WINDHAM – For 75 years, Malcolm and Mary Lyons of Windham have shared every decision, every drama and every day together – from the purchase of a $38 refrigerator when they bought their first home to their wedding anniversary on Tuesday when they sat together holding hands and reminiscing about the old days.
The handsome Malcolm, 96, and his beautiful bride, Mary, 94, have shared a devoted kind of love, their children say, one that has kept the entire family happy and healthy, and one that continues to inspire even as the years roll quickly by.
Patience, mutual respect, affection – these are some of the keys to their success, the children say. As for Mary and Malcolm, they believe their success lies in something more akin to destiny.
“It’s been wonderful really. As long as you’ve got the right man,” Mary said Tuesday, after exactly 75 years of marriage.
“We got the right lady, too. That’s the way we did it,” Malcolm added, in his native Lubec accent. “There are ups and downs just like any marriage, but most of it has been good, I’ll tell ya.”
Their love, which began after a chance meeting while Malcolm was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in Biddeford Pool and Mary was visiting the base, means everything to them. And while the two even now unfailingly hold hands every chance they get, a small, curling black-and-white photograph pinned to the living-room wall of their home on Windham Center Road shows the displays of affection started early.
“Right over there, we’ve got a photo on the wall of the first time he put his arm around me,” Mary said, pointing to the photo.
“She’s a beautiful lady, and I knew it, and I liked her looks,” Malcolm added. “She was the type of person I always dreamed of when I grew up.”
Malcolm says the keys to their ongoing success are patience, which they agree he learned from his father and Mary learned from her mother, and a ready willingness to compromise.
“Nowadays, people who call it quits after five, 10 years, they aren’t trying. They’re just starting out. They need to learn how to say yes, and keep their mouth shut,” Malcolm says with a wry smile. “They need to talk things over, whether you think it’s important or not, talk it over before you go ahead and jump into something. Everything on the up-front, that’s the way it should be.”
Their love – all 75 years of it – also means a lot to others. They have five children and several foster children who can attest to its strength.
The eldest child, 74-year-old Patty Buck, who lives near her parents, says Malcolm and Mary have set the bar concerning what makes a good relationship.
“When I was growing up, I never heard them say a cross word to each other,” Buck said. “They were always loving and very kind and always holding hands, and they seemed to agree on everything. I never saw them argue.”
Buck married at age 19 and had 49 years of marriage to Richard Buck, a local telephone company worker who died of Parkinson’s disease six years ago. Despite her own happy relationship, Buck always wondered what was missing since her parents’ relationship was so ideal.
“I never knew married people argued until I got married,” Buck joked. “Sometimes I wondered if mine was going to last, I was married for 49 years but I could see how good theirs was and they never had arguments and we did, so I thought, what’s wrong with me? So it was hard to emulate, very hard. I guess, looking back, I didn’t know it was normal to have disagreements from time to time.”
The oldest son, Mal Lyons, 71, is likewise inspired and impressed by his parents’ long-lasting love.
“I can’t ever recall them having a disagreement of any kind,” he said. “They were always very supportive of each other and just got along very well. It was a house where you always felt welcome, and our friends felt welcome, so it was a nice house to grow up in. Nice atmosphere.”
Still now, Mal says his parents “are very much in love, and it’s nice to see that, and they’re as devoted to each other as any two people I’ve ever met.”
Robert Lyons, 66, lives with his wife Mary in the converted camp that Malcolm and Mary bought on Sebago Lake in Standish in the 1940s. He has seen them weather a lot of storms through the years.
“They are really devoted to each other, without a doubt,” Robert said. “And I think a lot of my mother’s family, she’s the only one left, and my father’s family, he’s the only left, so they’ve seen a lot of death, but I think because of their relationship, they’ve survived.”
What does Robert credit his parents’ love to?
“Unconditional love for each other. Overall, they were just very giving. And they’ve given us a kind of blueprint of what to look to to copy,” he said.
Another son, Guy, who is 59 and moved in to take care of his elderly parents in 2009, sees that unconditional love on a daily basis.
“They have an almost infinite amount of patience with us as kids and with each other. Well, 75 years they’ve been married and you don’t last that long on a relationship that isn’t solid,” Guy said.
Guy moved back home since he was financially able and figured, “with all the trouble I gave them in the first 22 years, I could spend a few years here with them now,” he joked.
Guy is also married and says his wife of six years, Cheryl, who lives in her home country of the Philippines while he takes care of his parents, has shown similar patience with the current arrangement.
“Cheryl is a very patient woman. I was going to visit for two months in December but I have very bad arthritis and when I got there they had the worst typhoon they’ve ever had, which set off my arthritis. So I had to leave, but she was very understanding,” Guy said. “But life is life and she’s very understanding about me taking care of my parents since it’s reduced the amount of time I can spend with her. That’s made things difficult, but seeing each other on Skype every night helps.”
Michael Lyons, 54, of Cumberland, says the family, which includes many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, treasures the long-lived matriarch and patriarch.
“The whole family is very proud of them,” Michael said. “It hasn’t been easy. There are always challenges with a family this big, and they’ve literally made it through the Great Depression, so it hasn’t always been an easy road for them, but they’ve made it happen, both for themselves and for their kids and for their grandkids.”
Like the other siblings, Michael said patience and devotion is the key to their longevity.
“I think it’s pretty amazing, because what they have you don’t see all the time anymore,” he said. “Really, to me, my parents are extremely good at trying to listen to each other. They’re still holding hands, and I think little things like that make a huge difference in life.”
His parents’ habit of holding hands, which Michael said signifies a mutual comfort and admiration between the two, is emblematic of a relationship that is simple and works.
“It’s neat to see their relationship. You look at what they’ve done right and you say, what’s their secret? But I don’t think they have any secrets. I think they just really have genuine respect and honest compassion,” Michael said.
That love and admiration, which starts at the top and trickles through the entire family, didn’t stop at blood relatives; it extended to several foster children Malcolm and Mary adopted just as the older kids were becoming self-sufficient.
One of those children, Dennis Ramsey, 52, who works in the oil industry in Houston, Texas, says Malcolm and Mary adopted him as a 4-year-old and brought him up to live a fulfilling life.
“I don’t think there is a greater couple. They have so much love that not only did they raise their own children, they went ahead and brought in a foster child like me when I was just a little boy and raised me all the way up through,” Ramsey said. “I had been living in the projects in Portland, and due to that I would probably be in prison and wouldn’t be half the person I am today if it wasn’t for them.”
Ramsey said Malcolm and Mary set the tone for the household, which helped him feel accepted from the first day he arrived at the Windham Center Road home.
“It was love – first and foremost. Because of that love they had for each other, it went down to the other children who were able to love me and allow me into the family and accept me as one of their own,” he said.
Ramsey said he hasn’t been as lucky in love as his parents, but “I’ve tried to pattern my life after them and try to get their happiness,” he said.
“They have a love and a life that is one in a million.”