In this life, not everyone gets a chance to be with their greatest love. There are the lucky ones who meet theirs and end up spending the rest of their lives with them, while there are others who find love but eventually lose it. Every love story is different, and these days, the few good ones are hard to come by, just like this couple’s one-of-a-kind love story that spanned seven decades.
It was during a typical blind date in Philadelphia when Isabell Whitney and Preble Staver met each other. But before their love could fully blossom, it was put on hold when the United States entered World War II. Both the couple joined the Allies to help them in their efforts against the Nazis. Isabell signed up to offer her services as a nurse in the Navy stationed in Maryland. Meanwhile, Preble went on to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps where he earned a Bronze Star during his tenure.
Five months after the war ended, Isabell and Preble reunited and married on February 15, 1946. This union marks the beginning of a relationship that stood the test of time. Laurie Staver Clinton, one of the couple’s five children, recounted her parents’ love story. “They were great people. Mom really taught me that you can’t change another person but you can change your attitude towards them. Dad was a bit of a prickly pear!”, she says. “Dad was the strict one. Mom tried to be strict, but we knew what we could get away with her. It was pretty much a father rules the roost sort of thing.”, she shares.
The couple remained busy throughout the years, with Isabell raising their five children and Preble working as a lobbyist and banker. The family moved from city to city because of the nature of Preble’s job.
Then tragedy hit the family in 1975 while they were living in Naples, Florida: the couple’s son, Peter, passed away after suffering from a severe football injury during the last game of his senior year of high school. Staver Clinton says that he began to see a softer side of his dad after the death of his brother. It took a toll on his parents, but the loss also brought them closer together and strengthened their support for each other.
Years passed and the family briefly moved to Bluffton, South Carolina, where they lived on a golf course – a dream of Preble’s. Finally, they moved to Virginia to be close with other family members as they got older. “They really enjoyed each other’s company. It was just fun to see them, and they made a nice little life for themselves.”, Staver Clinton recalls.
In 2013, Isabell started showing signs of dementia, which prompted the family to move their parents in a long-term care facility in Norfolk, Virginia. It was difficult for Preble to witness her wife being consumed by this disease. It caused him a lot of stress which led him to be placed in a separate room in the building.
Isabell understood that Preble had a hard time coping with her disease, but she knew that her husband’s love for her remained the same. “They just found another way to express their love. Dad, even after he stopped walking and was in a wheelchair, he would wheel himself down to the Memory Care Unit and go visit mom,” Staver Clinton says. “When I would reunite them, they always, the first thing they’d do was put their hands out and hold each other’s hand and tell each other they loved each other.”
Preble’s 96th birthday came and he only had one wish – to have a nap with Isabell. Arrangements were made and the couple slept beside each other for three hours. Not a single word was spoken between them, and the old couple held each other’s hands while they fell asleep.
On October 25, 2017, Staver Clinton was notified that her mother was approaching her final hours. When she arrived at the facility, she wheeled in her father with her so they could say their goodbyes together. It was a deeply emotional moment.
“He held her hand, and it was just so tender. I asked him if he wanted to stay after the prayers, and he shook his head. I said, ‘Okay, but you know that means you’re going to have to let go of her hand?’ I was crying, and he was crying,” Laurie said.
Isabell passed away on October 25, 2017, and just 14 hours after – like a testament of his everlasting love – Preble followed his wife.
“Mom and dad really lived out that, if you make a commitment, and even though life gets rough or life gets in the way, you work through life,” Staver Clinton says about her parents’ love story.
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