True love

Published 9:29 pm Monday, January 30, 2012

Billye and Bob Walton

Still going strong after 57 years

Had it not been for an exceptionally good matchmaker, Billye and Bob Walton might never have met.

These days, they’re a married couple of 57 years who moved to Lake Prince Woods in Suffolk 10 years ago to be closer to their daughter. But in the early 1950s, they lived in Georgia, where he was a forester and she was an elementary school teacher.

Bob and two other foresters lived in a bachelor pad in the middle of the woods, and one of them was dating a teacher colleague of Billye’s.

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They met when the couple brought along two friends each on a group date, and the rest was history. Both blind dates ended up getting married.

After 57 years, Billye still isn’t sure if it was love at first sight.

“It was like at first sight, I know,” she says.

There were other dates — and some mishaps. One time, the girls were late getting to the cabin for an outing. Billye swears it wasn’t her fault. The other girl, she says, was “notorious for being late.”

By the time they got there an hour after the arranged time, the boys had assumed they weren’t coming and went fishing. After spending an eerie afternoon sitting alone in the cabin in the Georgia forest, the girls left.

“It was a wonder we got back together after that,” Billye says now.

She knew he was serious when he took her home to meet his folks. But he didn’t know that.

“When I said something to him later, he said, ‘I didn’t know that meant that,’” she said. “He just wanted company on the trip.”

Eventually, the couple got married on June 13, 1954 (“but it wasn’t a Friday,” she says). They honeymooned at Fontana Dam in North Carolina and set up a life together in Georgia.

They raised three children — Rebecca, Sylvia and Robert — and managed to stay married all those years. But it hasn’t been a bed of roses.

“People say you’re not supposed to go to bed angry,” she said. “We went to bed ready to kill each other. It wasn’t the thing to do to get divorced, so you stayed together. I’ve often said with the young people today, if it had been that easy when we were that age, we might have gotten divorced.”

But that’s just hyperbole, she insists later.

“If all the men in the world were in a heap, piled up, I’d be out there trying to find him, because he’s the only one I think I could live with,” Billye said.

It’s been a rewarding 57 years, despite whatever twists and turns have come. The couple have traveled extensively together in North America, Europe and the Pacific. They now volunteer at Sentara Obici Hospital and Main Street United Methodist Church, where they are members. Bob also is the president of the resident association of Lake Prince Woods.

But there’s one thing they’ve never done — at least if you ask him.

“We never argue,” he claims. “But one of us will get mad and not say anything for a day or two — the silent treatment.”

What do they give the silent treatment for?

“Silly little things,” Billye says, seeming almost embarrassed to talk about any of their disagreements.

After 57 years together, it’s hardly surprising that the two — she’s 83, and he’s 82 — are always thinking the same things and can tell a story by trading sentences.

“I think any couple that’s together as long as we are, you get to know each other,” he said. “You don’t surprise each other much.”

When asked about what makes a marriage work, Bob is quick to answer.

“Compromise is probably the best way you look at it,” he said.

“That’s exactly what I would have said,” she adds.

To young couples about to get married, the Waltons are willing and qualified to dole out advice.

“I think so many of the young people today think, ‘I’m getting married so he can make me happy, and if he doesn’t make me happy I’ll find somebody else,’” she says. Those folks have it backwards, she adds. “You get married to make each other happy.”

Bob says his best advice is to truly know your partner before you get married.

“You need to talk with each other and be sure you know how each other feels about children, how you want to handle money,” he said. “These kinds of things you need to discuss. After you get married, if you disagree on those sort of things, that’s major.”