Gwendolyn Lightbourne spent so much time at church that her family thought she would never marry.
They didn’t know she was keeping an eye on fellow parishioner Eugene Lightbourne.
“Sometimes in a big family, it’s nice to have a secret,” said Mrs Lightbourne, the third child in a family of 12 girls and six boys.
“They didn’t see me going out with boys like other young people. I only ever went to church.”
At work at Elbow Beach Hotel — she was a chamber maid, he was a bellboy — they acted like they didn’t know each other.
Once a week, however, they got together for youth meetings at the Pentecostal Church in Hamilton Parish.
“I watched him for a while to see if he would accept the Lord into his heart,” said Mrs Lightbourne, 84. “He did. I was saved at 16 and he was saved at 24.”
The first her family knew of the relationship was when Mr Lightbourne came to the house to ask her father, Burton Bean, for her hand in marriage.
The couple will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary on April 5 but life hasn’t always been easy.
Their daughter, Melanie, was born with cerebral palsy and lives at the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute. The Lightbournes visit daily.
“They didn’t diagnose her until she was 2,” Mrs Lightbourne said. “But after helping my mother to take care of all those children, I knew something was wrong with Melanie early on.
“She wasn’t developing properly, and didn’t walk or talk.”
Doctors discovered their second child, Ashley, had cancer at age 6.
“He’d just started school when I found a lump on his leg,” Mrs Lightbourne said. “Doctors did a biopsy and diagnosed cancer on March 5, and he died on May 6. It was just all so sudden. That was so hard.
“We did go through hard times as a couple, but hard times are what draws us closer to the Lord. All couples or families have their problems.”
Their son, Devin, and his wife, Alice, threw them a “wonderful” surprise party at Fourways Inn for their 50th anniversary.
How they reached that milestone is “the glue” of their marriage, Mrs Lightbourne said.
“We don’t agree on everything, but we don’t become disagreeable as that causes more friction. We also pray together. If you can’t pray together as Christians, there is something wrong.
“If you didn’t like something, talk about it. When you keep things in, eventually they will explode.”
She described her husband as the chatty one.
“He may look quiet, but he loves to talk,” she said. “He is also very patient, sometimes I think he is too patient. I have to prompt him to talk about anything that he doesn’t agree with.”
The 85-year-old agreed that he and his wife were complete opposites.
“She’s much more of a go-getter than I am,” he said. “Sometimes, I let things go by when maybe it would better to deal with them.”
He worked as a stonemason for most of his life. He’s now “semi-retired”.
“I can’t do as much as I once could. In terms of hobbies, I don’t play golf, but I collect golf balls,” he laughed. “Someone in the neighbourhood keeps hitting them into my yard. So every day I go outside and pick them up.”
Mrs Lightbourne learnt a lot about raising children by helping her mother, Florence.
She helped to sew clothes for her 18 siblings; at 12, she started work as a housekeeper.
“I did that after school and on weekends,” she said.
The Lightbournes sing in the choir at Bethel AME Church and go to Bible study together.
Normally, they spend Valentine’s Day looking after their grandchildren but this year they have plans to go to an event at church.
“He will give me a card, if he remembers,” said Mrs Lightbourne.
• Lifestyle profiles senior citizens in the community every Tuesday. To suggest an outstanding senior, contact Jessie Moniz Hardy: 278-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Have on hand the senior’s full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them