This article is the 41st in a series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
Ed and Barbara Patterson met during multiple trips to the sink in a freshman charcoal drawing class at the University of Michigan. Messy, yes, but not as messy as marrying someone from the wrong side of town. Despite growing up a few miles away from each other, “We would never have met if we hadn’t gone to college,” Barbara said bluntly.
Both of Ed’s parents were proudly Armenian, and Ed’s mother was deeply disappointed her son would choose to marry a non-Armenian girl. Alternately, Ed said he had some pretty daunting reservations about asking Barbara’s dad—a 6-foot-tall former Marine—for his only daughter’s hand in marriage. After all, how could Ed, an “Armenian artist,” ever support a family?
But after 57 years of marriage and the blessings of four children, seven grandchildren, and now a great-grandson, Ed and Barbara obviously found a way to make it work.
To support his family, Ed first used his design training at Ford Motor Company, and later, when the family moved to Florida, he sold cars and used his airbrushing skills to paint T-shirts and other items. Barbara spent some time at home raising the kids, but she also worked as a commercial artist and art teacher.
As for their cultural and personality differences, those often proved to be a strength. Barbara is more reflective, content to spend time with family and make her home a haven. Ed, on the other hand, has a fun-loving personality that keeps things lively. One time, he secretly took flying lessons, and then brought Barbara with him for a “first lesson.” He waltzed past her, shut the cockpit door, and took the plane up all by himself.
But, as Ed likes to quote Johnny Carson, “You can’t have any mountains without some valleys.” Perhaps the couple’s deepest valley came the night they got a phone call saying their daughter, Melissa, had been hit by a drunk driver. They quickly flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she lived, only to find that the injuries she sustained left her a quadriplegic. While the stress of lawyers, hospital bills, and worry for their daughter was heavy, they clung to one another and God. “We really were not that strong of Christians when we went through this,” Barbara admits. But she learned from Ed’s example: “While I’m the worrier … Ed probably put it in the Lord’s hands.”
Since then, the Pattersons found an evangelical church where they have grown in their relationship with Christ. Both are now mostly retired, and all their children live within driving distance. They watch lots of classic movies, teach the grand-kids drawing lessons, and see the sun rise and set each day over the Gulf of Mexico, in all its brilliant oranges, pinks, and blues.
Yes, married life has been messy. But Ed and Barbara see God’s blessing in their walk together. “She’s my best friend,” Ed declared. “I’ve never gone out hunting with the guys. … Going away for a couple of days on a hunting trip? I’d rather spend it with her.”