Longtime Marine Park residents Jack and Mary Tuohy will mark a milestone on Monday, Feb. 19 – they’ll celebrate 73 years of marriage.
“This is my reward for robbing the cradle,” joked Jack, 95, on a recent evening.
“Well, there was no cradle, actually,” quipped Mary, 92, sitting next to him at the dining room table.
“I was 19. He was 23.”
“22,” he gently corrected, flashing his blue eyes in her direction.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” she responded cheekily.
Playful humor, love and abiding trust in God have been the hallmarks of their relationship since they exchanged nuptial vows at Holy Innocents Church, East Flatbush, in 1945. Longtime parishioners at St. Bernard Church, the Tuohys may very well be the longest-married couple in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
During the month of February, the local and universal church celebrates the vocation of married life as part of its annual observance of National Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, and World Marriage Day, Feb. 11.
In anticipation of World Marriage Day, the couple was honored to have their parish priest, Father Michael Tedone, visit their home to share the Eucharist and bless them on their many years together. A Mass will be offered for them at St. Bernard on the day of their anniversary.
Both native Brooklynites, Jack was born to Irish immigrant parents, and grew up in St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands, while Mary was raised in Holy Innocents parish. Her mother was a German immigrant, and her father was born in Italy.
Jack and Mary met the summer after she graduated from high school. Jack, who was a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, had seen a snapshot of Mary – passed onto him by his friend and Mary’s sister – and he wanted to meet her while home on leave.
“I wasn’t interested,” said Mary, who was a studious type, good at math and writing. “I had no interest in meeting him whatsoever.”
Love at First Sight
But when the doorbell rang that Sunday afternoon, Mary’s apathy went out the window.
“I went to the door and I looked out – God, he was gorgeous, and it frightened me, so I ran and locked myself in the bathroom,” she recalled. “My mother, being my mother, said, ‘Come out here, you fool.’”
She eventually emerged and was introduced to the young man on her doorstep. They went for a walk around Prospect Park to get better acquainted.
“I fell in love with her the first day I laid my eyes on her,” Jack said.
When Jack returned to Norfolk, Va., where he was stationed on the USS Carrabasset, the two stayed in touch and grew in friendship through letters, and telephone calls Jack made to his parents’ home, where Mary would be waiting to talk with him when he called.
“We had made arrangements that the next time I had a leave, we’d get married,” he said. “It was February. I called her up and told her that I have a 10-day leave. I said, ‘I’ll meet you in Penn Station the next morning.’ So she met me in Penn Station. It was a busy day.”
A Whirlwind Wedding
On that Monday, the Battle of Iwo Jima began and the Tuohys began their married life.
“We got the license, we got the rings and we were married that afternoon at 4:20” by Father Thomas Cribbin at Holy Innocents Church, Jack said. Bing Crosby’s “Sunday, Monday or Always” was their wedding song. Before heading to a small reception at Mary’s parents’ home, the couple stopped by a photography studio to take a formal picture.
That black-and-white image – Mary in her white dress and Jack in his uniform, the two standing side-by-side – is the focal point of their living room, hanging above framed photos of the four children God blessed them with – John, Thomas, Kevin and Carina. The couple also has four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
After their whirlwind wedding, they lived briefly in Norfolk, renting an apartment for $5 a month, but Mary grew homesick – and her former employer wanted her back in Brooklyn. She had worked in the accounting department at a Manhattan company that made rafts for the U.S. Navy.
One day, Jack was called to his captain’s office because orders had come for his immediate transfer to a base in Staten Island. They later learned Mary’s former boss put in the call.
They found an apartment in Holy Innocents parish and struggled somewhat, but Mary said those were some of the best times, when their children were young and the house was full. After the war, Jack went onto a 37-year career with Con Edison, and Mary worked for Macy’s.
They moved to their current home in 1959 and joined St. Bernard parish about 50 years ago. Mary has done a little bit of everything there, including singing in the choir, making Mass programs, teaching religious education and serving as a lector.
Not Always ‘Apple Pie and Ice Cream’
Like every couple, the Tuohys have known the blessings and challenges that come with living and sustaining their marital commitment. They’ve grown in love, friendship and faith, while watching their children grow and create their own lives.
The Tuohys have also had their share of disagreements and health issues, and they had to learn some things the hard way.
“It wasn’t apple pie and ice cream all the time,” Mary said.
Perhaps the greatest test came when their oldest child was injured and became a quadriplegic at age 15. Mary and Jack were devastated. They turned to God and each other to make it through each day.
Today, they’re amazed that their son is getting ready for retirement, having never let physical limitations stop him from pursuing his education and a successful career, as well as having a family.
Living through wartime shaped their view and approach to life.
“You make the best of it,” Mary said. “It could always be worse.”
Nowadays, young married couples do not seem to have the same approach to marriage, and perhaps they could benefit from what the Tuohys have learned.
“Be patient, think things over very carefully, keep in mind that no one is totally perfect and if you have a disagreement, sleep on it for a couple of days, it usually passes,” Mary said. “You find out a few days later it wasn’t that important after all.”
Next Monday, they’ll mark their anniversary quietly at home, reflecting on their whirlwind wedding day and all of the blessings that God has sent their way.
“In our time, when you got married, you got married. It wasn’t a matter of a couple of years or a couple of months. … You knew this was what you wanted to do – spend your life together,” Mary said.
“And the Lord has been good to us. Look at the time He’s given us.”