ZANESVILLE, Ohio – High school sweethearts, married just shy of 63 years, died within hours of each other on Christmas Day.
Paul and Janet Brown, both 82, were seldom apart according to their daughter, Denise Foster, so it shouldn't have surprised anyone that their departure would be any different.
"We were surprised that Dad passed away first because we figured it would be Mom," Denise said.
Paul and Janet were married in her parents' home in Plumwood on March 10, 1955. Early in their marriage the couple moved to Zanesville, where Paul took a job at Alber's grocery store.
"He was a meat merchandiser and traveled around setting up the meat departments at grocery stores," Denise said. "He retired as the manager at Flemming Foods."
Though she stayed home to raise their four children until they were teenagers, Janet was most known in the New Concord area as the fun bus driver for East Muskingum Schools.
"All of the kids loved her," Denise said. "She would decorate the bus on the holidays and she let them have candy on the bus, provided she didn't have to clean up their mess."
Aside from their deep love for one another, Denise said it was their mutual respect that kept her parents together for more than six decades.
"Dad knew what his role was and he was great at it, he was a great provider," Denise said. "It was mom's role to take care of the children and the home and she was great at that. They respected each other and what they each contributed to the family."
On weekends, the couple would pack up the children and go camping.
"We did a lot of things as a family and we laughed a lot."
Every summer, the family would pull the camper to Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, where they would vacation.
Their love for traveling lead them to sell their home after retirement and buy a large travel trailer.
"They traveled all over the place for five or six years," Denise said. "They absolutely loved it. They loved all of the time they had together. They really enjoyed each other."
While Janet enjoyed ceramics and crafts, Paul enjoyed just staying busy around the house and helping others. He also enjoyed playing jokes on people.
"I remember one Christmas we got up and there were no presents under the tree, we thought Santa had forgot us – or we'd been bad. Dad said put your shoes and coats on and let's go outside and see if he left them there. When we opened the closet door, there all of our presents were."
By fall of 2018, no longer able to care for herself, Janet moved into a nursing home to spend her final days.
"Dad couldn't stand being away from her, he wanted to be up at the nursing home with her all of the time."
A few weeks later, Paul got his wish. He, too, moved to the nursing home.
"They needed each other. They ate their meals together and visited back and forth between rooms."
In the days before Christmas, the family knew their time with Janet would be short. She had stopped eating and her communication was no more than opening and closing her eyes.
"We knew she was about ready to go," Denise said. "We were all concerned about how Dad would get along without her. He wasn't doing very well himself."
Christmas morning, at 8:40 a.m. Paul passed away.
Although her mother was overcome by dementia Denise says she was certain she understood what they were saying to her most of the time.
"I went in her room and I told her that Dad passed away. I said he's in heaven waiting on you, Mom. He was always so impatient and trying to hurry her along, so I could just imagine him in heaven saying hurry up, Janet."
Ten hours later, at 10:39 p.m., Janet decided to join her husband.
The couple left their four children, Denise and husband Jim Foster, Deborah Wolfinger, of Zanesville, Paul and Kelly Brown of Redford, Michigan, and Jeff and Paula Brown of Marysville, to mourn their passing but delight in their reunion. They also left nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren with their legacy of love and respect for one another.
At the services, the couple laid in their respective caskets head-to-head. Following the services, the couple was cremated.
Joined together as one 63 years ago by matrimony, the couple remained that way even in death.
"Together always, just like in their marriage."
The cremains of Paul and Janet were placed in the same urn and buried together in St. Paul's Cemetery.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.