Married couple celebrates 71 fun years

First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Each memento in Rae and Bill Phillips' Arlington apartment tells the story of their 71 years together. A picture from their wedding day hangs above a bowl of candy by their open front door. Near the photo sits their wedding cake topper, a figurine of a woman in a white dress and a man in a white military uniform. Hanging on the wall is a picture of Bill, airborne in the plane he flew during World War II. On their fridge is a wooden magnet that reads, "There's a special place in heaven for the mother of five boys."

By their bedroom is a drawing of the brick house in Arlington where they lived for 51 years. Next to it is an apostolic blessing from Pope John Paul II for their 50th wedding anniversary. A long mahogany frame made by Bill displays the faces of their grandchildren. When they had more grandchildren and great-grandchildren than space, he made another.

In their kitchen is a white clock with the black numbers scattered helter-skelter toward the bottom. It's a retirement clock, they explained - the hour doesn't matter. Time was more important back on Dec. 2, 1944, when they had just five days to spend as a newly married couple before Bill was sent to train pilots to fight the Nazi forces.

Their story began a few years earlier, when Rae and Bill met as teenagers in high school. "I was on a swimming team, and (Rae) had a friend that was on the same team," explained Bill.

"(My friend) said, 'There's a guy on the team I know you'll like, come down and see him,'" said Rae. "So I did and I liked him," she said, laughing.

Though they stopped dating when Bill joined the Navy, they still wrote to each other every week. Rae went to college in their hometown of Akron, Ohio, and then got a job in a chemical lab. On his first leave home, Bill stopped by Rae's house.

"He came over and knocked on the door first thing in the morning," she said. "I was getting ready for work, but I opened the door. There stood this beautiful vision in a white uniform with gold wings. I said to myself, 'Oh, this is it.'"

During their two-month, long-distance engagement, the couple found out Bill would be sent to train forces in Brazil. Instead of moving to Atlantic City with him, Rae would move back home, but the wedding went on as planned. They met between Ohio and New Jersey, and married in Philadelphia, where Rae's brother and sister-in-law were living. "My brother and his wife pretty well planned it," said Rae.

The week before the wedding, lit candles on the altar started a fire in the church they were to be married in, charring the inside of the building. On Dec. 2, 1944, the couple was married instead in a convent near the church. "The priest came over there, and a whole bunch of little nuns came in to watch," said Rae. "We were laughing just the other day, saying, 'Do you know we didn't get married in the Catholic church?"

After 10 months, Bill returned safely home. Years later he was called up to active duty for nine months, and occasionally during his career with the Red Cross he would leave to go to disaster sites. His job moved the family around the country: Boston, Richmond, Philadelphia and Arlington. Rae gave birth to their five sons: Denny, Larry, Rick, Jon and Terry. When the boys got a little older, she began to teach.

When the family moved to the area, they joined St. Ann Church in Arlington. Bill and Rae were involved with St. Joseph's Work, a group that maintained the church grounds, as well as overseeing religious education.

Their shared morals and belief in God was an integral part of their marriage. "It's important to have faith in each other and faith in your church," said Bill. They attribute their long, happy marriage to patience, honesty and taking it one day at a time.

As for parenting, "every day is not a crisis," said Bill, thinking back to their child-rearing days, fraught with concern about the well-being of their sons. "Our five boys turned out really great in spite of us," he joked.

"We've had a lot of fun," said Rae. Now in their 90s, the Phillips enjoy seeing their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and keeping one another company.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016