BILLERICA — In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned queen of England, “I Love Lucy” was the No. 1 rated TV show, telephones still had wires, and a loaf of bread cost about 25 cents. It was also the year Billerica residents, Robert and Roberta Harrington, tied the knot.
For those who have trouble counting that high, that means the Harringtons have been married for a grand total of 70 years. It’s actually more like 70 years and about 10 days, as the couple’s official 70th wedding anniversary took place on Oct. 25.
The question most people probably want to ask these two lovebirds is, what’s the secret to making a marriage last for nearly three quarters of a century?
“Never go to bed without kissing goodnight,” Robert said. “I always kiss goodnight.”
“And he does,” Roberta added.
To celebrate their seven decades of love, respect, and compromise — a few keys to their successful union — dozens of their family and friends gathered on Sunday at the Billerica Elks Lodge, where the Harringtons renewed their vows.
As the ceremony concluded, the crowd of loved ones called out for a kiss. Robert, 93, and Roberta, 90, happily complied, giving each other a soulful smooch and embrace as their loved ones cheered.
The couple first met at a diner in Arlington where Roberta worked. Robert, who had a job up the street, would come in every morning to get coffee.
“When he’d come in, he’d say, ‘Good morning everybody!’” Roberta said with a chuckle. “Me, I’m not a morning person, so I’d say, ‘Oh, here he is, Mary Sunshine.’”
Roberta remembered one time Robert called to ask her out on a date. It’s not what you expect, though, according to Roberta. As it turned out, Robert was asking her out on behalf of one of his friends.
“I said, ‘I’m not going out with your friend,’” Roberta said. “I told him, ‘The next time you want a date, I want it to be with you.’”
The couple acknowledges a romance was brewing, but Robert ended up joining the Air Force. As Roberta said, “I thought he was gone forever.”
There’s no stopping love though.
Robert stayed in touch with Roberta. While stationed in Greenland, he started writing to her, telling her he wanted to make her his wife. Roberta was excited about the prospects, but a bit uncertain.
“I told my mother, ‘I don’t mind marrying him, but I don’t know what to do!’” Roberta said. “I was never married before, so I didn’t know how to do it.”
With the help of Robert’s sister, Helen (Robert is the youngest of 13 children), Roberta figured it out. And so the decision was made to get married.
The original wedding date was set for April 6, 1953. Robert’s selflessness, however, caused a bit of a delay.
Robert explained he was stationed in Greenland at the time, and the airplane trips to the U.S. only happened every few months. Robert was set to fly back for the wedding, but his captain asked him if he would be willing to give up his seat for one of his fellow service members who was struggling with mental health issues and needed to go home to see his family.
“So that’s what we did,” Robert said. “We let the other guy go home.”
When asked about the delay to her big day, Roberta said it was worth the wait.
“I loved him, and he loved me, and I wanted to marry him,” she said, before turning to Robert, adding with a laugh, “Another girl probably would have said the heck with you.”
“We knew from the moment we met,” Robert said with a smile. “We just knew it.”
So, on Oct. 25, 1953, Robert and Roberta were married.
Roberta recalls their wedding day was greeted by a heavy downpour. The rain continued throughout their honeymoon in Lake George, N.Y. While the Harringtons tell the story, Kerrie Harrington, their daughter — one of their three children — pointed to a legend that states rain on a wedding day means the marriage will last.
Maybe there’s some truth to that. It’s been 70 years, with no end in sight.
When the Harringtons got hitched, they moved into a house in Billerica. The couple live in the same house today. In addition to their children, they have three grandkids and four great grandkids.
“I just love him to pieces,” Roberta said, fighting back tears. “I’m going to cry. I’ve been crying all day.”
Roberta then offered one last piece of advice to the young couples who might yearn for a lifetime of love.
“Marriage is difficult at times,” she said, “but if you love your mate, you will get through.”
Follow Aaron Curtis on X, formerly known as Twitter, @aselahcurtis