In today’s world, it’s not very often you hear about a marriage thriving for over seven decades, but that’s true for Helen and Jess Whitley “J.W.” Taylor. The couple wed Jan. 1, 1938, and celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary last month.
Mary Helen Turner and J.W. Taylor met while they were both students at Gordonsville High School. Even though he lived in Smith County in the Brush Creek area, and she in Temperance Hall in DeKalb County, they attended the same high school.
He remembers the first time he saw her, and she definitely made an impression on him.
“She and some of her friends were coming down the stairs at the school and it was like a light had been turned on over her. She just lit up,” said J.W. “It took me a while to ask her on a date. She was my sweetheart in high school, and she’s my sweetheart today.”
Following her graduation, Helen went to Tennessee Tech and lasted until winter break. She and J.W. were dating and she decided she just didn’t want to go back to school. J.W. had the perfect solution — they needed to get married.
He remembers the anxiety in asking her father for his signature in order for them to get a marriage license.
“I made up my mind I was going to tell him we were going to get married the next weekend and we needed his approval,” said J.W. “When I approached him at his home, he was sitting and reading by an oil lamp, and after hearing my idea, he said he knew it was hard to keep a couple apart once they made their mind up to get married. So he signed for her, and we got married on New Year’s Day.”
J.W. was raised on a rural farm, but the World War II Navy veteran held many jobs in his lifetime, working at A&P Grocery in Nashville while going to school at night to obtain a law degree.
He did receive the degree, but chose not to practice law. Instead he owned his own grocery in Nashville and later a 5&10 in Alexandria. He also was employed with J.C. Bradford in the stocks and bonds industry.
The family left Nashville and returned to his old homeplace in Alexandria to farm. It didn’t take J.W. long to realize he couldn’t make a good living farming, so he decided to open the variety store.
During this time, a cashier position became available at Alexandria Bank and he was happy to step up to the challenge. It seems he found his niche in the banking world, as eventually he moved up to bank president at Citizens Bank in LaFayette. He held that position for over 30 years before retiring.
In September 1991, they relocated to McMinnville where they still make their home.
Helen has stood by her man all these years and his many vocations, traveling with him where he chose to go. She was a homemaker, and together they have three children, David and Ann Taylor of Huntsville, Whit and Phyl Taylor of McMinnville, and Susan and Michael Miller of Franklin. They have been blessed with six grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.
Today, he is 97 years old and she is 94. He does have some health problems, and Helen spends most of her days caring for him. In their lifetime they have shared many adventures, traveling across the United States, visiting Australia, Canada, the Holy Lands and Egypt.
They enjoy watching TV and she loves to read and knit. Her specialty is making prayer shawls that are donated to the program at First United Methodist, where they attended for many years.
“We’re content with our lives the way they are now,” said Helen. “It takes a whole lifetime to get to where you are ready any time to go and count it a blessing.”
When asked if he was romantic, Helen said he always remembered her birthday, gave her red roses on their anniversary, and chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Their nighttime ritual always includes a big good-night kiss.
J.W. smiles when he recalls their first kiss. They had been to an end-of-the-year school picnic when he kissed her in the rumble seat of a Model A Ford.
“It’s exciting just being together,” said J.W. “I thank God for her being my wife and the mother of my children.”
After such a long time in the marital state, the wise couple has this advice for anyone thinking about marriage, or trying to make one work: “Just know the Lord and keep Him first. Get in a church and remember you can’t live to yourself. It’s good to fellowship with believers. Always remember your vows and stick together to work things out.”