A.J. Reeves and Lillie Young were married Jan. 25, 1941 in Sontag at the home of Morton Hopkins, A.J.’s uncle. Hopkins, a preacher, presided over the small ceremony. Afterward, the couple honeymooned in Martinsville before returning to the Truevine community where they have lived for the past 78 years.
At the suggestion of a friend, the couple’s granddaughter Valerie LeGrand entered the couple in a contest sponsored by World Wide Marriage Encounter — a marriage enrichment program — to recognize the longest married couple from each state. In early June, the family was notified that A.J. and Lillie Reeves had been selected as Virginia’s longest married couple.
With the award, the couple was recognized in the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional Record as the 2019 Virginia winners of Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s Longest Married Couple Project.
LeGrand said she was delighted for her grandparents to receive the award.
“My grandparents are such an amazing example of what it means to truly love the person you decided to spend the rest of your life with,” she said.
To be married 78 years, A.J. and Lillie Reeves have obviously celebrated a number of birthdays. A.J. is 105 years old. At 96, Lillie is nine years his junior.
There’s a lot that can be learned about the couple’s courtship from a video presentation shown at Lillie’s 90th birthday party that had been organized by A.J.
In 1940, A.J. had been with his brother, Zac, at a Rock Hill Association meeting for the Missionary Baptist churches when he saw Lillie and her mother, Dora Young. He thought Lillie was about 10 to 12 years old and told Lillie’s mother that she had “the prettiest little girl.”
Zac said to A.J., “J, you’re gonna wait on her ain’t you?” A.J. said, “Yeah,” not knowing that would actually be a true statement.
Several years later, A.J. took his mother, Rosie, to Holy Trinity Church where he saw Lillie, along with several of her friends. Upon seeing Lillie, he said, “It looked to me like the sun was shining brighter that day than it ever had.”
When reflecting on their early days together, Lillie said they often went to Joe’s Grill on Saturday nights where people would sit around and talk.
She didn’t have much to say about hard times in their marriage other than she disliked working in the tobacco fields in those early years together.
The good times included trips to California, the Virgin Islands and New York.
Lillie’s words of wisdom for maintaining longevity in a marriage included: “Take the good with the bad and keep on going. Love one another and take care of things. Work things out when you have disagreements.”
She added, “We didn’t think about growing old, but now we know what it’s all about.”
The couple has two children, three grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Their son, Alfonso, said his parents’ marriage has been a source of stability for him and a comfort through the years.
“I think the major factors that have kept them together are that they genuinely care for each other,” Alfonso said. “They respect each other, and they have always been committed to each other and their family.”
The Reeves have worked most of their lives. Lillie has been a homemaker, a school cafeteria manager and a seamstress. She made all the family’s clothes and also earned a reputation in the area for being an excellent seamstress.
A.J. was a farmer, an electrician and a plumber, who retired when he was 80. After that he got into woodworking, making grandfather clocks and furniture, among other things. LeGrand said if her grandfather hadn’t had his shop, he would’ve gone back to work.
Besides building his family’s home, A.J. designed and built — free of charge— the main part of his church, True Vine Missionary Baptist Church.
True Vine pastor James Perkins said he feels the key to A.J. and Lillie Reeves’ 78 years together is that they listen to and understand each other.