Stewart Rex first laid eyes on Helen Rex when she was dancing with another soldier.
That didn’t stop him, though. He told his friend that she was the woman he was going to marry. His friend called him crazy, but Stewart marched up to the dancing couple and asked her to dance. The rest, their daughter said, is history.
In Stewart and Helen’s case, it is 74 years worth of history. The couple celebrated their upcoming 74th anniversary with a vow renewal Wednesday at the Lucy Corr Health Care Center in Chesterfield County. They were married March 11, 1944.
The ceremony was a surprise for Stewart, who lives at the facility and is 98 years old.
Helen, who is 99, arrived in the auditorium in a new purple suit and beaming. The Lucy Corr staff had given her a makeover for the ceremony.
Stewart’s mouth opened in surprise when he saw his wife and he realized why the crowd of Lucy Corr staff and residents and his relatives had gathered. Their 65-year-old daughter, Darlene Rex, started to cry when her mother walked down the aisle.
The couple couldn’t hear much as they were directed to renew their vows, so Stewart simply said he loved her and that she is still the sweetest thing to him. As reporters’ cameras turned on them for interviews, Stewart kept his eyes on his wife. She gave him a soft wink, and he smiled.
“I’m not going to give up that,” Stewart said when asked about the secret to a lasting marriage. He added later that God has been good to them.
Helen agreed. They built homes together over the years, she said, even one near the water.
Helen was a homemaker for most of her life, raising the couple’s two daughters, Darlene said. The couple were both from Richmond and raised their family in the southern part of the city.
Every night, dinner was at 5 p.m. sharp, Darlene said. Helen’s secret to a lasting marriage? “Always do the right thing,” she said.
Surprises are a bit unusual for Stewart, a former pressroom supervisor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and a Navy veteran who served in World War II. He planned the couple’s entire wedding, his daughter said. Helen simply hopped on a bus to his military station in Norfolk, where the ceremony took place.
Around Lucy Corr, Stewart is known as the “mayor” because he knows what is going on at all times and tries to help people out, his daughter said. “He thinks he runs the place,” she said.
The Lucy Corr Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raised the funds for Tuesday’s ceremony and organized it. Lavender tablecloths were draped over tables decorated with framed photos of the couple in their early years.
Helen held a bouquet of lavender flowers as she sat next to her husband, who barely took his eyes off her. It is hard for him to hear, so occasionally, she would give him another wink.