Love & marriage: Margaret and Alex McRea talk about what it takes to make 66 years of wonderful memories

Margaret and Alex McRea ... They will soon celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary. Alex says of marriage, ‘It’s the most important thing in your life.’   - Contributed photo / Kathleen Ballard
Margaret and Alex McRea ... They will soon celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary. Alex says of marriage, ‘It’s the most important thing in your life.’
— image credit: Contributed photo / Kathleen Ballard

For Margaret and Alex McRea, true love is measured by memories over a span of time. Love for a spouse is something to be treasured and valued on a daily basis, they said. For more than five decades, they have shared their lives — something to admire in an age where many marriages dissolve during difficult times.

The McReas will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary on April 8. They were married in 1943 — she was 21, he was 26 — in Margaret’s childhood home, just blocks from their current home in Friday Harbor. Family members filled the house to witness a marriage that would span the course of a lifetime.

“Being married is a day to day thing,” Margaret said when asked about the special ties between the two soulmates.

Alex and Margaret met after he moved to Friday Harbor in 1936. He was 18. He was born and raised in a logging family outside of

Bellingham. Family and friends heard that work was needed on an island farm, and so for a dollar a day during the Great Depression, Alex cared for cattle on the Stratton farm.

Alex is now 92; he was born in 1916. He believes the Great Depression helped him build a strong sense of character. Living in an age where money was rare taught him the value of a strong work ethic.

“In retrospect, it was good for you,” Alex said. Saving money was an important practice they lived by throughout their lives.

Margaret, 87, was born and raised in Friday Harbor. She met Alex when she was 15.

They met again four years later at a freshman dance at the University of Washington. Alex recognized Margaret at the dance and asked her for a date. They continued to date for next five years. Alex paid his way through college working in commercial fisheries for the federal government. They kept in touch during his travels.

Following graduation, Alex trained as a Navy ensign for four months at Columbia University. Following his return, he proposed to Margaret. They had nine days between graduation and service duty to marry.

Few photos were taken of this grand affair — seven to eight snapshots of the McRea wedding. All food for this family affair was rationed, including meat and coffee. Rations were a part of life during World War II.

Margaret remembers seeing the coffee spill and then having a neighbor replace it during the ceremony. Such items were never taken for granted in a time where Americans were asked to conserve on everything.

An overnight honeymoon was spent in Seattle at the old downtown New Washington Hotel. The days following were spent on a troop train to Florida. They shared a bottom bunk and dined on bologna sandwiches.

Alex spent three years in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II. Margaret worked for a steamship company during that time.

For 30 years following the war, they lived in Alaska, where Alex was a fisheries biologist.

Some of their most precious memories are of traveling by boat from Friday Harbor to Alaska. Together, they took nine voyages at sea, exploring the waters between San Juan and Alaska.

Alex and Margaret don’t consider themselves “lovebirds.”

“You’re only ‘in love’ for a certain length of time, and then it turns into love,” Margaret said.

“Trust,” “loyalty,” “understanding,” and “togetherness” were the words used to describe their love.

“It helps if you really like somebody,” Margaret said in describing her 66 years of marriage.

Margaret expressed the importance of serving each other without taking measurement of what you get in return.

“You have to give more than half. You continue to give to one another without taking measure of it.”

Alex added, “Because you’re family.”

‘Kind and considerate’
“I think they truly are happy and truly still in love,” their daughter, Phebe Smith, said. “I think it is really a gift to see that on a continuing basis. They’re always kind and considerate of one another. I cherish being around them because of their kindness to one another.”

Smith said she values her parents’ gifts of kindness, respect and acceptance of themselves and others.

The McReas recently became great-grandparents, on Feb. 9.

“Their aren’t too many couples that express their affection for each other in such a constant way,” Smith said. “They never leave each other without some special gesture.

“Their affectionate connection is constant. They have a real fondness for one another.”

Alex said of marriage: “It’s the most important thing in your life.”

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