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87-year-old’s ‘Dear Gail’ letter warms hearts

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Gail and Bob Phillips marry in 1953.

Eighty-seven-year-old Bob Phillips has long enjoyed reading the Observer’s wedding announcements.

On Sunday, he used his 61st anniversary to post a tribute to his bride that melted the hearts of younger readers.

In his “Dear Gail” letter, Phillips said he’s been checking brides’ photos every Sunday since their June 27, 1953, wedding.

“I want to see if there is now or ever will be another bride as lovely as you,” Phillips wrote. “Actually, I already know the answer. There is not – and never will be to me – your equal in loveliness. On our wedding day you were the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The delightful truth is that you still are.”

Phillips, who had a triple bypass last fall, concludes his note by telling his 79-year-old wife he hopes to celebrate another 61 years with her, and “beyond that I pray we will spend eternity together.”

Amy Hawn Nelson, director of UNC Charlotte’s Institute for Social Capital, snapped a photo of his announcement and posted it on Facebook. “How cute is this?” she wrote. “Teared up reading the Celebrations section.”

“Guys, this is how you do the romance thing, so take note,” a Facebook friend added.

Phillips’ hearing is bad enough that he asks his wife to relay a reporter’s questions, then give him the phone to answer. But he’s eager to tell the story of how he met and married his high school sweetheart – and it’s not the traditional path.

The two fell in love at Landis High School in Rowan County, about 30 miles north of Charlotte.

“Her first day as a student was my first day as a teacher,” Phillips said. He taught her during her freshman, sophomore and senior years, with a year’s break when he was called back to military service.

At first, of course, she was just a kid, but by her senior year “I realized she was more than just a pretty young lady.” They married shortly after her graduation.

Gail Phillips stayed home to raise their family, which eventually included two daughters and a son. She says her husband is a lifelong romantic who brought her out of her shell: “He married a very shy, young girl.”

When she was expecting their second baby, Bob Phillips decided he couldn’t support the family on a teacher’s paycheck and took a job with the Social Security Administration in Charlotte.

The couple is back in Landis now, and Bob Phillips has run anniversary announcements in the Salisbury Post and the Independent Tribune in past years. This year, he says, he put one in the Observer in hopes of reconnecting with any friends left from their Charlotte years.

Bob Phillips notes that when they neared their 60th anniversary, they asked friends what they should do to celebrate. Suggestions ranged from the nostalgic – play miniature golf, as they did on their first date – to the adventurous: Go bungee jumping or whitewater rafting. Bob Phillips said their barber suggested that at this stage of life, they should celebrate by taking a nap.

“That’s what we’ll do again this year,” he said.

So does Bob Phillips really check the brides every week?

“If he says he does, he does,” Gail Phillips says. “He doesn’t tell lies.”

Bob Phillips insists it’s true. “I don’t know what I would do if I finally found someone,” he says.

There were, he notes, two who came close. You guessed it: their daughters.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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