Ernest Claude Pugh and his wife of 70 years Evelyn Grace Pugh display a copy of a photograph of themselves when they first met, taken at a bus station in Atlanta. Evelyn Pugh was 13 and Ernest. Pugh, 16. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
The first time Evelyn Grace Pugh saw her future husband, Ernest, he had a date on his arm at a Little Five Points movie theater. His good looks held her interest and so she sat behind him at the theater and rubbed the back of his head.
“I flirted,” she said.
He turned around and chastised the 13-year-old. Though he seemed annoyed he must have also been interested. The next week he approached her at the theater.
“He walked up to me and said, ‘Where have you been all my life?’” said Evelyn Pugh. “I said, ‘Right here.’ I was surprised.”
And so began a love story that has lasted more than seven decades. The Pughs celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on July 23. They married in 1943 — she was just 14, he was 17.
It took some convincing of Evelyn Pugh’s mother to get her permission to marry. Evelyn Pugh said she cried and cried until she got her way. The couple got married by a justice of the peace in McDonough.
“I was excited but mama said, ‘I’ll give it two weeks,’ and here we are today,” said Evelyn Pugh, who sits in the well-kept living room of her Oxford home with her husband across from her.
“Everybody is amazed. They can’t believe we’re still together. But what’s the point if you up and skip town?”
Rows upon rows of framed photographs line a book shelf in the couple’s living room. The Pughs began building their family a year after they married. They have four children — Judy, Steve, Ernie and Gloria — eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren (with one more on the way).
“Family means everything to us,” said Evelyn Pugh. “My children are so darned sweet it’s unbelievable.”
The Pughs raised their family in Decatur in the 1940s and ’50s. Ernest Pugh worked as an electrician, eventually opening up his own business at age 35. He called it P&S Electric (for Pugh and Sons) and the electrical supply company still operates in Conyers. His sons and grandsons run the business.
Evelyn Pugh worked at the business but mostly stayed at home and took care of kids. On the weekends, the young couple sometimes found time to go out dancing with friends.
Both Ernest and Evelyn Pugh also share the same birthday — April 23, with Ernest Pugh born in Oconee County in 1926 and Evelyn Pugh born in Thomasville in 1929.
“He can’t forget my birthday and I can’t forget his,” said Evelyn Pugh.
Once the children grew up and left home, the couple enjoyed traveling and taking cruises, often times bringing their children and grandchildren. They’ve visited Europe, Hawaii, Alaska, and the Panama Canal. Another favorite destination was Las Vegas, where the couple visited casinos and played the slot machines.
The Pughs said when problems did arise in their marriage, they worked them out, instead of letting them fester.
“You got to solve it,” said Ernest Pugh.
Effort on each person’s part is required to make a successful marriage, said the Pughs.
“It’s not 90/10,” said Evelyn Pugh. “It’s 50/50.”
These days, at 84 and 87, the Pughs describe themselves as “homebodies” who enjoy going out to eat dinner and watching television, especially Braves and Falcons games.
What words of advice do the Pughs have for those couples with not quite as many years behind them?
“Work hard at being together,” said Evelyn Pugh. “Work hard at loving each other.”
“You got to work at it,” added Ernest Pugh.