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Alabama couple to quietly mark 73rd wedding anniversary

Shirley and Emma Jean Roberson celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on Dec. 14, 2020.
Shirley and Emma Jean Roberson celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on Dec. 14, 2020.((Source: Roberson family))
Published: Dec. 12, 2020 at 9:34 PM CST
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GREENVILLE, Ala. (WSFA) - Monday will come and go quietly, like most other days for Shirley and Emma Jean Roberson. The south Alabama couple will have dinner and watch a little television, say their nightly prayers, then retire to bed with him having tried on his new thermal socks.

They were an anniversary gift, or maybe they were for his 93rd birthday on Dec. 18? Either way, they were a thoughtful present she’d recently bought him because she knows his feet get cold.

“We feel like we’ve been married all our lives, and we almost have,” Emma Jean explained.

It’s the little things you learn about a person over a lifetime that count, and they know each other pretty well. Dec. 14 marks their 73rd year as “Mr. and Mrs. Roberson.”

These lifelong residents of Greenville have lived in the same house the entirety of their marriage, a quiet event that, on this upcoming Monday, will have started 26,664 days ago.

It was 11 days before Christmas, 9 p.m. on a Sunday in late 1947. The living room this charming couple relaxes in now is the same one they stood in then, patiently waiting for a preacher to arrive from his evening church sermon.

Mr. and Mrs. Roberson relax on the couch at the Greenville home they've shared for nearly...
Mr. and Mrs. Roberson relax on the couch at the Greenville home they've shared for nearly three-quarters of a century.((Source: The Roberson family))

There were no photos of the wedding day, few guests, and no honeymoon. But when it was over, 17-year-old Emma Jean had the 19-year-old beau who had struck up the nerve to ask her to a picture show not long after they’d first met at a Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting in town.

Speaking with them by phone recently, it was clear that this couple, both now in their 90s, had minds that were quick and sharp. They laughingly popped out minute details of the memories of their long lives together.

Of course, when quizzed, he couldn’t remember the actual movie he’d invited her to that first date. It wasn’t so much that the memory had faded after seven decades. Shirley pointed out he was more interested in her than anything they would have gone to see. But he remembered she had to “call and ask her momma.”

Emma Jean’s “momma” said yes to the movie. And she gave them her own home for a wedding gift. Shirley went back to the boarding house where he was living, packed up a box of clothes, then returned.

“He’s never left since,” Emma Jean laughed.

The couple never had any children, and they’ve watched as most of their family and friends have passed way. But they say their church ministry has filled and sustained them through the years.

“We worked with young people, and I loved older people in the church,” she explained. “We did everything we could to serve the Lord. That was our goal in life.”

He was a lay minister around Butler County for nearly 25 years before retiring and also worked in a furniture store. She spent more than 40 years of her life at a now-closed drug store that was once located on Greenville’s Commerce Street.

After his time as a lay minister ended, they settled into the congregation at First United Methodist Church of Greenville where they continue to be faithful members all these decades later. In fact, her recent 90th birthday featured a pandemic-inspired church ride-by parade.

The Robersons, shown here celebrating their 50th anniversary in 1997 (L) and their 60th...
The Robersons, shown here celebrating their 50th anniversary in 1997 (L) and their 60th anniversary in 2007 (R). They'll mark their 73rd anniversary in 2020.(Source: The Roberson family)

The Robersons both light up when the conversation comes to their faith. It’s the simple answer they have for both the question of their secret to a long life and the secret to a long marriage.

“Loving God and loving each other,” he explained. “We have tried to do what was right and what was pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ to the best of our ability.”

“We don’t ever go to bed mad,” she added. “We always apologize if we think we’re wrong, and we’ve never had any bad disagreements. We’ve tried to live Biblically.”

The couple is always praying and witnessing, with Emma Jean jokingly admitting that most Greenville Walmart cashiers have probably gotten one of her gospel tracts, as have those at other stores around town.

There’s gardening time. They love arranging flowers. And he’s still recognized around town for his landscape paintings, inspired years ago by the late PBS painter Bob Ross. He calls it a “hobby” but it’s clear from the examples hanging on their home’s walls that he’s very talented.

Mr. Roberson is fond of camellias, one of which is even featured in the local chamber of commerce’s logo.

Paintings by Shirley Roberson can be found around the Butler County area and in local...
Paintings by Shirley Roberson can be found around the Butler County area and in local government buildings. These are a sampling of some hanging in the couple's home.(Source: The Roberson family)

These days, with the pandemic raging, the Robersons stick close to home. She’ll venture out to the grocery store, if needed, and they’ll make the trip to church, if possible.

“We try to do our part to take care of ourselves and then we leave the rest to the Lord,” she said. “I agree,” he quickly added.

And as their anniversary passes into what will become just any other Tuesday on the 15th, the sun will once again rise on a faithful couple having quiet Bible reading time to begin their 26,665th day together.

“I’d do it all over again,” he says of their marriage. Naturally, she agrees.

FUN FACTS ABOUT THE ROBERSONS’ WEDDING DAY: December 14, 1947

On that day...

  • NASCAR was founded in Daytona Beach, Florida
  • The Cleveland Browns beat the New York Yankees 14-3 in the AAFC championship game
  • The No. 1 song was Charlie Spivak & His Orchestra singing “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons”
  • Stanley Baldwin, Britain’s Prime Minister during multiple terms, died at 80
  • Dilma Rousseff, the 36th president of Brazil, was born

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