George and Olive Heron sit between two of their daughters, Susan, left, and Janice, who can also boast of long marriages. The Herons are holding a certificate they received from St. Pope John Paul II on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary 21 years ago. Mickey Conlon

'We get along': The simple secret to a 71-year marriage

By 
  • February 7, 2020

Marriage seems to agree with George and Olive Heron. How else do you explain having stayed true to their vows for 71 years?

Sitting in the living room of the family’s modest Ajax, Ont., home, the Herons explain what has helped them stay married for 71 years. The real key to their longevity is rather simple, said Olive, 93.

“We get along,” she says with a laugh.

George is quick to concur, saying, “We haven’t disagreed a lot.”

It probably didn’t hurt that they saw an example in Olive’s parents, who were married for more than 50 years themselves.       

The Herons will be one of the couples feted at the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Formation for Discipleship’s annual Celebration of Marriage Mass on Marriage Sunday Feb. 9 at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Pickering. Coming  just  five days before Valentine’s Day, Cardinal Thomas Collins will preside at the Mass for which 228 married couples have registered. 

A special blessing will be given to couples celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries (25th, 40th, 50th and 60+). Among the attendees will be  17 couples marking 60 or more years of marriage, 48 celebrating 50th anniversaries, 34 40th anniversary couples and 46 celebrating their 25th anniversary.

There is more to the Heron’s success than just following in the path of their predecessors and their ability to get along. You can’t discount how much of it has to do with their upbringing and the life they found together in the Catholic Church, to which Olive converted when she met George, who at 95 (turning 96 in March) is two years his wife’s senior. 

The thinking back when the Herons were growing up during the Depression and into the Second World War years was clear: When you took on a life partner, it meant life.

“When we knew we were getting married, then we were getting married for life,” said Olive.

It’s the advice she would give young people getting married now. Know that you are entering a lifelong commitment and stay true to your vows.

“They should stay together for life. They should know that you want to do that before you marry that person, you know that you want to stay with them, not just for a little while,” she said.

It seems also to have been so agreeable a path that it has passed down the line to their five children. Following in their parents’ footsteps, each has been married for more than 25 years, from Susan and her husband Tom Kennedy at 50 years on the high end, to Janice and her husband Larry Noonan, who were married 27 years ago. In between, the other siblings have been wed for 43, 35 and 31 years. These unions have brought 18 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren (with two more on the way) to the Herons.

The Herons have led an active life together, George having worked for the City of Toronto in its planning department and as a building inspector for 45 years, before retiring in the mid-1980s only to take on another career, 10 years as a court officer. George also did some writing and published two books on growing up as a child of the Depression and then his experiences on the battlefields of Europe following the D-Day invasion that led to the end to the Second World War. 

Olive worked in her family’s furnace business for a period before raising her five kids and being heavily involved in the parent-teacher association at their school. She was also heavily involved with the Catholic Women’s League. As the kids got older, she returned to work at a plant nursery.

The couple was also among the early leaders in the pro-life movement, in the 1970s being at the forefront of the Emergency Organization for the Defence of the Unborn and making presentations for the cause before Parliament.

The Herons remain active into their 90s. Olive creates crafts which she shares with her great-grandchildren, while George takes pleasure in 3D photography and has even built a homemade lens so as to see his finished product (as can be expected, many are of family). They are in the pews of St. Francis de Sales Parish each Sunday and they also can be found often at the monthly seniors’ luncheons at the parish.

Family remains key to the Herons as witnessed by the weekly Sunday dinners they still host at their home. There can be anywhere from 10 people on hand to 20-plus from four generations when Olive carries on the tradition passed down from her parents. 

The family also hosts an annual family picnic and a Christmas celebration that used to be held in their home until the size of the family outgrew the residence. 

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