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Ninety-Something Lovebirds

Ninety-Something Lovebirds

Bob and Priscilla Bartlett's hands and armed joined together

Columbia couple enjoys playful love and marriage a second time around 

When their first New Year’s Eve together rolled around ten years ago, Bob and Priscilla Barlett made a just-for-fun list of resolutions. 

“One of the resolutions was to say, ‘I love you’ at least once every day, and mean it,” Priscilla recalls. 

“I don’t think we’ve missed,” Bob interjects with a bright smile that illustrates how the nonagenarian couple — he’s 98, she’s 92 — is as playful, or more so, than even younger married couples. Priscilla agrees. 

Bob and Priscilla Bartlett in their Lenoir Woods home

“Even if he’s driving too close” to other cars, she says. “But I still love him.” 

And the playful banter commences. 

“She’s trying to tell me how to drive,” Bob explains. “I’ve been driving since I was 14 years old.” There was also an epic road trip more than 70 years ago when Bob and his Navy buddy, Lewis Brooks, grew bored with their jobs, bought an Army surplus Jeep, and drove from Virginia to Latin America on what would later become the Pan American Highway. 

“That doesn’t prove a thing,” Priscilla adds with a measure of self-reflection. “I’ve always been too ready to make a comment about his driving – or my first husband’s driving. Every now and then I’ll say, ‘You’re on your own. I’m going to shut my eyes.’ And miraculously we get there.” 

“Getting there” has been a lifelong adventure for both Bob and Priscilla. His first wife, Ada, died in 2013 just shy of their sixty-third anniversary. Priscilla’s first husband – also named Bob – was a fifty-five-year love affair at the time of his death. Her second Bob is like her first — caring and thoughtful — yet different in many ways. 

“When I talk in my sleep and mention Bob, he doesn’t know who I’m talking about,” she says trying to hide a playful smile. Priscilla had two strokes last summer and Bob was diagnosed with a heart issue, but that didn’t temper their open affection for each other. 

“I think that because of our health issues, we’re probably both afraid of losing each other,” she adds. “But I think maybe that’s a little harder for Bob. I survived the death of one husband. I know the world doesn’t end, even though it left a huge hole in my heart.” She points toward Bob No. 2. “I think that’s one reason he’s turned as bossy as he has — he thinks I’m overextending myself.” 

So, who is the boss? Bob starts to answer, “Um …” and Priscilla quickly quips, “It’s still undecided.” Bob smiles again. 

“I suppose as we’re getting older, each of us is afraid of losing our competency, and trying harder to control things is part of how that’s expressed,” Bob adds. 

Back in 2013, about three months after losing Ada, Bob bumped into Priscilla on his way into a class to get help with his new iPad. Priscilla, who had been widowed two years prior, was leaving her class on how to use Facebook. They’d already known each other for about thirty years through their involvement at Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Columbia, but they struck up a brief conversation that day and agreed to go on their first date.  

There were five more dates the following week as the pair kept finding more ways that they were connected. They were married on August 3, 2013. Priscilla moved into Bob’s home at Lenoir Woods. The Lenoir community prides itself on helping older adults age in place; Lenoir also has assisted living options. 

“We could be in assisted living right now, or in the future,” Priscilla says. 

Both Bob and Priscilla are well-traveled. Bob’s varied experiences include Naval service in the waning years of World War II. Though he wasn’t deployed during the war, he was asea during post-war actions. Born in Newport News, Virginia, he was employed by the Shipyard there, and was connected to that industry for multiple years. Priscilla was raised in Ohio. Both couples enjoyed traveling, and travel remained a vital part of their lives when Bob and Priscilla got married. 

“We could do just about practically everything for ourselves and traveled a lot,” he says. Priscilla adds, “We said at the time that we knew the day would come that we wouldn’t be able to do that. But we’re not going to sit and pout. We’ll be glad.” 

Now it’s important for the pair to avoid “extreme environments.” 

“We’ve had to give up anything that uses extra energy. We live a much more sedentary life,” Bob explains. But are they at peace with that reality. 

“At our age,” he says, “we have to be.” 

For younger folks who wonder what it takes to be married successfully for decades, there are some key elements to consider. 

“Tolerance and understanding are very important,” Bob notes. “You can’t be impatient because things aren’t just the way you want it. And I think we’re both pretty adaptable.” 

It’s also important to be connected emotionally and physically, no matter your age, Priscilla says. 

“It’s important to remember to express your appreciation for the other person,” she continues. “We find that through the day we kiss each other, hug each other, say ‘I love you.’ Have some playfulness in the relationship together.” 

They express sorrow that many couples do not maintain that emotional, even playful bond. Bob and Priscilla recall being in line at a fast-food restaurant some time back when Bob leaned down and kissed his bride. 

“Later,” Priscilla remembers, “as we were going to our table, a couple at least twenty years younger was sitting there, and the lady looked at me and said, ‘I saw him kiss you,’ sort of in a fun way, and she said, ‘We gave up that stuff years ago.’ When Bob and I got to our table, we said, ‘Isn’t that too bad.’” 

Their public affection has had other admirers. On their third date, they went to a restaurant that had wide tables, and Priscilla expected it might be challenging for Bob to hear her if they sat across from each other. 

“I scooted in and said, ‘Why don’t you sit here?’” and Bob took a seat next to her, Priscilla says. “It was also nice because I could pat his knee, or he could put an arm around me.” 

They still sit side-by-side when dining out. Once when they were visiting Newport News for Bob to show Priscilla his boyhood stomping grounds — and they returned to Columbia via Ohio for Priscilla to show Bob where she grew up — a waiter presented them with a note from another diner who wrote, “I really love seeing you two in the love bird position.” The anonymous diner also paid for their lunch. 

Priscilla Barlett

Bob and Priscilla also had warm, loving relationships with their first spouses, but there were also differences. For instance, Ada was Dutch-born, raised in a different culture. She and Bob were “totally different people,” he says. It’s different with Priscilla. 

“She knows every song I know. Every expression is familiar to her,” he adds. When they read the Sunday “funny pages” together, they both laugh. “With my first wife, she never got the joke.” 

Priscilla’s “first Bob” struggled with depression later in life, which sometimes had a negative impact on their relationship. But both Ada and Bob No. 1 were “loving people” and well-educated, she explains. And unlike her first husband, Bob No. 2 “tends to be a very positive, upbeat kind of person.” 

Priscilla has one daughter; Bob has three sons and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When they made plans to get married, Bob and Priscilla decided to sign antenuptial agreements to preserve their individual estates and finances, even though their children had not expressed any reservations. 

“We were both in good financial condition,” he says. “We told our children we had done that so we wanted them to breathe easier —and not think Priscilla’s some kind of gold-digger,” Bob says with a gentle laugh, adding, “Or maybe I could be seen as the gold-digger.” 

Bob is a prolific reader and writer, producing a limited edition, hardbound book titled, “A Bartlett Chronicle: Life in America Through Eleven Generations.” It’s an impressive tome (277 pages) and includes the saga of Bob’s Jeep trip through Latin America. He also produced a spiral bound book, “War Stories: A Collection of Talks for the M. Graham Clark Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, plus some unpublished World War II memoirs.” The accounts begin with Bob’s primary Revolutionary War ancestor, Private John Bartlett. 

Priscilla, meanwhile, has begun writing memoir pieces about her childhood and early life. 

They continue to have fun as they navigate life together, unsure what the rest of the journey will look like. Priscilla’s grandfather and father lived into their 90s. Her mother was 97 when she died. Bob’s father died at 95 and his mother was 91. 

“I would say we have genes on our side,” Priscilla says. 

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