls and communal areas of Homeplace. They will be participating in the special, love-focused activities of the holiday; one of the biggest events will be the “fine dining” evening meal, where residents will enjoy a romantic steak dinner.
Today’s marriage success rate is pegged somewhere between 50 and 60 percent for first marriages by the American Psychological Association. Many newlyweds may never reach James and Beverly’s 58-year milestone.
While James does admit that his kind of long, lasting marriage is much less common for the younger generation, he does think that a marriage of half a century or more is possible.
“Live a good, clean life,” James says.