Column - An inspiration to manyOne of the things I’ve always enjoyed about being a reporter is that you meet so many interesting people. In my 19 years with the Echo Press, I’ve met a lot of them. But there are a few that stand out more vividly in my memory. They are the people who inspired me.
By: Tara Bitzan, Alexandria Echo Press
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about being a reporter is that you meet so many interesting people. In my 19 years with the Echo Press, I’ve met a lot of them. But there are a few that stand out more vividly in my memory. They are the people who inspired me.
Two of those people were Don and Phyllis Keith. I met the couple in 2008 when I interviewed them for a story that was to appear in the Echo Press on February 20, which was their 65th wedding anniversary…and Don’s 85th birthday….and Phyllis’ 83rd birthday!
It was hard to believe they were both in their 80s. Both were so youthful – physically and mentally. But it was easy to believe they’d been married for 65 years. The one thing I remember most about the interview and the time I spent with the Keiths was that they were the true definition of soul mates.
They fondly talked about when they first met at a roller skating rink – she was 15 and he was 17. A year later they were married – February 20, 1943.
“I was the only girl he ever went with, and he was the only boy I ever went with,” Phyllis had said. “It was either true love or we didn’t know any better.”
Obviously, it was true love.
One would think that the term “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was true in their case. Less than two weeks after they were married, Don, who had joined the Navy, went off to war, and the couple didn’t see each other for more than two years. But anyone who knew this amazing couple has no doubt that it wasn’t the absence that made them grow fonder of each other – it was every minute they spent together. It seemed that they were only complete when they were together.
They had lots of simple advice for a happy marriage. Both credited good communication, respect, making decisions together and doing everything together as keys to a successful marriage.
Don added that it was important to share goals, while Phyllis said you need to appreciate each other’s differences as much as the similarities.
“We are exactly alike in so many ways and exact opposites in others,” she had said. “We complement each other.”
Her final advice was: “You should treat him like a king and have him treat you like a queen. Always.”
It wasn’t this couple’s words that inspired me as much as it was their actions. The way they looked at each other, the tenderness in their voices when they spoke to each other and the pride they showed when speaking of the other. It was true, pure love, plain and simple. And this couple made it clear that no one can have that without working hard for it.
One of the ways Don stayed healthy and active was bicycling. He and his friends formed a biking group and completed 500-mile rides each June across Midwestern states.
The couple moved to Alexandria in 2001 and Don was often seen riding his bike several days a week. That’s what he was doing on July 17 when he collided with a pickup. He died that day at the age of 87.
There’s always some comfort to be had in knowing someone died doing something they truly loved. Don loved biking.
His obituary stated: “He was a man of strength and honor and will be missed and remembered for his kind and loving ways. He was an inspiration to all who knew and loved him.”
How very true. After only one afternoon of knowing Don, I was inspired to live healthier and to love more fully.
I hope his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren know that their loved one touched the lives of many, including this reporter who was lucky enough to spend an afternoon learning about love and marriage from two people who truly had it mastered.
“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.