July 29, 2013 in Features

Couple prove far-flung courtship, marriage observe no time limits

By The Spokesman-Review

Theresa Phillips, 68, and Joe Phillips, 81, cut the cake after their wedding ceremony in Spokane on July 20.
(Full-size photo)


For their July 20 wedding, Theresa and Joe Phillips plugged into wedding trends experts predict will become commonplace when boomers marry (for the first time, or the second or third time) in their 60s, 70s and beyond.

The bride wears purple

At her first wedding in 1969, Norman was 24. Her dress? White with button sleeves, a long train and a bustle.

This time: A purple, form-fitting, floor-length gown, silver shoes and a tiara-style headband.

Boomer brides will select dresses that reflect who they are now, and it’s likely not an elaborate white gown, unless that’s who they are now.

“They are doing things more applicable to their lifestyle. They are never going to wear a wedding dress again, but a dress like that she could use it on a cruise or a fancy Christmas party,” said Marcella Davis, owner of Marcella’s Bridal in Spokane.

Small is the new big

At Theresa Phillips’ first wedding in 1969, 300 guests attended. This time, the couple expected 75; 110 showed up. They held their wedding and reception at Patsy Clark Mansion in Browne’s Addition.

Theresa Phillips had five attendants when she married the first time. This time her son, Michael Norman, and his wife, Renae, were best man and matron of honor.

The minister who married them, Jerry Baker, is married to Joe Phillips’ niece, Carol Baker.

Your presence is our present

Couples who marry in their 60s and beyond are often in the downsizing phase of life. They don’t need more “stuff.”

“I told people: ‘Bring yourself, no gifts.’ But we got tons of cards and gift certificates,” Theresa Phillips said. “Some gave donations to Ronald McDonald House in our honor.”

In 2009, Theresa Norman – then 64 – never expected to fall in love again.

She had been divorced eight years and never had a date after her divorce, nor did she want one.

She was living a full life without a husband. Norman loved her job as house manager for Ronald McDonald House of Spokane, and she stayed busy with her family – three grown sons (two of them in Spokane) – and two grandchildren who live in Spokane.

Meanwhile, across the country in Alden, N.Y. (about 12 miles east of Buffalo), Joe Phillips wasn’t looking for a second wife. He was exhausted after 15 years caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease. His wife of 51 years died in 2007.

He thought: “Where am I going to ever find anyone? Maybe visiting at the cemetery? I’m too old.”

And then, Cupid – boomer style – appeared in their lives.

Norman (who grew up in New York state) flew to Alden for a family reunion. Her elderly aunt invited her to Phillips’ annual Fourth of July barbecue. Norman and Phillips didn’t talk much at the gathering, but Phillips showed Norman his collection of license plates adorning the walls of the property’s pole barn.

“I said if I have an old Washington one, I’ll send it to you,” Norman remembered.

She returned to Spokane, found an old license plate and mailed it to Phillips.

He sent her a thank you note and included his phone number, hoping she’d call. She did.

Their courtship began.

For two years, they wrote letters and cards and talked on the phone. Norman flew back to New York for a visit in July 2011.

They were falling in love.

Then one morning, Phillips said: “I have to tell you something, and I don’t know how to tell you.”

Norman thought: “Oh gosh, he’s sick.”

Phillips said: “I’ve got to tell you my age, and I’m scared.”

He was 79.

Norman said: “Age is nothing. We love each other. I don’t care if you’re 100.”

He gave her a promise ring in September 2011 when he visited Spokane for the first time. When Norman returned to the East in July 2012 to visit during Phillips’ annual Fourth of July barbecue, Phillips showed her a ring box and said, “Here’s for you.”

An engagement ring. Yes, Norman said, of course, she would marry him.

Phillips – a retired corrections officer – moved to Spokane June 11, after selling the family home, saying goodbye to lifelong friends, leaving behind three grown daughters and nine grandchildren; his daughter’s boyfriend drove with him across country into his new life. It took just 48 hours.

“I brought my socks and my underwear,” he said. “Most of my stuff I gave to my kids. A lot of it I put on the (street) and five minutes later, it was picked up by the garbage pickers.”

His daughters’ reaction to their father’s remarriage?

“They told me, ‘Go for it.’ They love her.”

Norman’s three sons were equally enthusiastic.

They told her: “We’re happy for you. You need to have someone in your life.”

The couple share many interests. Both like music; Phillips played guitar in a country-western band for 60 years. They both like people and socializing. They’ve already thrown a Fourth of July barbecue in Spokane, like the one Phillips threw every year in Alden.

“We’re both down to earth,” Phillips said.

Sit down with the couple for a few minutes, and it’s like being with teens in love. They giggle some; they gaze lovingly as the other tells a story. They said the fall-in-love feelings people experience in their teens and 20s returned for them in their courtship.

“You know the Frank Sinatra song ‘The Second Time Around,’ it’s true,” Norman said.

On July 20, Theresa Norman married Joe Phillips.

She is 68. He is 81.

The age difference doesn’t bother them. Both are in good health, but barring a longevity miracle, they won’t celebrate a 25th or 50th wedding anniversary.

“I’m just happy for the time I can spend with him,” Norman – now Theresa Phillips – said. “God willing, it’s for a long time, but what is going to be is going to be.”

Joe Phillips said: “If you find someone, go for it. Life is short. It’s a wonderful feeling I never thought would happen again. And it did. I love her to death.”

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