November 2018 Issue
by Nina Greenplate
Photography by Christian Lee
Pat (left) & Mary Lou (right)
Mary Lou Willetts opens her door dressed head to flats in a symphony of creamy vanilla shades: gold and pearl earrings, coupled with a string of pearls to finish her petite frame. Classic. Vintage music is playing when her twin sister, Patricia Peck (Pat, as she prefers) walks through the same door a moment later. Before I can ask the obvious, Mary Lou waves away the invisible question and smiles. “No, we didn’t call each other first. We do this all the time.” Pat is a near mirror image of her twin, all the way down to her creamy hues and twisted pearls around her neck. Beautiful.
The spirited identical twins, born 88 years ago to Leo and Violet Marie Thibodeau, spent their laughter-filled childhood in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Mary Lou and Pat have always been each other’s best friend— besties as we now say. “We never really needed others because we had each other,” said Pat. Her twin agrees. “Our friendship is the best. We can always call each other,” she continued. “I may not always be available at that minute, but that’s okay. I always get back to her.”
Island residents for four years, these ladies take advantage of activities and events with excitement. Whether it’s a bus shopping trip to Savannah, water aerobics, bridge club or exercise class, Pat and Mary Lou enjoy every opportunity. “There’s always something fun for us to do,” Mary Lou said.
This same active mentality dates back to younger days in Grosse Pointe. “Father taught us to drive on our 13th birthday,” Mary Lou spoke up. “But only up and down Lake Shore Drive when no one was out!” replied Pat. They wanted to know how to do everything. Their father was their hero, and the sisters take turns explaining how he taught them how to swim, garden, and canoe. “Daddy had a boat and he showed us how to sail and fish. Once, he created a practice skating rink in winter months, complete with spotlights!”
So many life lessons and gifts came from their loving household. The best gift was their parents’ steadfast faith. A love of God and their solid Catholic faith have carried Mary Lou and Pat through life’s blessings and challenges.
The sisters each hold a business degree from Michigan State. Pat worked in advertising and brokerage firms. Her twin managed restaurants and eventually became a licensed real estate agent. One may assume being twins created a platform for competition. Not so with the Thibodeau sisters; though there were plenty of similarities. They’ve given identical Christmas gifts to the same person, and they’ve shopped at the same store searching for the same item within an hour of each other, clearly confusing the cashier. As teens, while dating on a fall hayride, they decided to switch dates to see if the boys noticed. “They were not too happy when they finally found out,” laughed Mary Lou.
Both women married the love of her life. Mary Lou and her sweetheart, the late Guy Willetts, were happily together for 27 years. They raised three girls and two boys, and Mary Lou is now enjoying her five beautiful grandchildren. “The day we met, Guy saw me working in a jewelry store. I sold that man more jewelry that night!” she chuckled.
After meeting on a blind date, Pat and her husband Fred have now been married 66 years. “I thought Fred was the delivery guy, not my date,” she said. They raised four boys and now have four grandchildren to spoil. Fred’s job moved them around the country, finally settling in Hilton Head. “I feel like I played all my life,” said Pat. “Yes, you did,” Mary Lou quickly replied. “You played and I worked!” They laugh in unison. Although Mary Lou remained in Grosse Pointe, she was not lacking in travel adventures. Vacations were made to the Berlin Wall, Alaska, Australia, and New Zealand. She even found time to become a certified scuba diver.
The sisters lived apart for more than 50 years, but the separation was only geographic. Their friendship never waned. In 2015 Pat called Mary Lou at three in the morning with a surprise. “We’re moving,” Pat said to her twin. “Where?” Mary Lou asked. “Hilton Head,” said Pat. She and Fred wanted Mary Lou to follow. A few months later, they were neighbors.
“Being here with Pat is a blessing. We are so fortunate to have each other,” said Mary Lou. “I thank God for my sister, my years with Fred, and my wonderful boys and daughters-in-law,” said Pat.
“Memories are great,” the twins equally agree. “But we don’t want to go back! We love looking forward!”
> When they were girls, their father gave each twin a baby duckling. They walked them on leashes to Lake St. Clair for a daily swim.
> Mary Lou is 10 minutes older than her sister, Pat.
> Their mother was a fabulous cook!
> They have sister, Joan, and a brother, Robert, who is now deceased.