70 Years...A Lifetime of Love
Sometimes when they stand on their Tide Pointe balcony gazing at the egrets gathered below, they cannot believe it. "We met in 1939 and married December 20, 1941.70 years ago," smiled Virginian Southern Belle, Helen Elizabeth Bishop. "In those years, Longwood, the college I attended, was an all girls' teacher's college. Washington & Lee University (W&L) in Lexington, VA was a private men's college, and 'love and marriage went together like a horse and carriage!' Yet, love has not changed in all these years. I think it is such an individual thing." Tom Bishop, Helen's husband added, "The biggest difference is we would have never considered living together."
When they met at a W&L fraternity party, each was dating someone else. Handsome Kentucky-born football star, Alfred Thomas Bishop (aka: Junie) soon invited Miss Helen Lewis for a date. "It wasn't love at first sight," they both admitted. However, they shared many of the same interests. "Mainly sports!" declared Helen. Shortly after Tom's graduation from W&L, the couple tied the knot, with World War II overshadowing their lives. "I volunteered for the US Army Air Corp," said Tom. He grasped the opportunity to attend the first OCS Harvard Statistical School, emerging a Second Lieutenant. Experiencing Hiroshima, Tom was promoted to Major, and later recalled for the Korean War. Somewhere between wars, Tom took over his father's well-established farm equipment business in Kentucky, eventually forming Monarch, a major distributor of appliances and floor coverings from 1964 until he sold in 1982. "We started traveling a great deal in those years," said Tom. "Did you help in Tom's company?" I asked Helen. Laughter filled the room. "Heavens no! I played golf," chuckled Helen. "I managed the hospital gift shop and volunteered a lot. Wives did not work much back then. Tom and I both loved golf and played a great deal."
In their 70 years of marriage, "The most traumatic occurrence was the loss of our seven-month-old boy with an underdeveloped heart. Our greatest joy, after six miscarriages... finally, the birth of two healthy sons, Lee and Bill."
Always admirers of Hilton Head, the Bishops visited friends and bought a Lighthouse Villa in 1977. Retirement lured them permanently in 1983 to a lovely home on Sea Pines Ocean Course's 17th hole where they remained until their move to their spacious Tide Pointe cottage in 1999.
As we reminisced in their sunny Florida room, good humor and laughter made it seem like I was talking with young newly weds, except their round-the-world photo albums indicated a few years had passed. "China was probably the most interesting and different. Walking the Great Wall, it was hard to believe they built it so long ago hoping it would protect against their enemies," recalled Helen. "Africa was the most exciting!" Tom leaned back in his chair, recalling, "Our most amazing experience was when an elephant charged our Land Rover! Our guide never cut the engine off, and whisked us away in time!" Tom loved taking photographs, and one of his favorites was. "Oh, the baby elephant nursing was a great sight, and I was fortunate enough to capture it!" In 2011 they traveled to France and Normandy, a very moving experience. "I guess we've taken 12-14 land trips with W&L alumni! They are much younger than we are now!" declared Helen.
At 90 and 92, Helen and Tom are in excellent health. Other than a change in eye sight for Helen and two shoulder replacements from his All State, W&L Hall of Fame years for Tom, the devoted couple have enjoyed a very rich, fulfilling life. "Staying busy, eating a balanced diet, and challenging oneself," acknowledged Helen as a few tips. Both duplicate bridge players, they found it quite stimulating and enjoyable. Tom still enjoys golf four times a week at Sea Pines Country Club, and "we are both still avid basketball fans!"
Secrets to 70 years together? "A strong faith, understanding, patience, shared interests, and a good attitude!" confirmed Helen. "It's easy," Tom smiled at Helen, "Have a wonderful person. Love and care for one another. The years of passion turn into a serious, stable love, which lasts a lifetime."
On choosing baby names: "We chose names for our sons which would not lend themselves to nicknames ! I disliked being called Junie so many years!"
Claim to fame: Son, Bill Bishop, is author of The Big Sort.
Observation about the Bishops by Rev. Greg Kronz: "I have watched them in church every Sunday for 20 years. They show a true commitment to the Lord and to each other. It's delightful to see how much they care for one another."