He adores her. He is the light of her life. And it’s been that way for 65 years. Friends, one of the biggest blessings of my life has been doing this lovely and Godly couple’s anniversary session. Laurie, their daughter-in-law, told me that they love each other, life, and a good laugh. She was so right. Even after medical issues and life’s typical ups and downs, their joy of living and loving each other shines through literally everything. What a witness they are to the legacy that a lifetime of love will bring.
Of course I had to ask how they met. Watching their eyes sparkle with memories and how they finished each others’ sentences was heartwarming for me. Many years ago, Paul Sullivan was a young man standing outside at Maple GroveBaptist Church when he looked through the window saw the blue eyed beauty Francis Rippy. He had his brother ask her if he could sit beside her at church that night. I think there was a bit of confusion on her part as to who had actually wanted to sit beside her, but when they sorted it all out, a very dashing young man sat down beside his future bride for the first time. Then Paul ended up taking her home. He laughed as he told me that something happened to him then that had never happened before or since. He said that out of the blue, he started shaking from head to toe and couldn’t stop. Maybe it was fate telling him something, or maybe the Lord already working in this future beautiful marriage.
Then Mrs. Francis took over with a twinkle in those deep blue eyes of hers – (I mean those blue eyes are still so bright and they literally smile at your soul). Apparently her father wasn’t keen on her marrying the handsome young man she had fallen head over heels for, but she didn’t care. “I told him,” she said, “that I wanted his blessing. But with or without it, I was marrying Paul Sullivan. If he didn’t give his blessing, I was prepared to run away and marry him. And so he gave in. I married Paul and moved to Indiana the same day.”
Mr. Paul said, “It’s really a wild story.”
“But every word is true,” Mrs. Francis said. And as they say, the rest is history.
Oh but they told me so much more…
Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan lived in Indiana for 22 years and Mr. Paul started his own hardwood flooring company. He treated people right, and never skimped on the finish, and couldn’t keep up with the demand. Eventually the Sullivans and their 7 children, six boys (Steve, Alan, Mark, Kenny, Gary, and Doug) and one daughter (Pam), decided to move back to Scottsville. Mr. Paul went to work at General Electric and stayed there 18 years. When I asked Mrs. Francis how Pam survived six brothers, she laughed and assured me that Pam made it just fine.
She still smooths his suit and adjusts his tie, as I suppose she’s done for 65 years. And he still smiles at her. Now he leads her through the rough patches in the road, and she leans on him. I’m getting choked up writing this, because they really are that beautiful.
When we were nearly finished, Mr. Paul was talking to a couple of Mennonites, so I asked Mrs. Francis if he was this much fun back in the day too. She smiled that sweet smile of hers and said, “He was so dashing, and you couldn’t out do him. He was the most fun and loving person I’ve ever known.” I think he still is. Oh friends, if we could all leave this legacy, how much more beautiful our world would be.
One of the promises that we have on earth is that we will have some thorns among the roses of life. The Sullivans have enjoyed so many roses in the beautiful life that they have lived, but they’ve also suffered great loss. You’ll notice that this part is between pictures that I hope convey the joy they share with each other in spite of those losses. You see, when they still lived in Indiana, they lost their first daughter, and second child, Brenda Carol. She was only six when she died from leukemia. She had told them that she planned to take care of the little babies in Heaven. When her time came, she smiled at each of her parents, and then looked upward, and passed from this world. Heaven is a place the Sullivans can’t wait to see when their work here is done. I think we all know why.
Several of Mr. Paul’s sons have carried on the Sullivan Hardwood Flooring tradition, and he is beyond proud and blessed with the lives of all his sons and daughter. He’s quick to say that they raised all their children in church, and that is the difference, but I’m pretty sure that the work ethic, and kind nature he and Mrs. Francis instilled in them finished the job. He’s proud of the work they do, and one thing he says he always told them was to never skimp on the finish. Then there was the tragedy and heartbreak of losing another child, their oldest son Steve in an automobile accident. Steve was at that time the one who ran most of the company, but the hardwood flooring continued. It must be in their blood. The Sullivan boys were so busy with flooring jobs, that Mr. Paul retired as soon as he could from GE to help them catch up. “I helped them 15 years, and they still weren’t caught up. So I finally had to quit,” he told me.
Have you ever heard The Sullivan Family sing? Oh my, the talent and gifts they have are amazing. “Just Inside the Gates” is a song they are known for and speaks volumes to the strength and spirituality of this loving family. I think that’s why you see these smiles, the joy, the honest dedication to a job well done, and the sweetness of knowing what waits on the other side, a great reunion with loved ones gone, but certainly never forgotten. Click 10 Track 10 to listen to the Paul, Francis, and their children sing “Just Inside the Gates.”
I imagine that Mr. Paul and Mrs. Francis would both be too humble to grasp the impact their lives and their beautiful marriage have had on their children, grandchildren, and this entire community. I can tell anytime their names are mentioned that they are held in such high esteem. And the sweet tone of voice that their children use to speak of them tells me that they have the reverence and love of their family. I know this is because they have lived with integrity, love, laughter, and faith as the backbone of their home.
When we were finished, I asked if they would do one more pose for me, that it is the same one I have most of my young couples do. I thought it would be a beautiful ending.
And then he kissed her. Without prompting.
I was blessed to spend a few minutes with Mr. Paul and Mrs. Francis, and I pray that they enjoy many more years full of love, laughter, and family. -Pat