50 Years, Still Great

By Lloyd Graff

My wife Risa and I will celebrate 50 years of marriage this Sunday. It sounds like an awfully big number. I don’t feel old enough for that number, and Risa looks like 45 or 50 on a bad day. 

Less than half of the adults in the country are married today, but for Risa and I it was a natural fit. I started talking about marriage a few weeks after we met in January of 1969. She was 17 years old and a freshman at the University of Michigan. I was a graduate student, recently back from military training. Risa had barely been out on a date and suddenly it was hard for her parents to find her at night. They rushed from Charlotte, North Carolina, to meet me six weeks after we met in Ann Arbor. When they learned that I followed a Jewish prayer ritual every morning, similar to that of her father, Risa said she felt like “they gave me away.”

The truth is, that one of the things that has bound us together over those many years is our mutual but different commitment to Judaism. Growing up, I developed a powerful, visceral connection with the Jews of the Holocaust. Although I did not have an immediate personal relationship with people who died at the hands of the Nazis, I could not get thoughts of it out of my head. Risa’s connection was more a social one, connected to Jewish ritual.

My parents accepted Risa Levine of Charlotte about as well as they could. Their basic viewpoint was that nobody was really good enough for their firstborn. But I had never had an interesting girlfriend before, and if I was as sure of myself as I seemed to be, they might as well go along with the program.

Risa and I have had an enormous emotional attachment from the first day of our relationship. On the first night we met at the Michigan Union, we talked until 3 a.m. One reason for this was that my Chevrolet Biscayne wouldn’t start in the January cold when I tried to drive her back to her dorm at 2 a.m.

I recently had returned from Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Before I had left for basic training on New Years Day 1968, I had been obsessed with the Vietnam War and fear of dying in the swamps for Lyndon Johnson’s ego. I applied all over to get into the Illinois National Guard or the Army Reserves. Finally, good luck and some family political clout got me into the Guard. I was the only one of 600 recruits in my Company who wasn’t headed to Nam.

Prior to doing my military stint, I didn’t know I was capable of meeting a woman I could have a sustained relationship with. But six months after Fort Jackson, I felt emotionally liberated and looking for a kind, smart, beautiful woman like Risa. Coincidentally she wore the shortest skirt in the crowd of people at the mixer dance in the Student Union that fateful Saturday night in Ann Arbor.

I had gone to the Union primarily to play ping pong, but the music in the ballroom called me that night. I looked around in the big room and spied Risa Joy Levine of Charlotte, while I held on to the ping pong paddle in my corduroy sport jacket pocket. I kept that jacket for 40 years.

From Risa and Lloyd’s wedding day, May 24th, 1970

Over the last 50 years, Risa and I have talked about luck, God, and the short skirt that brought us together among 1,500 people in that ballroom. The crazy thing is that Risa was the only person I talked to in that giant room. I saw her, walked through the crowd and said hello. After a few minutes, I asked for her to leave the floor and go out for some food. And she did. Later, I asked her to come to my apartment. And she did. 

In the course of conversation, I mentioned that Ted Williams was the last .400 hitter in Major League Baseball. Risa was not a baseball fan, and she still isn’t, but if you ask her today who was the last .400 hitter she will immediately tell you it was Ted Williams.

In our 50 years of marriage, Risa and I have endured the deaths of our parents, life threatening illnesses, the joy of raising three great children, and enjoying four grandchildren. I say prayers of gratitude every day for getting another day with Risa. 

I continue to wonder how I was and continue to be so blessed to get these days with her 50 years later. 

This Sunday night we are planning to celebrate with friends and family on Zoom. Not how we thought it might happen, but I know if Risa and I are together it will have to be a great night.

Question: Where did you meet your spouse or partner?

Share this post

8 thoughts on “50 Years, Still Great

  1. Gloria

    My husband and I met through a very dear mutual friend. A blind date!!! We’ll be celebrating 30 years of marriage this July 2020. If left on our own, I don’t believe we would have ever met; I was an extreme introvert, and my husband was very social in his younger days. I would definitely do it again if I ever went back in time.

  2. Randy

    My wife and I met on a trip to smuggle Bibles into China in 1985. That was August, we were married in December of that same year. So just before Christmas this year will be 35 years. China was a very different place back then, everyone on bicycles and wearing dark blue, dark green or black “Mao jackets”. You could tell a lot about a woman when the hotel had coke cans that had the top and bottoms cut off so they could cut it lengthwise to make a sheet metal cover to keep the rats from coming thru the holes around the base boards. CCAC airlines were over booked and once everyone was on, they gave you a folding chair and a paper fan and told you that they still had room for four more people. Quite the story of travel back then, but we have continued our travel adventures around the world together.

  3. Mindy Mikami

    My husband and I met in Japan. I was an exchange student with the Rotary program and he was one year my senior in high school. We have been married 41 years and now live happily in your Risa’s home town of Charlotte, NC. Many things here are named after the Levine family (not sure if she is related)–our amazing children’s hospital, senior center, museum, JCC, and even Camp Mindy (Mindy Levine), which always made me smile. From now on, I will think of you and your lovely bride every time I see the name.

  4. Cleetus Pattyson

    my wife and I met at a high school basketball game and was married in August of 1969. She can still comfortably wear her wedding dress. My comment about her after nearly 51 years is “WHAT A WOMAN”. She is as wonderful today as she was on that day in 1969, we have raised 2 great kids and have 4 grand kids and 1 great. When you see one of us you will see the other. I THANK GOD EVERY DAY THAT I WENT TO THAT BASKETBALL GAME.

  5. Peter Frow

    Thank you Lloyd for sharing this wonderful “Love at first sight” romantic 50 year saga. Warm congratulations to you both and to your family as they celebrate with you.
    Jill and I also met at university in Durban South Africa. She had come down from Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) to do a Social Science degree while I was studying Mechanical Engineering. Our 53 years of marriage have been a colorful adventure in which we have tasted God’s grace at every turn. We have been blessed with three married children and nine grandchildren. Our youngest son and his family are US citizens living in Orange County Ca.


Comments are closed.