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Between Us

Married 60 Years: What's Their Secret?

This author and artist took an unconventional route to a happy marriage

She was a photo researcher at Life magazine. He was a Life war correspondent covering Mao's revolution in China. Roy took Helen out for champagne cocktails at a tavern called the Whaler's Inn on his visits to Time Inc. headquarters in Manhattan. Then he moved to Germany to cover the Cold War — alone. "I never owned more than I could fit in one small suitcase and never wanted to tie myself to one woman," he says.

See also: Long marriage linked to good health.

Six months later, Roy heard a rumor: Helen had a serious boyfriend. He picked up the phone. "Let's get married," he told her. "Next week." A few weeks later, they made it legal in Frankfurt. That was six decades ago. "Luckily," says Roy, "we both belatedly realized we were right for each other."

I often wonder how some couples keep the heat for life. The question becomes more pressing as average life spans increase. Can passion last for 40, 50, 60 years?

For Helen and Roy, the secret to staying interested — in each other and in life in general — is to keep doing interesting things. From the beginning, Helen found Roy "great and exciting. I kept the spark of the marriage going by always being positive." Roy describes Helen as "a very warm, loving person — and patient. In our 60 years together she never complained about the way my career as a journalist and author impacted our marriage."

It wasn't a lifestyle for sissies. They lived in Hong Kong in the 1970s, and Roy was often away covering the war in Vietnam. Helen had the guts to fly down to Saigon to visit shortly before the North Vietnamese captured the city. Roy got out on one of the last helicopters.

As the years went by, Helen devoted herself to raising their four sons: Dana, now 58; Doug, 56; Nick, 53; and Marc, 51. "I don't know that anyone is sure about finding the right person to go through life with," Roy says, adding that Helen's courage helped them through the rough spots. Twice he underwent serious cancer operations, leaving Helen to face the prospect of early widowhood.

After the boys left home, Helen began a career as a skilled painter of faux finishes, producing decorative objects and pieces of furniture that were exhibited at Tiffany and Co. and auctioned at Sotheby's. The paperback edition of Roy's ninth book, Never Too Late: A 90-Year-Old's Pursuit of a Whirlwind Life, will be published in September.

"Our postretirement careers helped to feed our passion for each other — and for life," says Roy, whose favorite decade ( he's 92; she's "unlisted") is always the present one. "Helen and I subscribe to the view expressed by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: 'Do not go gentle into that good night .… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.' "

Also of interest: 5 habits of successful couples.

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