Their grandson, Randy Higgins, nominated them through a faith-based group known as World Wide Marriage Encounter, which has launched a project to recognize some of North America’s longest-lasting marriages. The top spot in the United States went to Harold and Edna Owings of Burbank, Calif., who have been married more than 82 years.
Millie, 95, and Clem, 100, are celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary in their hometown of Parry Sound today.
“People have to look two or three times at the [certificate] and read it again,” Higgins said of people’s disbelief of the matrimonial milestone.
Millie now has Alzheimer's disease, but Clem still spends all day with her talking to her and playing music at Belvedere Heights home.
'I'm going to marry that girl'
The couple grew up in the Dennison Avenue area of Toronto.
When Clem met Millie as a youngster, he reportedly told his best friend afterwards, “I’m going to marry that girl.”
They married a few years later, with the blessing of Millie’s family.
“Her mother really liked my grandfather a lot,” Higgins recalled.
“He was a hard-working honest, young man and had a good job. He was already helping to support his own parents. They gave them their blessing to get married, even though she was only 15.”
Higgins said he doesn’t really know what drew them to one another, but noted “they were both good-looking people with good family values.”
Randy’s mother Joyce was the couple's first child, and a few years later their second daughter, Sandra, was born.
Then Clem was shipped overseas to Italy during the Second World War. This would be the only time in the couple’s history together that they would be apart.
Millie worked and kept the home running while Clem was away. He eventually returned from the war, but without a leg.
“When he came back [and] he had recovered enough, he continued to work,” Higgins said.
“The veteran’s association got him a job at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, in the workshop there building artificial limbs. He became foreman there and worked there until he retired in 1974.”
'Good family values'
The pair have enjoyed many years together, although Millie’s battle with Alzheimer’s means they don’t speak with one another the way they once did.
As she descended more deeply into the stages of the disease, Higgins said “Papa was her primary caregiver ... right up until [almost] two years ago. He was getting her up in the morning, getting her dressed and fed, right there in their own home.”
Higgins admits he didn’t really comprehend the meaning behind their lengthy relationship when he was younger.
“When you get older you start realizing ... not very many people hit a milestone like that.”
Their 75th anniversary was a remarkable event, he said, “But when they hit 80 years married, it’s really hard to believe. I’m so proud of them. I want to stand on top of the world and shout it out. It’s such an amazing love story."
Higgins said he is filled with awe when he considers everything they went through ... and yet, they managed to thrive.
And their example has also inspired him.
“With a foundation like that, it’s hard not to be family oriented and cherish those kinds of things.”