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‘Still the greatest thing:’ Local couple celebrates 70 years of marriage
John and Shirley Walters
John and Shirley Walters will celebrate 70 years of marriage on June 12. “We go to the [Midway] Meal House every morning and our walkers won’t fit, so the only way we can get in is by holding each others hands to hold each other up,” Shirley Walters said. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

“That’s my grandson with Mrs. Bush, and that’s us skiing out in Colorado, and that’s me when I was over in Korea in about 1952,” said “Big John” Walters, proudly pointing out just a few of the hundred-odd photographs that line the walls of his home. 

And as he walks through the spacious south Forsyth home — that he helped to build and where he and his wife Shirley have lived for 28 years —he pauses at intervals to share small parts of the memories that each photo sparked.

“After 91 years, one gathers an enormous amount of photographs,” Walters remarked with a laugh. 

But each of the displayed photographs, that his eyes briefly touch before moving on, share a common subject and theme – a happy family together through the years. 

This month, that same happy family will celebrate a new milestone as John and Shirley reach their 70th wedding anniversary on June 12.

Both say that they have neither met nor heard of anyone being married for as long as they have. 

Even after all these years, John and Shirley Walters remember the night that they met for the first time. 

John and Shirley Walters
- photo by Bradley Wiseman
“We met when I was 19 and he was 20, and he had already been in World War II … We got married a year later,” said Shirley Walters. 

John Walters explained that the two met in a Decatur Bowling Alley in the late 1940s. 

He knew that Shirley was the one for him. 

“I think the thing was, I saw her in the bowling alley, and she was with a friend. When I saw her I said, ‘By god that is the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen,’” John Walters said, sitting comfortably next to her, hand in hand. “I thought that then, and I still think it. She’s still the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” 

“And he tells me that a lot too, so he’s always been very romantic,” Shirley Walters said, smiling back at him. 

One year after meeting, she said they were married while John was studying at Georgia Tech to become an engineer, ready to start their family and live their lives together. 

But shortly after their daughter Becky Powell was born, John, a former company commander in the Army that occupied Japan at the end of World War II, was recalled to serve in the Korean War.

“We have always been together, except when he went to Korea,” Shirley said. “That was the worst part, because he was gone a year and two days, and I had Becky, who was a baby.”

By the time John returned home from Korea, Shirley Walters said that Becky was a year-and-a-half old and ready to be reunited with her dad.

Today, the Walters clan consists of John and Shirley, their four children, 10 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, with one more on the way. 

“So we have had a very good life, and we are very thankful for that,” Shirley Walters said. “We are getting along the best we can.”

But after 70 years of marriage, the couple says that they have never needed any sort of special anniversary tradition and stopped buying each other gifts long ago. 

Shirley Walters said that they haven’t needed those normal relationship trappings because they have everything they need and have each other.

“We have always been very polite to one another for one thing,” she said. “You have to be nice to each other, because this is the way you end up.”

John Walters said that another key to their longstanding marital success is how often they hold hands, show affection and appreciate each other.  

“And find something that you can do together,” he said. “Find something that you both like to do and do it.”