Editor’s note: This story was published in the June 2015 issue of Our State.

You can’t be married for 50 — or 77. Seventy-seven! — years and not have experienced nearly every situation and emotion known to marriage. Hardship. Bliss. Laughter. Sobs. Frustration. Triumph.  Setbacks. Surprises.

Willie and Daniel Williams, of Charlotte, are 96 and 98 years old. They’ve been married for 77 years, earning them the title of Longest Married Couple in North Carolina. They will, in their modest way, wave away the hardships and setbacks part of their journey together. As African-Americans, the two have lived through Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Movement, the election of America’s first black president, and multiple wars. At one time, Willie worked as domestic help, Daniel as an elevator operator. He fought with the U. S. Army in World War II. She went to community college and became a nurse’s aide. Now, they garden, cook, and share what they grow with others.

“Clean living” is the Williams’ secret to a relationship with such remarkable longevity. “Keep your hands in God’s hands, and everything will be all right,” Daniel says. A lifelong and active membership in the Baptist church — Willie has served as church secretary, Daniel has sung with the choir, and both have been honored as Deacon and Deaconess Emeritus — would seem to bear out this advice.

There they are, then, side by side in a church pew, a remarkable representation of every quality symbolized by year after year of marriage: flexibility and fragility. Resilience and romance. Permanence and perseverance. Value and warmth. Congratulations seems too paltry an expression for this extraordinary achievement. Admiration comes close. Awe comes even closer. Well done, and many more.

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Photo by Logan Cyrus

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Kelly is a contributing editor at Our State. She is the author of By Accident and the novels Now You Know, The Last of Something, Even Now, and How Close We Come, winner of the Carolina Novel Award and an alternate selection of Book-of-the-Month Club. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lives in Greensboro.