Malvern couple enjoy golden years together

By Wayne Bryan Published February 13, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Marvin and Shirley Blair of Malvern, who have been married for more than 50 years, are an active couple who are still very much in love.

Marvin Blair shared the secret for his long happy marriage to his wife Shirley this valentine’s week.

“I always say, ‘Whatever you say, dear,” Marvin said with a shy smile.

He went on to tell a story about how his wife shows her love, but in her own special way.

“Once we bought a new Pontiac and she made me a solid gold key that actually worked,” Marvin said. “When I got older and I needed some teeth, she got the old key and she made my teeth, and I wear that key in my mouth now.”

Don’t think that is too strange. Shirley Blair once worked in a dentist’s office and learned to make teeth. She then ran her own independent dental lab for more than 20 years.

Just a few weeks away from their 53rd wedding anniversary, the couple reminisced about their years together in Malvern.

“I think the reason our marriage has worked so well is that both of us always treat each other as we want to be treated ourselves,” Shirley said. “Some couples are always putting each other down, or ignore each other.”

Shirley said they were lucky and that she worries about today’s young couples.

“We could always live within our means,” she said. “We didn’t have the pressure of gut-wrenching debt so many couples face today.”

Marvin was a successful pharmacist in Malvern for decades, but he said it is Shirley whom everyone knows.

“When we got married, I think she knew everybody in town,” he said. “Most of the time, I have been known as Shirley’s husband, which was fine with me.”

While they met and have lived in Malvern all their married life, neither are Hot Spring County natives.

“I was from Waldo, but during World War II, my father worked in war plants, and we moved all over the state,” Marvin said. “I went to a different school every year, from Jacksonville, Texarkana and Pine Bluff.”

He went to Southern State College in Magnolia and attended pharmacy school at the Medical Arts School in Little Rock, now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. His first job brought him to Malvern, working in a Main Street Drug Store.

Shirley moved to Malvern at age 15 from Langley in Montgomery County.

“I was a middle child, and when I left, I’m not sure my parents noticed,” she said. “I have been self-supporting since I was 15.”

“Actually earlier than that,” Marvin added.

The couple met in Malvern, but their first meeting could have been much earlier.

“I had a friend who worked at the Medical Arts Drug Store in Little Rock, and she said there was this pharmacy student she wanted me to meet,” Shirley said. “I didn’t want her to try and fix me up with anyone. When I was going to marry Marvin and I invited her to a shower, she saw who I was marrying, and said he was the student she wanted me to meet.”

After Shirley and Marvin met in Malvern, he was bold when he asked her for a first date.

“I asked her to the 1961 Cotton Bowl, with another pharmacist and his wife,” he said. “We spent the night with the brother of one of the couple.”

Although Marvin and Shirley had a chaperon, the trip was a racy thing to do in those days. She said she still has the corsage she wore to the game.

Evidently, they were thinking more about each other than they were the game. Marvin remembers that Arkansas beat Georgia. Actually, the records show the Razorbacks lost to Duke University 7-6 in 1961.

The couple married on March 4 of the same year.

“Of course,” Marvin said, “she was the prettiest girl in town, vivacious, outgoing and a good cook.”

“His proposal was typically Marvin,” Shirley said.

“I told her I was going home that weekend, and was it all right if I told my mother I was getting married?” Marvin said.

“She asked me, ‘To whom?’”

From an employee, Marvin moved to a partnership with another pharmacist in a store of their own; then he became sole owner and for a while opened a second pharmacy in Malvern.

Meanwhile, Shirley first worked as a dental assistant, and when the dental technician in the office left, the dentist asked Shirley to step in.

While working in Malvern, Shirley went to school in Little Rock to learn how to run a dental lab.

“I took a taxi to the bus station and rode the bus to downtown Little Rock for my training,” she said. “I would get out about 10 and take the train back to Malvern. When I would get out of the station, the old man and his taxi would be outside, and he would take me home.

“I just thought he was there for my 25 cents that I gave him for the ride. Years passed and he died before I realized that he was looking out for me. I wish I could have told him how much his help meant to me.”

Shirley said she enjoyed making the trip and the company of the people she met while traveling. She said she even received a marriage proposal once on the train back to Malvern.

“See, I told you she would talk to anybody,” Marvin said, laughing after Shirley talked about the proposal.

Shirley enclosed a carport at their home for her dental lab and worked from there. She said another person who had worked at the dentist’s office joined her and worked there for more than 20 years and became her next-door neighbor.

“Being able to work at home was a blessing,” she said. “I was able to be at home with Sandra as she was growing up.”

Their daughter is now a nurse.

She said she and Marvin have never gone out to parties much, but she has always enjoyed cooking for friends.

“When we were first married, I had the steak club,” Shirley said. “Four other couples would meet at one of our houses, and we would fix a steak dinner with baked potatoes and fresh bread. Everyone would give the cook $1 to pay for the steak. We have stayed in contact with every one of them, although most have moved all across the country.”

Asked why they never moved, Marvin said the time was never right.

“I had thought that as a pharmacist, I would go anywhere, like Alaska and Colorado,” he said. “But first we were both working, and then we had a daughter.”

Marvin was the first to retire, in 2003 at age 67. Shirley shut down the dental lab in 2008.

“We spend a lot of our time at our cabin on the Caddo River,” Marvin said. “Bifurcated life, up there and here. We go back and forth a lot.”

Shirley said keeping up 60 acres in the woods and along the river can be a full-time job.

The year after she retired, Shirley found out she had lymphoma. The couple took on the disease as they have always been together — calmly and with a great deal of optimism.

“We just handled it,” Marvin said. “We knew it was very treatable.”

Shirley said she considered herself lucky for someone with cancer.

“If you had to have it,” she said, “I hit the jackpot. With faith, it was treatable. I never had a lot of pressure or fear. I lost my hair but got some wigs, but mostly I just wore a hat.”

Shirley said she actually liked being without her hair on a temporary basis.

“I could be eccentric for a while, with my hats and headbands,” she said.

This Valentine’s Day, the couple will be spending time, as usual, together.

“We enjoy each other’s company. We have fun together,” Marvin said. “As we get older, we help each other remember things like names, and we laugh together about our frailties.”

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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