ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — Tommy Greene always told his family he didn’t think he could live one day without his wife, Bea.
And, he was right.
Side-by-side for 61 years, their love was true and they loved to be together, their pastor said.
“And now he gets to stand side-by-side with her for all of eternity,” said the Rev. Dave Kiehn of Rock Hill’s Park Baptist Church.
Thomas Dunlap Greene, 79, was a builder at J.M. Cope Construction, was once a deacon in the couple’s church and was an Army veteran who served in the Korean War.
Violet “Bea” Greene, 78, worked in the Rock Hill Celanese plant for 32 years and sang in the church choir.
In life and in death, they taught so many people so much, said Montana Nichols, one of the Greene’s eight grandchildren.
“They left this world showing us that true love does exist,” she said.
Nichols recently took a leave of absence from her job to move in with her “maw maw” and “paw paw” as Bea fought cancer.
On a Friday earlier this month, at 6:50 a.m., Bea died, ending a six-month battle with the disease.
The night before, Tommy was admitted to the hospital with heart failure.
His body was shutting down, said Courtney Thomas, another granddaughter.
When family members told Tommy of Bea’s passing, he said he already knew she was gone.
Gathered in Tommy’s hospital room, family members played a song called “He’s Walking Her Home” – a song about two teenagers falling in love, raising a family and staying together through 60 years of marriage.
“My aunt said, ‘Daddy, if you want to go walk mama home, it’s fine, we all understand,’” Thomas said.
Tommy took his last breath seven hours after Bea did.
They’d been together so long, Tommy wanted to go with Bea, Thomas said, “to walk maw maw to their last home with Jesus Christ.”
At the couple’s burial at Grandview Memorial Park, a two-member uniformed military detail folded a U.S. flag that was draped over Tommy’s casket.
Close friends and family comforted each other and cried as one of the servicemen played “Taps” to honor Tommy as a veteran.
As one of the servicemen handed the family the folded flag, someone cried out tearfully, “paw paw.”
Family members recalled Tommy could build just about anything and wanted to be the best builder in Rock Hill.
Once, when a church member mentioned that the church’s baptism room “looked like a dungeon,” Tommy fixed it, Kiehn said.
He even built the house he and Bea lived in – where they raised five children and later became “maw maw” and “paw paw” to eight grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Tommy was “everybody’s paw paw,” Nichols said.
He was a good Christian and wanted everyone to know how much he loved his family, she said.
His love for Bea, especially, was inspiring, Kiehn said.
When he spent time with Tommy, Kiehn said it always made him want to go home and be a better husband.
“They met and married as teenagers,” he said.
“And stayed side-by-side for 61 years.”
They left “an incredible legacy” and were “the picture of character and grace,” he said.
As sad and as hard as it is to let them go, Kiehn said, their love and their passing together is very sweet.
“They walked the talk. They were the real deal,” he said.
“You couldn’t be with Tommy and Bea very long before they said, ‘Are you in church?’”
Their faith and love for the Lord, Kiehn said, was the reason they lived a full and happy life together, always side-by-side.
Family members said Bea was a woman of “quiet strength” and “tremendous wisdom.”
She was a “role model,” Nichols said, with a warm personality.
Bea shared her testimony and Christian faith with others through song, Kiehn said.
“She didn’t need a hymnal in her hand – those songs were written on her heart.”
After Bea was diagnosed with cancer, Kiehn said someone asked her how Tommy would manage without her if the disease took her life.
“She said, ‘I don’t know. I guess I’ll just take him with me.’”
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