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Valentine’s Day is ageless for these local couples

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Jean and Tom Naughton have evening cocktails at the bar Tom built in their Newport Beach home.
(Susan Hoffman)

Whoever might have thought Valentine’s Day is for the young has never met Jean and Tom Naughton or Mary and Ed Romeo.

Both Newport Beach couples have been married roughly 70 years and have been friends for more than 25. They’re looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day on Friday night at the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor’s Valentine’s party.

“It’s one of those refresher dates for my jewelry box,” said Jean Naughton, 92.

“I pick out the orchids and he buys them,” said Mary Romeo, 90.

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From left, Tom Naughton, 94, his wife, Jean, 92, Mary Romeo, 90, and her husband, Ed, 94, attend a recent meeting at the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar.
(Susan Hoffman)

The Naughtons were married three months after they met in 1945 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

She was 17 at the time, and the rule at her house was she had to be home by 10:30 p.m. “Tom said he had to marry me to prove to my dad that he could keep me out past 10:30 at night,” Jean said with a laugh.

The family story goes that Tom, now 94, was a Navy cadet and he and two friends were always going to the department store where Jean worked to check out the girls. One of the managers noticed them hanging around and suggested he’d tell them which girls were unattached.

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When Tom walked up to Jean and asked if she were for sale, her response was, “No, I’m priceless.”

“On our first date we went across the street from my work to the drugstore and he bought me a Dr Pepper,” Jean said. “I guess he thought I was a cheap date, but he learned over the years that was an untrue statement.”

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Jean and Tom Naughton on their wedding day Oct. 31, 1945, in Corpus Christi, Texas.
(Naughton family)

Their wedding day, on Halloween, also was the day Tom graduated from the naval pilot training program to become a carrier pilot.

The Naughtons moved to Atlanta, where Jean worked as a cracker packer at National Biscuit Co. — later called Nabisco — so she could put Tom through school at Georgia Tech University.

From there they moved to the San Fernando Valley and Tom worked for Douglas Aircraft Co. in Santa Monica. They had two sons and a daughter.

The Naughtons moved to Newport Beach in 1969 after Tom was transferred to McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach. He retired 20 years later.

They continue to be active as volunteers at the Oasis Senior Center in Corona del Mar, she as the “greeter programmer,” training the greeters, and he as a greeter. ”That way I get to boss him around for 3½ hours,” Jean said.

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Since Tom never wore a wedding ring — he said it got in the way when he was flying — Jean picks out his clothes and makes sure they wear matching colors so everyone knows he belongs to her.

“One of my duties now is to keep the gray away by coloring her hair,” Tom said. “The other is, I fix her a drink every night in the bar I built for her. ...

“She fooled me as a cheap date. She’s progressed from Dr Pepper to hard liquor.”

“I’m wild about him,” Jean said.

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Ed and Mary Romeo are pictured in 1950 in Hawaii.
(Romeo family)

The Romeos met when Ed, now 94, was a sailor in the Navy stationed at Pearl Harbor in 1949.

Mary traveled from Orange County to visit her cousin, who was the cousin of the chief yeoman’s wife. Ed’s boss asked him to babysit so they could take the visiting cousin, Mary, sightseeing.

“I thought it was a little old lady from Orange County, because in 1949 that’s who mostly visited Pearl Harbor ... old folks,” Ed recalled. “After I found out she and her girlfriends were students, I said, ‘No, you stay home and babysit the kids and my buddy and I will take the girls out.’”

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Ed and Mary dated during the three years he was stationed in Honolulu, and she attended the University of Hawaii. They got married in 1951 at the Submarine Memorial Chapel at Pearl Harbor.

Ed, a native New Yorker, was originally stationed in San Diego for eight months, during which he decided he liked California. After his discharge from the Navy, he got his wish to move there when the couple relocated to Santa Ana.

“Since Mary was born and raised in Santa Ana, I didn’t have to worry about where to live after we got married,” he said.

Seventeen years later and with three daughters, the Romeos moved to Corona del Mar.

“Mary took the girls to the beach one day and was all excited to build a house in Corona del Mar,” Ed said. “Harbor View Hills South was opening up new homes for $34,000, which I told her we can’t afford.”

Ed and Mary both had careers in education — he taught junior high school in Anaheim before working as a consultant for the California Teachers Assn.; she worked in the registrar’s office at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

When Ed retired in 1991, so did Mary. “If you’re retiring from what you’ve been doing, then I’m retiring from what I’ve been doing all these years — no more cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Mary said with a laugh. “He’s a good house husband.”

Ed attributes the success of their long marriage to two magical words: “Yes, dear.”

“Whenever the wife asks me to do something, I go along,” he said.

Part of their retirement plan was to maintain their physical fitness. They enrolled in exercise classes at the Oasis Senior Center and began volunteering in a variety of activities, which is how they met the Naughtons.

“I was president of Friends of Oasis from 2004 to 2007, and during that time Tom convinced me that I should become a member of the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor,” Ed recalled. “We have been active members ever since.”

“Also during that time, I convinced Jean that she should manage an Oasis information desk in the lobby. She insisted we call her ‘Info Babe,’” Ed added. “She took on the task, became a member of the board of directors and still manages all the volunteers at the greeter’s desk.”

“Mary is a perfectionist,” Ed said wryly. "[That’s] why she married a perfect guy.”

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