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Happily ever after: The Grigsbys

 Image from article Happily ever after: The Grigsbys

If you want to get together with Ginny and John Grigsby, plan on a date later than February. The Grigsbys are booked: several exercise classes, senior health seminars, church activities, volunteer work, trips and time with friends, children and grandchildren fill their calendar. As one of their friends said, it can make you tired just listening to their schedule.

It is clear that John, 81, and Ginny, 76, of Los Altos are still enjoying each other's company decades after meeting on the church steps in Pittsfield, Mass., July 31, 1949. They never had "huge issues," John said, never had fights, "never had the pouts for more than a day or two."

Their 55 years of marriage have not been perfect, but they've built a lasting relationship on a few unspoken rules of couples' courtesy.

"Be honest, be kind, be thoughtful," John said.

"Be patient," Ginny said.

"Don't go to bed angry," John said.

"Having the same values helps," Ginny said. "Have fun."

"Laugh," John said. "Not at the other one, but laugh at yourself."

The Grigsbys also have the positive outlook common to the generation that lived through the Depression and World War II: make the best of what you have, work hard, save and things will get better.

The attitude was at play in their very first meeting on those church steps. There was to have been a church picnic that day, but only the Grigsbys and another couple showed up. So they went on their own picnic.

Ginny grew up in Massachusetts and went away to school in Vermont to become a medical science secretary. John took "a very circuitous route" to Pittsfield that formed the basis of a long career.

As a youth, John was a ham radio operator, W9PJM, in Colorado and skilled at copying and sending Morse code. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he got a telegram from the government asking him to work for the Federal Communications Commission. For about a year, he scanned radio frequencies listening for suspicious communications from enemies of the United States.

He and Ginny married in a church wedding July 15, 1950, Ginny, petite in a traditional wedding dress with long train, and John, "all of a ripsnortin' 150 pounds at 6-foot-5."

John worked for a time for General Electric in Syracuse, N.Y. In 1952, he joined a Stanford laboratory that performed surveillance reconnaissance for the U.S. Defense Department.

The Grigsbys' first son, David, turned 1 the day they arrived in Palo Alto. "I became a mother who takes care of her children," Ginny said.

That year the couple met their first major challenge. David was asthmatic, and had had a very bad attack that left him critically ill in Children's Hospital of the East Bay in Oakland. He was hooked up to an IV in an oxygen tent, getting 24-hour-a-day care, and the doctors told the Grigsbys that they were not sure David would survive.

It was a test of faith for Ginny. She had prayed and prayed for David's recovery, but he was not getting better. She called her mother in Massachusetts and asked her to pray for David. Ginny asked herself, "Would God hear my prayer?"

Then David turned the corner.

Ginny's faith is very important to her to this day, and she journals and takes classes to keep her spirituality energized. She was trained through a program at Los Altos United Methodist Church on Magdalena Avenue to be a lay minister. Ginny has been meeting with a legally blind woman for about four years, and now considers her a good friend.

John is also active in the church, although he calls himself "a participant with lots of questions."

Ginny and John rented a new two-bedroom home in East Palo Alto for $90 a month in the early '50s until they could afford to buy a home in Mountain View - for $15,000, a couple of years later. John's father was an insurance agent, so John had policies from as early as age 9. He borrowed against one to finance the purchase of the home.

"We grew up in a generation where you borrowed money for your car and your home and paid cash for everything else," he said. "If you didn't have the money, you didn't buy it."

They bought the home where they still live on Viola Drive in 1964.

While he was working at Stanford, John earned his master's degree and doctorate, taking an hour or two off during the workday to go to classes and making up the work time on Saturdays. The Grigsbys belonged to a babysitting club of 20 or 30 families, and when John was on babysitting duty, he'd take along a textbook and do his reading.

In late 1959, Applied Technology hired John. "I was badge 13." Beginning as an electrical engineer, John became a manager in 1964. The company merged with Itek Corp. in 1967, and Applied Technology became a division. John was division president. He retired in 1993 from Advent Systems.

One of the disappointments of John's life had been his rejection from the Army Air Corps' Aviation Cadet Center because of hay fever. In September 1959, he earned his certification as a pilot. Not only did Ginny become certified in 1963 but she later passed the tough commercial flying examination. "Aced it," John said.

The Beechcraft Baron six-seater they named Big Bird was their "magic carpet" for flights all over the country, John said. His travel for work took the couple to Italy, Germany, Japan, Israel and Taiwan.

The couple count themselves among the lucky few whose children did not take to alcohol, drugs or even cigarettes. Ginny doesn't know what put it into her head, but one day she gathered the children together near the fireplace. Shining a flashlight up into the chimney at the blackened walls, she said: "You see that stuff in the chimney? That chimney's been smoking for years. … They got the message."

Of the Grigsbys' four children, three live in the Bay Area - David Grigsby, Sharon Wormhoudt and Gloria Adams. Sue Grigsby lives in Washington State. Gloria's children, Stephen, Daniel and Kristen, often visit grandpa and grandma.

Stephen recently asked John if he wanted to live to be 102. John told him, yes, if he were healthy and could get around well enough to do the things he enjoyed.

Looking at Ginny, he said: "We've had a good life."

"We plan on keeping on for a long time more," Ginny said.

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