Valentine’s Day: Dublin couple say laughter is key to their 77-year marriage

Story by Holly Zachariah of the The Columbus Dispatch

From the leather recliner that matches the one his wife is sitting in right next to him, 99-year-old Henry Baker leans forward and puts his wrinkled hands together, linking his fingers like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

“We fit together,” he says as tears pool in his eyes. “We understand each other. We just …” His voice cracks, trails off. He pauses to catch his breath and gather his thoughts. “We just understand each other,” he finally continues. “And we never stop laughing together.” ‘It all comes down to give and take. ‘ Beside him — just as she has been for almost eight decades — Mary Baker smiles, shrugs her shoulders and laughs like a schoolgirl who just received her first compliment. “I guess it’s what we’ve gone through, what we’ve done,” the 97-year-old says, just days before Valentine’s Day. “It all comes down to give and take.” And that simple sentence describing how they have kept their love so solid and strong reduces her husband to tears again.

The Bakers, who met at a cricket night at their local Baptist church in their homeland of England, will celebrate their 78th wedding anniversary in July. On what date, exactly, though? Well, that’s up for debate. It’s July 14, 1944, Henry said with confidence. But his lovely bride gave him the side-eye. “You’re wrong,” she tells him. “It was July 15. It was on St. Swithin’s Day,” she said, referring to a British holiday. The talk of the wedding launches this couple into a whole new conversation about the importance their Baptist faith has played in their story. And what a love story it is.

As the couple living at Senior Star Dublin Retirement Village who has been married the longest, the Bakers are celebrities of sorts — the envy of so many, the gold standard, if you will, said Dionne Nicol, executive director of the facility on Post Road. “They are simply the cutest,” she said. “I can hardly take it.”

Finding love during World War II
As a young man, Henry was a platoon sergeant in the British Army during World War II. And Mary? She was a self-described “proper young lady” raised right and well in Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire, England. So when she came upon this dashing young man at that church cricket night, she was not just bowled off her feet but confused and excited all at once.

“There was a war on so there were no young men left at our church,” she recalled with a grin. Then, along came Henry. “He was good looking, and he was nicely spoken and he didn’t try to kiss me right away!” After that match, he walked her home. “Little by little, our love grew,” Mary said, adding that not long after that she attended a gathering of friends and family that Henry’s mother invited her to. “This is Mary Adams, Henry’s future wife,” she recalled his mother saying as she introduced her to others. “He hadn’t even kissed me yet!”

And that memory sends the couple both into another fit of what can only be described as giggles. After they married, Henry made his living as an architectural engineering designer and draftsman, and Mary — as she says with a delightful laugh — was a “woman of leisure.” Henry eventually retired as executive vice president of international operations for Ranco, an international firm with headquarters in central Ohio. The couple lived many places abroad, Italy and Japan among them, before immigrating to the United States in the late 1960s. Along their path, they reared two children: Janette, who is now 70 and spent the bulk of her career as a nurse in Greater Columbus; and son Alan, now 74, who has stayed in England but who FaceTime’s with his parents every week.

And when Henry picks up his iPad to talk about those weekly chats, he weeps again. “Every Sunday,” he says. “We never miss a Sunday.” So for this couple who has been together longer than many reading this has been alive, what is their secret? How did Mary and Henry make it all work? Politically, they’re opposites. He is a staunch conservative, and he points out with a chuckle that his wife has “Scottish liberal roots.”

But no matter.
“We found it good to converse,” Henry said. “We developed an understanding. Do we agree on everything? No.”
Then he leaned over to the end table between their matching chairs, and he pulled from a drawer a bottle of nitroglycerine tablets. Both of the Bakers have bad hearts. Henry held up the bottle. And he teared up yet again.
“This is the way we operate. I’m always at her elbow whenever she wants me or needs me,” he says, rattling the bottle for emphasis. “I will care for her.”

Then, when asked what he will do special for his bride for this upcoming romantic holiday, he chokes up once again.
“For us?” he says with a smile and a tear. “Every day is Valentine’s Day.”