July 29, 2013 at 2:16 PM ET
When Les and Helen Brown became high school sweethearts more than 75 years ago, their parents didn’t believe the match would last.
Les’ father was a businessman and prosperous landowner in Southern California. Helen’s father worked on the railroad. “Both families were not too thrilled about the union,” their son Les Brown Jr. told TODAY.com. “The good news is they proved them wrong.”
Les and Helen, who were born on the same day in 1918, celebrated 75 years of marriage in September with a quiet gathering over cake. “They really enjoyed each other’s company,” Les Jr. said. “They were really inseparable and were never apart.”
That bond was so strong that neither Les nor Helen wanted to live without each other, though they knew that the end might be imminent. Les had been sick with Parkinson’s disease for some time, and Helen was battling stomach cancer.
Les recently slipped into a coma at the couple’s Long Beach, Calif., home, and hospice workers said he might live for just a few more days. Helen, who was expected to survive for some months, became very weak. She passed away on July 16. Les died the following day — he never knew about his wife’s death. They were 94 years old.
Les and Helen’s love story, first reported by the Long Beach Press-Telegram, has since gone viral. Their son Daniel told TODAY.com that his parents wouldn’t have shared the same opinion of the ensuing attention.
“Mom hated notoriety. I don’t think she would have enjoyed it,” he said. His father, though, was a photographer and perhaps had an appreciation for a warmhearted story. “He would have loved it.”
Daniel said such differences are what made his parents so well matched. Helen was very sweet but particular about how things should be done. Les, on the other hand, was easygoing, a “man of simple pleasures” who loved coffee and donuts. Helen kept the family humming along while Les helped her relax when life became hectic or complicated. “What one lacked, the other made up for,” Daniel said.
The couple loved to travel and often took road trips up the California coast to San Francisco and Monterey. They doted on their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They also shared a deep religious faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which helped them weather a difficult period of their marriage in the 1950s. “They were very forgiving of each other’s foibles and weaknesses. They were so willing to work at making themselves happy.”
Daniel said that their marriage was a testament to the power of love: “It knows no barriers and seems to know no bounds. They were from different sides of the tracks and it didn’t seem to matter to them. After 78 years, they were very much in love.”