When Jessica Doubleday needs relationship advice, she doesn’t have to look far. Her grandparents, Vince and Shirley Franklin, have been married for 62 years. “They are role models for my parents and for me,” she said, “because I’m going to want to find someone for me to be like them. They take care of each other, whether they admit it or not.”
The Franklins met when Shirley was 15 and Vince was 17. The two attended high school together in the Anacostia area of Washington, D.C. Vince Franklin worked at the stables in southeast Washington, and a friend of Shirley's was an avid rider. One day Shirley went to the stables with her friend. “Her best friend and my best friend were friends,” Shirley Franklin said. “I started going there, and he worked the horses.”
On their first date, they went sledding down a hill on a Washington street, said Shirley Franklin. During one of their first Christmases, Vince Franklin came to Shirley’s house and gave her a pair of nylon hose. Shirley was nonplused by the relatively small gift.
What she did not know was that Vince Franklin had already brought a heavy cedar chest upstairs with the intention of giving it to her. The couple still has the chest at their home in the Little River Glen Assisted Living Facility on the Little River Turnpike in Fairfax.
They dated for a few years and got married not long after high school ended, in 1942. “My family didn’t think it would last,” Shirley Franklin said.
“I was rough,” said Vince Franklin, who used to train with semi-pro boxers at a gym in Washington. He also worked as a laborer, carrying bricks and mortar to the bricklayers in order to help with such area landmarks as the Jefferson Memorial and the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Vince Franklin joined the U.S. Navy and worked as a machinist in Iowa, California and eventually Hawaii. Shirley Franklin went with him to both Iowa and California but did not follow to Hawaii. “I moved in with my cousin in Falls Church,” Shirley Franklin said. She worked at Riggs bank at the time.
The two were separated for their first anniversary. While her new husband was off fighting, Shirley Franklin kept a sort of scrapbook. “I made a book of all the things we had and sent it to him,” she said.
They kept the book for years, in the cedar chest, but disagree about whether or not it still exists. “All my friends’ husbands were in the war,” Shirley Franklin said. “I wasn’t alone, all my friends were with me.”
AFTER VINCE FRANKLIN returned, the couple obtained an apartment in Washington, and he began working in a metal shop at the Navy Yard. “We started out poor,” Vincent Franklin said.
“But we were poor, but we were poor,” Shirley Franklin said. They set about having a family together. “Our son [Stephen] was born nine months and nine days after he got back,” she said.
Vince Franklin’s work led him to helping build satellites in the first years of the space program, before NASA was formed. The couple had a second child, Theresa, and moved to Virginia in 1956, settling in the Seven Corners area. “She had a lot of family here,” Vince Franklin said.
For a stretch, Vincent put in long days, coming home for dinner and then going right back out to work again. “We didn’t have time to fuss,” Shirley Franklin said.
In 1966, Vincent Franklin and some colleagues formed their own company, Modern Metalsmiths.
The two formed close friendships with their neighbors, raised their two children (and now have four grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way). “Oh gosh, we’ve got the most wonderful daughter and the most wonderful son,” Shirley Franklin said.
They enjoyed sailing and took time out for occasional trips on their yacht, the “Vinshir,” which they owned for 34 years.
They would also shuttle to Florida for the winters, until the drive became too difficult. “We’ve had a good life,” Shirley Franklin said. “Once in a while you might hit a rocky road, but it’s better to stay on the path. In all these 62 years, I’ve never seen one I’d trade him for.”