A New Life for an Old-School Couple

Judy Long, 83, and Jim Scott, 80, dancing to “In the Mood.” The bride and groom, both Auburn graduates who have known each other for years, each lost their spouse after more than 50 years of marriage.

Judy Long and Jim Scott understand the nature of winning streaks.

Take their beloved Auburn University football team: On Dec. 1, the Tigers had won five in a row and were ranked No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings. But a month later, Ms. Long and Mr. Scott watched its two fiercest rivals, Georgia and Alabama, advance to the national championship game, while Auburn finished its season by losing in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to unbeaten University of Central Florida.

Ms. Long and Mr. Scott know something about the longevity of streaks. Both spent more than 50 years in the glow of what they describe as near-perfect marriages, then were brought low by the deaths of their spouses. But love, as Ms. Long, 83, and Mr. Scott, 80, learned late in life, has a way of winning.

“This was not supposed to happen,” said Mr. Scott of his relationship with Ms. Long, which turned romantic in 2015 after decades of friendship. “I never intended it to happen, and Judy never intended it to happen. But together we have 105 years’ worth of experience being married. So we like to tell people we’re pretty sure we know what we’re doing.”

Ms. Long and Mr. Scott, both Auburn alumni, didn’t meet in college. A post-college move to Birmingham, Ala., connected them and their families. In 1959, Mr. Scott was a newly graduated 20-year-old with a degree in civil engineering and a wife, Carol, whom he had married two years before. He found work at the Alabama Power Company, where Jim Long, Ms. Long’s husband, was also an engineer.

The Longs, a few years older than the Scotts, had married young, too: The former football captain and sorority girl, both 1955 graduates, married a semester before Ms. Long graduated, when she was 20, he 22. The Scotts followed the Longs’ lead when they moved to Birmingham, laying down roots in their new community by joining the local church.

McElwain Baptist, where Ms. Long and Mr. Scott still go for Sunday services, was feeling the full blush of the baby boom in those years. The Longs had three daughters in four years, with the oldest, Penny, born in 1956. The Scotts had the first of their three children, Mike, a year later, in 1957. Both young families grew up side by side in what felt, in those days, like a small Southern town.

“It was just like a neighborhood, you know, with people getting to know other people their own age through Sunday school and that sort of thing,” said Ms. Long, a retired schoolteacher and high school guidance counselor. “There were several couples, I’d say six, and we’d all get together on Friday nights at someone’s house and get babysitters for the children.”

On at least a few occasions, the children were allowed to join. “It was sort of like a supper club, and all the adults would get sitters,” said Sharon Jones, Mr. Scott’s daughter, who graduated from Auburn in 1982 with a degree in animal sciences. “But there was one time I went to the Longs on a Friday night, and they had this huge gerbil habitat. I was always an animal lover, so I remember that.”

Penny Long Marler, Ms. Long’s daughter, recalls the Scotts house in the 1960s as a place she could reinforce her eldest-child status. “We used to go over there and play in the street, and I would try to boss everyone around,” she said.

Ms. Long remembers joining a bowling league with Carol Scott around that time. Mr. Scott, who is still only semiretired after switching careers from engineering to home building decades ago, remembers playing regular card games with Jim Long.

In addition to church and the children, there was always Auburn football to talk about. Ms. Long has had season tickets for as long as she can remember, considering it almost a duty. Before her husband was team captain, her father-in-law, Howell Long, was captain in 1929. Mr. Scott, who played football in high school but was cut when he tried out at Auburn, didn’t let that rejection sour his enthusiasm for the Tigers. He too has made his way to the stadium for almost every home game since his student days.

As the Long and Scott children got older, hopes about carrying the college legacy took hold in both families. By the mid-1970s, Ms. Long Marler was the first of a new generation to enroll at Auburn. By 1985, all three of the Long girls, as well as the Scott’s three children — two boys, Mike and Greg, along with Ms. Jones — had graduated from Auburn. (The legacy didn’t end there. Of Mr. Scott’s eight grandchildren, seven are Auburn graduates. One granddaughter is currently attending the University of Alabama at Huntsville on a volleyball scholarship. And there are no hard feelings about that. “We all understood,” Mr. Scott said.)

The Longs and Scotts stayed in touch throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as their nests emptied. When Jim Long died suddenly of a heart condition in 2006, Mr. Scott was the first person Ms. Long Marler remembers seeing at her parents’ house after she had rushed to Birmingham from her home in Pensacola, Fla. “Jim came over that morning around 7:30 to see how he could help,” she said.

