Marie and Jim Lilly had only seen each other in person five times before they got married, but 60 years later, they are still going strong.
"She’s the light of my life," said Jim Lilly. He and Marie Lilly celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 4 at daughter Nancy Richey’s home in Vienna.
Marie, 80, grew up in Prince George’s County, Md., and Jim, 83, grew up in West Virginia.
"We were pen pals," said Marie Lilly. During World War II, she said, one of her friends was in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army, the same outfit as Jim Lilly; Marie and Jim began writing to each other.
"We went, my mother and I, to Pine Camp, N.Y., to visit him," said Marie Lilly, where she met Jim in person for the first time. Soon after, she said, Jim was transferred to Fort Benning, Ala.
The couple wrote each other for three years before they married, said Marie Lilly. He proposed to her in a letter he sent while stationed in Ireland, sending money to Marie’s mother for a ring. It is in a different setting now, but Marie still wears the diamond on her hand.
Marie and Jim Lilly married on Sept. 27, 1945, shortly after the war ended. Jim Lilly recalled that Marie’s wedding dress was white, with small red parachutes printed on it, since he was a paratrooper.
"I was discharged from the Army, had a birthday, and got married on the same day," said Jim. "The only thing about getting discharged, having a birthday and an anniversary on the same day is you only get one present."
The Lillys returned to Washington, D.C. after a honeymoon in New York City, and since then have lived throughout Northern Virginia: Arlington, Manassas, Front Royal, and, for 20 years, Alexandria. They have four children, nine grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
Around 40 family members and friends gathered at Richey’s home Sunday to celebrate the Lillys’ anniversary. Some came all the way from Georgia.
"I think I’m truly blessed to have parents like this," said daughter Peggy Engstrom, who teaches in Manassas.
Engstrom’s husband Doug, a teacher who was in the Marine Corps for 29 years, presented a toast to the Lillys at the celebration.
"I think these two probably affect everybody a little bit different," said Doug Engstrom. "This is probably the greatest Christian role model I’ve ever seen … they take everything in stride. Always have, always will."
THE LILLYS are active members of the Open Door Church near their home in Shady Springs, W.Va. where they have lived for 16 years, said Richey. Jim Lilly is a deacon at the church, and both participate in the Prayer Fund charity.
Michelle Riemel, Richey’s stepdaughter and Vienna resident, said she had known the Lillys (or Mamaw and Papaw as they are called) for two years.
"[The Lillys] are a great example of marriage, and having lots of kids, and making it work," said Riemel. Their faith, she said, gave them "a strong basis for themselves, and they’ve shared that with the kids."
Great-granddaughter Brooke Liszkiewicz, a horse rider who lives in Stafford, recalled how Jim likes to joke with his great-grandchildren.
"He would pull his thumb off, like this," said Brooke, demonstrating the trick.
Nathan Spencer, 4, agreed. "He’s funny," he said.
As parents, the Jim and Marie Lilly "were always there for me," said Richey, who works for the Department of the Army. "They are very giving people. When they see a need, they go right to it."
When Richey and her siblings were young, their family was active in sports, she said, and often attended sporting events. Jim Lilly was a Little League coach and umpire, she said.
"I have a beautiful family," said Jim Lilly. "All my grandkids and great grandkids, I love every one of them."
"I feel very blessed," said Marie Lilly.