Dr. Willis and Virginia Webb to celebrate 70th anniversary



Asked how she and her husband, Dr. Willis Webb, had stayed together for 70 years,
Virginia Webb answered, “I really don’t know. It’s just not in our dispositions to fight. If we disagreed, we just shut up.”

On Wednesday, July 22, Dr. Willis Webb, 92, and Virginia Webb, 97, of Christiansburg, will reach a milestone few couples can boast of: their 70th wedding anniversary.

They met at the University of Tennessee in 1949 in a Spanish class. She noticed him primarily because when he walked into the class and sat down on the front row, he had a beard. “No one had it then,” she said. He had just spent three years in the Air Force after joining up when he was 17. The soon-to-be Mrs. Webb and her roommate, whom she described as being like a sister and “looking like a movie star,” were seated on the back row.

The second day of class, Willis Webb came to the back and sat down by the roommate. The three of them talked the whole quarter. The future Mrs. Webb learned he was planning to stay at UT at the end of the school year, and she didn’t much like the idea of his being alone. So she simply took him home with her to Winchester, Tenn., despite the fact that she had a hometown boyfriend named Frank.

This was actually Virginia Webb’s second time around at UT. She started there in 1943, but, as she put it, “I joined a sorority and my grades went bad.” So she left school and wound up in Baltimore. She returned in the fall of 1946 to get her nursing degree, graduating in 1949.

She and Willis Webb were married on July 22, 1950. She was five years older than he, and as Virginia said, “I’m a cougar.”

“I don’t know why we married,” she said. “We just did. I think Frank (the hometown boyfriend) was just too slow. Willis moved a little faster. I was 27 and ready to get married. I had done all my running around.”

She describes their situation for much of their married life as “being poor.” They certainly started out that way. For a honeymoon, they spent two nights at the Read House in Chattanooga at $8 a night. Two couples from the wedding piled into the car and rode with them. They were Virginia Webb’s friends; her new husband didn’t know them.

The couples pulled a practical joke on them, piling everything they could in the hotel room onto their bed. That included covers, the dresser drawers with their contents and blankets.

Virginia Webb was a real live “Rosie the Riveter” in World War II, putting the rivets
in the bomb bay doors on B-26’s and in the outboard motor on B-29’s.

In speaking of her life growing up, Virginia Webb said her father was, rather remarkably, 70 years old when she was born. Her mother was his second wife.

“She was an angel,” she said of her mother. “Dad knew how to pick ’em.”

Her father was alive during the Civil War and told her of the time a band of Yankee soldiers came to the farmhouse in Winchester. They raided all the food they could, but they didn’t harm anybody. Her dad said he was afraid they would set the house on fire, but they didn’t.

Virginia Webb was one of 13 children, but she was her mother’s only child. Some of those children slept on straw in the farmhouse attic the family was so poor. Her father lived until she was 18.

After the Webbs married, they moved to Knoxville and lived in a trailer park. They had no bathroom, no hot water, and no refrigerator, but they did have a baby.

During World War II prior to their marriage, Virginia lived in an apartment in Baltimore with a girlfriend and her mother. “We had it made,” she said. Her mother cooked for the three of them. Her would-be husband was in the Air Force teaching radio mechanics at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. During this time, she was an iconic Rosie the Riveter. Rosie was a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during the war, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military.

She certainly did because she was a literal riveter, putting the rivets in the bomb bay doors on B-26’s and, later, in the outboard motors on B-29’s.

When the war ended, the Rosies were told to drop their rivet guns, return any unused supplies they had to the supply room and walk out. But, Virginia said, “My shift ended at 3 a.m., so I didn’t get to do that.” She had so little money, her mother had to pay the taxi fare for the ride to the apartment.

Willis Webb, on the other hand, had an Air Force who sang praises about this school that eventually became Virginia Tech. Since he had been born in nearby McCoy, Webb figured he’d join his fellow veteran in Blacksburg. His aim in life was to be a veterinarian specializing in animal pathology. He quickly discovered, however, that Blacksburg presented him with a major problem: Virginia had no vet school.

He wound up at Texas A&M, spending four years to secure his degree. After graduation, he learned the Federal Drug Administration needed a pathologist. He interviewed in the kitchen of his wife’s’s home in Nashville and landed the job with its salary of $8,000 a year. By this time the Webbs had three children. Her mother also lived with them. As Virginia Webb put it, there was no way she would let her mother live by herself.

The new job required a move, so the couple bought a house in Tyson’s Corner, Md. With money tight, now-doctor Willis Webb rode a motor scooter in to D.C. to work every day. He spent five years there, learning all the pathology he could.

He eventually moved on to a job as an animal pathologist in a laboratory in Evansville, Ind. He then wound up back in Virginia when he was hired by the USDA. As an experienced pathologist, his job was to test cattle to detect diseases and treat them. He was based out of Wytheville, and his territory stretched from Winchester to Bristol. Dr. Webb worked there until he retired in 1991.

“We’ve been dirt poor,” Virginia Webb emphasized, but “we managed to save” so their retirement has been secure. Their savings were helped along thanks to some successful investments in the stock market. Since then, as she said, “It’s been good.” They’ve spent time traveling, taking month-long tours of such places Alaska, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Austria and Switzerland.

As for the secret of staying together for 70 years, Virginia Webb said, “We’re just used to each other. We’ve been poor, but we’re comfortable now. We’re both straight, honest people, and we saved money. It’s just not in our disposition to fight. We never have had what I’d call a real knock-down fight. If we disagreed, we solved it by shutting up.”

It worked. For 70 years — and counting.







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