'Because I love her': Couple celebrates 70 years of marriage

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJuly 24, 2013 

Jim and Jeanette Pearce sit in their living room Tuesday at Helena House in Port Royal.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

Jim Pearce doesn't say much these days; he lets his wife, Jeannette, do most of the talking.

But when he quietly tells the secret of their successful 70 years of marriage, the emotion makes listeners pause.

"We love each other," he says simply.

The Pearces, both 91, have lived in Port Royal since 1959 and currently reside at Helena House. They celebrated their anniversary Wednesday at the assisted-living center.

"I said to him today, 'You know, you probably could have done better,'" Jeannette said Tuesday. "He said 'I know damn right well I couldn't.'"

The couple, usually found holding hands, almost didn't ... well ... couple.

"Actually, he didn't have much use for me in high school," Jeannette said with a laugh. "I had a smutty mouth and I called someone a big ... when they threw my song sheet out the window. I was in a class, I turned around and called him a big whatever."

Jim just shook his head and smiled.

His memories go back further and are fonder. Jeannette recounted a story he has told her countless times of when they were young and lived in South Weymouth, Mass.

"Before he even knew who I was, he saw me -- I had this red jacket with a fur-covered hood -- I was out with my sled having a good time," she said. "He drove by and asked his buddy who I was, and he said that's Jeannette Stone. And (Jim) said, 'I'm going to marry that girl.'

"That's what he told me, anyway."

At some point, the couple started dating. But then Jim joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

"He wanted to be engaged, and I said 'no,'" Jeannette said. " 'Why not?' I said because you're going to want to date and so am I. I'm not going to sit around here doing nothing."

They both dated other people -- Jeannette actually promised to wait for a deployed Navy man -- until Jim stole her back. She got off the train from work one night and he was waiting. Jeannette had a date with someone else that night, but Jim took her home with him.

"He stood there in the kitchen and asked me to marry him," Jeannette said. "I said, "Well, are you ready for it?' I'm not sure he was, but he said he was. And that was it."

Three months into the marriage, Jim, a World War II veteran, was sent overseas for 21 months. On his return, he met Jeanette in New York City.

"Nine months and a day (later) I had my first baby," Jeannette said with a laugh. "Thank God it wasn't eight months and a day. I'd of had the fingers pointed at me! And we went on and on and on and had six girls."

Their family has grown to include 15 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild, so far.

After several moves because of Jim's military career, the family came to Beaufort. They bought a little house and some land in Port Royal. Jim was almost immediately deployed again.

And then stationed in San Diego for a year.

Jeannette held down the homefront and waited until he retired, as a lieutenant colonel, and came home for good.

Jim became a teacher, then an assistant principal at Beaufort High School and then Battery Creek High School. His current quiet, mild manner belies the formidable administrator he was. Jeannette remembers "awful" late-night calls during that time and, once, a new battery was stolen from his truck while parked at one of the schools.

Retirement was sweet, Jim said. He could finally spend time with Jeannette after years apart.

Through it all -- separation, moves, work, raising the girls -- they stayed together.

"Why wouldn't we?" Jeannette said. "That's how you stick together. You fight it out, not alone, but together."

As for advice to young couples, Jeanette said a few things are crucial to a 70-year marriage. First, she said with a smile, is living long enough.

Then, "you accept what you have in life and be happy about it because ... it's a heck of a lot easier and nicer than to be miserable, don't you think so?" Jeannette said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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