When Carol Scott died, in 2013, of pancreatic cancer, Ms. Long was just as sympathetic. But by then she had gotten used to widowhood. She spent her days volunteering at a hospital and had joined a local social group known as the POWs, for “poor old widows.” She felt fulfilled, and not especially lonely.

Things were slightly different for Mr. Scott, who lost the love of his life and his card-game partner when Carol died. Friends encouraged him to find a new partner for the Friday-night cards session he had regularly attended with her. Eventually, about a year after Carol’s death, he asked his old friend Ms. Long.

“I knew all the other people there, and we were friends and we both enjoyed it,” Ms. Long said. By the end of 2014, she was going regularly with him. It was during one of their weekly games that they discovered during conversation that each had a love of dancing.

“My first husband could dance, and we enjoyed it but only on occasion,” she said. “I think it’s great exercise and lots of fun, and sometimes it’s hard to find exercise that’s fun.”

So she and Mr. Scott, a onetime college jitterbugger, found a local swing dance class and enrolled.

By 2015 the silver-haired, fleet-footed couple were regulars at Monday night senior swing dancing at a local community center. Things started getting romantic.

“We were just having so much fun together, and we had so much in common,” Mr. Scott said.

“We were just dating. We never expected it to become a serious thing,” Ms. Long said.

In 2016, Mr. Scott told his children of the romance. Ms. Long held off. “With all the good years we’d both had, we didn’t want to do anything that wouldn’t let those good times continue,” she said. “So I hesitated.” But in June of that year, with much of their social circle in Birmingham sensing the love in the air, Ms. Long treated her daughters to a trip down the Danube River with the express purpose of sharing the news.

“We were on a layover in Amsterdam when she said, ‘I have something to tell you,’” Ms. Long Marler said. “We thought she was going to tell us she had cancer. Instead she said, ‘Well, Jim Scott and I have been dating.’” The three sisters had the same reaction, she said. “We were all like, ‘This is great! We love Jim.’ We were truly happy for her.”

In the late summer of 2016, Ms. Long and Mr. Scott decided to go engagement-ring shopping, but they kept the next big step in their relationship to themselves. It was six weeks before the diamond was set. Then Mr. Scott waited to find the right moment to propose.

“I just tried to find a good time to give it to her, and there never seemed to be an appropriate moment,” he said. “I was doing an addition on her house then, and I left the ring in a cabinet in the guest bathroom I was working on for a few days. Finally one night I said, I’m not going to wait anymore.”

Ms. Long recalls him asking her to come to the bathroom.

“The ring itself was not a surprise,” she said. “But where I got it was really a surprise!” When he presented it, with a proposal, that September evening in 2016 — neither Ms. Long nor Mr. Scott remembers the exact date — “I had a tear or two as I said yes. I have to admit it’s a big step, and sort of scary, no matter where you are in life.”

Friends and family soon learned of the news, and in September 2017, friends gave Ms. Long and Mr. Scott an old-school surprise engagement party that they called an “Augagement party” before the Tigers played Mississippi State. When the couple arrived at the game for the usual tailgate festivities, a giant congratulations banner was pinned to the tent, and traditional 1950s tailgate food, including deviled eggs, was passed around. “We were so surprised, we couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Scott said.

On Jan. 6, before 40 family members, more than half of them Auburn graduates, Ms. Long and Mr. Scott walked down the aisle of McElwain Baptist, a church rich with memories for both. All six of their children were married in the same sanctuary. Funerals for both their first spouses were held there, too.

Ms. Long wore a floor-length silver gown with a sparkling beaded bodice and a single strand of pearls. Mr. Scott wore a black suit with a white rose boutonniere. The six children from their first unions, now in their 50s and 60s, stood by their parents as Ms. Long’s son-in-law, the minister the Rev. David Zimmerman, a Baptist minister married to her youngest daughter, Becky, officiated. The bride and groom, holding hands, fought tears throughout the traditional Baptist ceremony.

Just before they were wed, Ms. Long Marler read a blessing she had written.

“Who would expect, late in their lives, that old friends would become close, fall in love, and decide to marry?” she said. “To love long is unusual these days and to love long and find love again, even more.”

Mr. Scott suspects the odds are good he’ll find success in his second marriage. “My daughter told me that people who have had happy marriages are more likely to have happy marriages if they marry again,” he said. “I believe that’s true.”

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