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Couple separated by virus continue a more-than 65-year love story

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 29, 2020 at 9:00 AM

ERWIN — The Rev. Talmadge Brown was only 18 when he married the love of his life, and through 65 years of marriage the two have been inseparable.

When age-related dementia set in on Velma more than two years ago, Brown took care of her at their home. And when the disease brought her to Governor’s Bend Retirement and Assisted Living last summer, he made a ritual of visiting her twice a day, taking their noon and evening meals together and staying until her bedtime.

And even during the past four weeks of unprecedented social restrictions and bans on visitation at long-term care facilities, where patients are especially vulnerable to the new and deadly coronavirus, Brown has found a way for them to be together.

Friday evening, as he and Velma sat on opposite sides of the window of the Governor’s Bend memory care room, where he now comes for their twice-a-day visits, he shared a few chapters of their decades together and concluded with the happy summation, “It’s been a wonderful life.”

The two were teenagers living within a few miles of each other, Velma in Washington County’s Lamar community and he on Highway 107, when he saw her at a ballgame and asked her for a date. A year-and-a-half later, they were married.

Velma worked as a secretary at Lamar School for several years and then for many years at the Magnavox plant in Johnson City.

The future pastor first worked as a contractor before embarking on a 50-year career in the ministry, pastoring Free Will Baptist churches here and in North and South Carolina where Velma at times served as church secretary and taught ladies’ Sunday School classes.

His fondest memories include leading a church with 450 members in a South Carolina town of only 500 residents. And then there was their stint at church in Black Mountain, North Carolina, where the Brown family, which grew to include four children, were neighbors with none other than the Rev. Billy Graham.

Velma, who smiled broadly when he greeted her as “sweetheart” and told her how pretty she looked, napped as he retold their story. “She doesn’t have full-blown Alzheimer’s. Her move here was hard on me,” and their visits help a great deal with his loneliness, he said. 

“She’s the love of my life,” he explained. And he is very much looking forward to the end of the visitation ban when he can once again have lunch and dinner with his sweetheart and spend evenings together in her apartment. “They say it could be July,” he said.

Ask for his best message to people enduring the isolation and fear of mortality brought to focus by the virus, Rev. Brown quickly pulled up a quote. “Jesus said, ‘I’ll go with you all the way, even until the end of the age.’ That’s what he said.”

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