By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 16, 2014
Some 158 couples reaffirmed their wedding vows at the annual archdiocesan Mass to honor 50- and 60-year marriages on Oct. 4.
These couples had first said their I do’s in 1954 and 1964, but this time they and their families gathered at St. Brigid Church, in Johns Creek, with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to celebrate and renew their longtime commitment.
In 1964, the Beatles ruled the airwaves with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the best actor Academy Award, honored for “Lilies of the Field.” And these three couples, the Nicholsons, the Trujillos, and the Murphys, started their married life together.
MCDONOUGH—She was the youngest daughter of an Alabama farmer. He was a young Yankee GI.
Their first meeting on Jan. 26, 1963, at a dance at Fort McPherson did not go well.
“I asked her to dance. She said no. Later on I asked her again; she said yes, thinking she could get rid of me,” said Philip Murphy, sitting on his living room couch, surrounded by family photos.
“My plan didn’t work out,” said Elizabeth Murphy, with a wide smile.
The courtship baffled her parents. They were confused by how their daughter in Atlanta could fall in love with a Northerner and a Catholic, a rare breed in the South back then.
Married 16 months after they first met, this couple found ways to keep their romance alive with trips and hair-raising adventures. Their sense of adventure began with exploring the unfamiliar city together.
Philip met her on his first week here. She had moved to Atlanta just a few months earlier herself. Neither had a car, so on weekends they met downtown at what was Rich’s department store, grabbed lunch, window-shopped and explored the city on foot. At day’s end, he’d ride the bus with her to her apartment near Piedmont Park. They became so familiar to the bus driver he gave the couple a wedding gift.
Part of their walking tour took them up Peachtree Street, where they would pass the red spires of Sacred Heart Church. It was the church they were both familiar with, so they got married there.
The couple had 17 people at their wedding. Elizabeth Murphy sewed her own wedding dress.
It was only the second time she was in a Catholic church. Elizabeth was raised as a Southern Baptist. In fact, their different faiths almost caused a breakup.
“My family was very much against our marriage because he was Catholic,” she said. “Catholics were sort of strange even when I was a teenager.”
But Elizabeth figured he was a “really nice guy,” and when she thought of all the Catholics she knew, they were good people too. She didn’t follow her parents’ wishes.
“I just couldn’t get him out of my mind,” Elizabeth said.
She later became a Catholic after their first child was born.
They made a home for themselves south of Atlanta, first in East Point, then in Riverdale, and finally in McDonough. They were parishioners of St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville for many years and now belong to St. James the Apostle Church in McDonough. Philip, 71, retired after a career with Delta; Elizabeth, 70, worked for a time at an assembly plant, making lawn mowers. They have three children and six grandchildren.
Years later, their adventures that started in downtown Atlanta have continued. They have moved on to cruises, parasailing, and being suspended above trees and landscapes as they zoom along on zip lines. They took family trips to explore the beauty of Yellowstone National Park and other parks.
Romance should not take a back seat as the years go by, they say.
“There is no secret. It is a daily thing,” Philip said. Couples should go out on dates “even though you are an old married couple,” he said.
June Henson, the oldest of the three daughters, said her parents often showed each other affection as she was growing up.
“I can always remember them showing affection. As I have my own family, I can see it was important you didn’t act like two people living together, but two people who adored each other. The kiss was important. The hugs. Do something special,” she said.
As for what they have learned through the years, the Murphys said communication is paramount. Elizabeth said at the start of their relationship she had to learn to open up and face conflict instead of running away.
“I used to hold on to grudges when we first got married,” she said. “You have to accept each other’s faults.”
Participating in the archdiocesan event was a moving experience, Elizabeth said.
“I felt very honored that the archbishop would recognize people that have spent that long together and we had made a great accomplishment in our life,” she said.
“It was nice to see them profess their love for each other again,” said Henson.
Both agreed that time seems to speed up after 50 years of marriage.
“It doesn’t seem that long. It does when you say the number,” said Elizabeth, “but you don’t feel like it’s that long.”