Married for a lifetime

On their first date, they went to the pictures.

"I couldn't put my arm around her," Robert Lynch said with a laugh.

He and his date, Rosalie, turned around and saw her five brothers lined up behind them, arms crossed.

This was back in Massachusetts, he said, before they moved to California, after his time in the Navy. He had seen a photo of her on a friend's piano, but it took a year before he rang her up because he was thinking about becoming a priest.

The movie? "Gone with the Wind."

The Lynches, who live in Seal Beach, married in 1941, not too long after that first date. That means they've been married for 72 years — longer than most people have been alive, let alone committed to someone else.

Wednesday morning at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort's Back Bay Bistro, the couple was honored, along with five other pairs, following a search for the area's longest-married couples.

Robert and Rosalie's septuagenarian union topped the list of 30 submissions, Bistro spokesman and event emcee Frank Groff said.

"We had a lot [of couples] in the 40s and 50s," he said. "I didn't expect it to go this high."

The finalists, who received plaques and certificates for brunch at the Bistro, sat side by side at a long banquet table like celebrities at a press conference.

Groff asked each for their secrets to maintaining a happy marriage in an age when most commitments last about as long as a chocolate soda sitting on a lunch counter stays fizzy.

"You know, I have absolutely no idea," said John Nelson, who has been married for 63 years to his wife, Elaine Nelson.

"I think the secret is give and take," she said, shooting John a playful sidelong look.

Mary Kathryn Romeo said mutual respect has been key.

"I'm very proud of my husband and he's proud of me," she said.

Her husband, Ed Romeo, joked that their 61 years together could be explained in two words: "Yes, dear."

George and Elaine Brown, who spent the first year of their 70-year marriage separated while George was stationed in Texas, said they had help from "the good Lord."

They also wrote a lot of letters — long ones, complete with sketches, son Greg Brown said later.

Then, the couples talked about how they met and wed. Most of their lives together started in a U.S. touched by World War II and still shaking off the Great Depression.

They told stories that sounded like they'd been lifted from the pages of Nicholas Sparks' novels.

Bobby Brennan said he approached his mate of 61 years, Kathleen, as she waited in the book line at their small Franciscan college in Quincy, Ill.

"And what did you say?" Kathleen prodded.

"'Are you new, girl? I can help you with your homework,'" he said. "She cut me down."

"I'm a transfer," she told him.

Jean Naughton, decked out in heart jewelry for Valentine's Day, said her now-husband, Tom, came into the department store where she worked for a uniform fitting — and took the opportunity to get the scoop on the sales girls.

"He said, 'You were on sale,' and I said I was a bargain," she said.

At the brunch, Tom pulled out a copy of their marriage license. It was dated Halloween 1945 — a few months after they met.

But, ultimately, sweet first meetings can only get you so far, John Nelson said.

"I would like to point out to the young people that every single couple had a good sense of humor."

Twitter: @jillcowan

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