This is one love story that is very near and dear to me, since without it, I wouldn’t be here. Also, I got to witness a lot of it up-close and personal.
In March of 1943, Harry and Marian Thompson had their second child. Their first son had come into the family via adoption, as Marian thought she was unable to have biological children, but then about eighteen months later, she was proved wrong. They named their son Robert David. His middle name was after Marian’s brother who had been killed at Guadalcanal the autumn before; Marian was still grieving.
Bobby as he was called by his family was born in Philadelphia, although the Thompsons lived in New Jersey.
In July of 1943, in Billingsport, New Jersey, Robert and Martha Murray had their thirteenth child, a girl. As they were both over forty years old, Martha had suspected this pregnancy was a tumor before she realized she was in the family way . . . again . . . twenty years after her first child was born. They named the little girl Juana Regina after the nurse who had helped deliver their daughter Barbara five years before, but they mostly called her Jeanne or Jeanie.
Over the next 14 years, Bobby Thompson and Jeanie Murray would cross paths, though they never actually met. Both moved to Pitman, New Jersey (Bobby in 1949 and Jeannie some time in the mid-1950s). They went sledding as children on the same hill in the small town of Pitman. They had mutual friends. But Jeanie, like her siblings, attended Catholic school, and Bobby went to public school.
But in 1957, Jeanne began high school at Pitman High. Outgoing and vivacious, she joined the cheerleaders and enjoyed her classes. But it was at a school dance that autumn that her life really changed. She was standing in the gym when one of her friends pointed out Bob Thompson, a guy well-known in the class as a football player, baseball player and class president. The friend had a crush and wanted to ask him to dance. Jeanne volunteered to tell Bob that her friend was interested, but somehow once she got over there, she ended up dancing with him instead.
By that spring, the two were going steady, and they never stopped.
After high school, Bob went to West Point. For four long years, Jeanne made the trip up to the Academy every weekend. She didn’t miss a football game or a hop or any other event. As a matter of fact, when I was up there last May for my dad’s 50th class reunion, as many people recalled my mom as they did their classmate, my dad.
Ten days after graduation, on June 19, 1965, Bob and Jeanne were married at the Presbyterian Church in Pitman. Bob spent the next year going to Ranger School and Airborne School as he prepared for his first tour in Vietnam. He left in August 1966 . . . and when he left, I was already on my way.
They did meet in Hawaii that December for R&R, but Bob didn’t come home until June 1967. I was almost three months old by then. Another tour of Vietnam came when I was two years old. Those heartbreaking separations took their toll on both Bob and Jeanne, and they vowed thereafter that they wouldn’t be apart if they could do anything to help it.
Bob left the Army and began working for Proctor and Gamble, and then left that company to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to law school. He graduated in 1979. By that time, we were back in New Jersey, after living in Pennsylvania and California, where my sister was born.
While Bob attended law school, Jeanne went back to work as a secretary. She was glad to quit, though, once he was finished; being a wife and mother was all she’d ever wanted, and she was happy to be back at home, where she also helped Bob with his work on a regular basis.
Over the years, they gained a reputation among friends and family as the closest, most devoted couple anyone knew. Neither liked to be away from the other. They did enjoy travel, though–Maui being the favored destination–and they were consummately focused on their family: children and grandchildren came second only to each other.
In early 2001, Bob was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. Although he was very ill, Jeanne determinedly nursed him through an autologous stem cell transplant and into remission for nearly four years. In 2005, when he came out of remission, a subsequent bone marrow harvest was unsuccessful, and on June 9, 2006, forty-one years to the day after his West Point graduation and just shy of their 41st anniversary, Bob passed peacefully out of this world. He was 63.
Jeanne was grief-stricken, so much so that for a while, we chalked up her own sudden onset of symptoms to that emotional break with the man who had been her entire world for nearly fifty years. But two months after his death, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and was in the same hospital, on the same floor, where her husband had just died. She fought valiantly to overcome the disease, receiving a bone marrow transplant from her sister Barbara. But whether it was the strength of her disease or her own broken heart, Jeanne left this earth one week shy of the one year anniversary of Bob’s death. She was 63.
There were friends and family who noted in the wake of my mother’s passing that they could never imagine the two being apart, so they were not surprised she had followed him so quickly. And that may be true. I like to think they’re together now in a place like Maui, which would be their heaven, for sure.
They left a legacy of a strong marriage, deep love and commitment to the family above all else.