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The secret to 70 years of marriage? ‘Stay busy,’ say Forsyth County nonagenarians
Coombs
Betty and Mitchell Coombs recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary and said having fun, going on vacation and keeping busy go a long way to a lasting marriage. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Even on Valentine’s Day, couples have questions about how to make relationships work, but it turns out having fun, going on vacation and keeping busy go a long way.

At least, that’s the advice of Mitchell and Betty Coombs, the 91- and 90-year-old residents in the Muirfield Village neighborhood in south Forsyth who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in January.

Asked if they ever saw being married for seven decades, Betty said she had “never given it a thought.”

“All I thought way back was, ‘Oh, I hope I live to the year 2000. I’d just like to see the year 2000 come in,’” Betty said. “[We] never thought about it, and there’s nobody in the family that’s been married that long.”

More than 50 years before moving to Forsyth, Betty, who was born in Colorado, and Mitchell, a Kentucky native, met in Westport, Indiana.

“My mom and dad bought a restaurant, and I was a waitress. This was in 1949,” Betty recalled. “He came in and I think had a cup of coffee or a coke or something, and [I thought] ‘Oh, I kind of like the looks of him,’ but it took him about three days after that. He came in, asked me for a date, and about six months later he gave me a ring. I mean, he must have liked what he saw or something.”

Over the last 70 years, the Coombs have seen a lot and have lived in several states, moving for Mitchell’s 32-year career with Cummins that took the couple to Columbus, Indiana; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C., then to the Atlanta area, where they lived in Dunwoody for 24 years before moving to Forsyth County in March 2004.

Mayor of Muirfield Village

When they came to Muirfield, they were the first to move into a house in the neighborhood – condos had been the only homes before then – which gave Mitchell his own distinction.

“We were the very first ones, and it was two weeks before the people across the street and next door moved in,” Betty said. “The real estate agent came up to him and said, ‘Would you be the mayor?’’’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll be the mayor, there’s no one in here anyway,’ so there’s a lot of them that still refer to him as the mayor.”

As “mayor,” Mitchell helped the other residents moving in the neighborhood with any questions they might have.

Along with living in several areas, the Coombs said they have spent much of their retirement tracing genealogy, staying busy with friends and family and going on vacations.

“We’ve been in 49 states out of the 50,” Betty said. “We missed Iowa; I don’t know how we missed it.”

The couple credited their long-lasting marriage to having fun and staying busy, which they even do now.

“You have to keep busy,” Betty said. “He [just] quit golfing about three years ago.”

They said they are well-known in the neighborhood, with Mitchell serving on the neighborhood’s board, Betty being the longtime organizer of the neighborhood’s Bunco games and their home being a common spot to entertain neighbors in those early days.

“When we moved in here, I think every week we had a group in. We did a lot of entertaining,” she said. “In fact, we had several associations that we belonged to, and when they wanted someone to have cocktail hour or whatever, they called us … that is what keeps you going.”

Meeting with others is still a big focus for the couple, including community meetups and being regulars at a number of local restaurants.

“We get up and most generally go out for breakfast,” Mitchell said.

“We’ve got a group that we go out to breakfast with on Friday morning, then we have a group that we get together and go out for lunch on Saturday noon,” Betty continued. “Then Monday night once a month, we have meet-and-greets over here.”

Betty said when Mitchell was recently hospitalized, managers or employees from at least three restaurants came by to drop off meals or visit with two of their favorite customers.

Independence is key

Along with having fun and keeping busy, Betty said a key for the relationship was allowing the other to do what they wanted, which she credited to the many years Mitchell was out of town five days a week for work.

“The only thing I would say is we don’t live our own lives, but we don’t tell the other one what to do,” she said. “If there’s something I want to do, I make sure that it doesn’t interfere or something, but we go ahead and make our plans and we’ve always done that.”

Even with all the things going on, the couple said they have had arguments just like anyone else, but Betty said, “it’s all about how you settle it.”

With as much as they keep busy and a family that now includes three sons, a daughter, eight grandkids and 11 great-grandchildren – none of whom have divorced – Betty said the marriage has been “very interesting.”

“He has mentioned to me several times, he has said, ‘You know, we have sure had a good life,’” Betty said. “I don’t know how many times he has said that to me.”

Betty continued, “Yep, we sure have. We’ve had a good life and been very blessed.”

“No complaints,” Mitchell added.