How Two Friends Guided Ray and Me in Love and Marriage

My old friend Shirley Patterson, who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband Ray, wrote me an email this morning suggesting the following writing prompt: I remember my second marriage ceremony at George….

Okay, Shirley, here goes.

At least part of the story Shirley is referring to pre-dates that “second marriage ceremony” and is the reason why Ray and I made the decision to get married at the time we did. We had not been together as a couple for very long – only a few months – and the story of how we decided to marry so quickly has a lot to do with Shirley’s husband, Ray.

I met my future husband Ray when I was 24 and working on a psychiatric unit in Denison, Texas in my first clinical job after completing a Master’s degree in Counseling at East Texas State University (now known as Texas A&M, Commerce.) Ray was 19 and a student of my mother’s at Grayson County College. She encouraged him to take a job as an orderly at the newly-opened psychiatric unit so he could see if he enjoyed working in the psychiatric field. (He thought he might want to become a psychiatrist.) Mom also thought Ray and I might enjoy getting to know each other since he was one of her favorite students and I was, after all, one of her two favorite daughters.

Ray and I did, in fact, enjoy working together and became fast friends. We had a mutual friend on the psychiatric unit whose name was Rachael and we three spent lots of time together. My main memory of that time was how much we laughed, usually over Ray’s irreverent jokes. But Ray was five years younger than I was and I already had a boyfriend. In my eyes, Ray was a baby and I was taken. After a couple of years, I moved to Arkansas to live nearer to my boyfriend and Ray sub-let the house I had been renting, which was near the psychiatric unit. Our goodbye was heartfelt and I was aware that leaving him was the hardest part of going. I saw him occasionally when I returned home to visit family. We spent time together purely as friends. Not one hint of romance.

Fast forward a year and a half.

My boyfriend and I broke up, and a few months later I returned to Texas to see my family and also my friends on the psychiatric unit. Ray was working and we arranged to meet later for a visit. After chatting for a long time in his living room, he said, “I’ve been waiting around for you for a long time. You’re free now and I need to know if you have any interest in pursuing a relationship with me. If so, that would be great. If not, then I’m moving on.”

I was a little surprised, but also impressed with Ray’s willingness to bare his feelings like that. He was 22 by this point and I was 27. Knowing this was someone who was making himself extremely vulnerable, I realized this was one of those “Sh-t or get off the pot” moments in life. I thought about how smart he was and also how much he made me laugh. I also loved that when we were together, we had conversations where I felt seen and heard. I opened my arms and said, “I guess we could hug.”

Ray came for a visit a month later, and by the following month had moved to Arkansas so we could be nearer to one another. We were trying to figure out where exactly to live since the mental health agency I worked for had required that I sign a “morality” clause. In a town of 1800 people, there was no way that we could live together without others knowing. Uncertain of exactly how to proceed, we went over to visit our friends, Shirley and Ray Patterson, a former Catholic nun and priest who had left their religious vocations in order to marry. They had three little kids, two girls and a boy. I had met Shirley and Ray through Stone County Congregation, an Episcopal group that met weekly in a retired priest’s home in the hills above Mountain View.

Shirley suggested that Ray and I talk privately with her Ray since he might be able to offer guidance about our living situation. She left us in the backyard of their home, taking the kids inside so we could have privacy.

Once we were alone, Ray Patterson turned to us and said, “Where do you see this relationship going from here?”

Ray and I both squirmed in our seats and I finally said, “Maybe, if all goes well, one of these days we’ll get married.”

Not missing a beat, Ray P. replied, “If that’ s where you’re headed and you want to live together now, then why don’t you just go ahead and commit?”

My Ray nodded. “Yes, that sounds like a great idea.”

I stared at both of them. “Seriously? That’s crazy. We’ve barely been together.”

Ray Patterson suggested we go somewhere and discuss the pros and cons.

Ray Beaty took me down to the shores of the White River and spent two hours making the argument that now was the time and it made perfect sense to jump right in.

I will admit my husband, then and now, can be most persuasive.

We got married two weeks later in a tiny civil ceremony with the County judge. Shirley, Ray, and their kids were five of the fourteen people present.

My second marriage ceremony at George Burch’s house in the hills outside of Mountain View, Arkansas in July 1980 was one of those times when I saw how deeply kind people can be in this world. Let me explain.

Knowing that I was not keen on any kind of party planning, my friend Shirley Patterson singlehandedly coordinated every detail of our wedding blessing with the Stone County Congregation at George’s home. She even found the dress I wore, brought it to my work over my lunch hour, and pinned it so that a seamstress could alter the hemline. This ceremony featured the Patterson girls in gorgeous matching bridesmaid dresses, a wedding cake decorated with real flowers, and a potluck lunch filled with homemade goodies. The only thing Ray and I did was buy champagne for everyone and show up on time. This event felt very much like our official wedding, full of joy.

As for Shirley, I don’t know if I have ever felt so loved.

That was 42 1/2 years ago. We did, in fact, commit.

Thank you, Shirley and Ray, for living your lives guided by Love. We are grateful for all of your wisdom and kindness. We love you back, now and forever.

Here are a few photos of our park wedding and our second wedding ceremony:

This is Mtn. View Park, where it was 104 degrees by 10 am on June 7, 1980.  

(One of the hottest summers on record for Arkansas)

Ray is 22; I am 27.


I believe the judge is talking to us here.


Here is our wedding blessing with George Burch, a retired Episcopal priest outside his home up in the hills above Mtn. View. The two little girls are Sarah and Naomi Patterson, the daughters of our friends, Shirley and Ray.


Ray Patterson is reading a piece of scripture for the wedding blessing


That is a blue ribbon tied on my ankle for “something blue.”


Sarah and Naomi Patterson, the cutest flower girls ever.


A homemade wedding cake decorated with real flowers.

Thank you, Shirley!


A happy and sweet event that I will always cherish.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Susan Flemr says:

    Oh! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Len! So happy your dear friends encouraged and participated in your wonderful relationship. My husband Bill and I have had the joy of friendship with Shirley and Ray Patterson since 2004 and know the support, love and fun they add to life. . Our time in Arkansas was enriched greatly by their presence!

  2. Thank you so much, Sue. I am sending your response to Shirley.

  3. ervib2 says:

    This is one of the sweetest stories I have ever read. What an incredible leap of faith you took, and what an amazing love story.

  4. Thank you. I am very touched you shared your thoughts on my story. Much appreciated.

  5. Mary Jo Doig says:

    What a profoundly beautiful story, Len! I am deeply enriched by the love of your friends and the support their wisdom knew what right.

    1. Thank you, Mary Jo. I so appreciate your comments, my dear.

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