It’s truly remarkable that John and Margaret Whitehead believe their lives have been, well, pretty much unremarkable.
That speaks so clearly to the Virginia couple’s humility, genuine niceness and high level of dignity. But their long and beautiful lives of great consequence are far from ordinary.
John, 94, and Margaret, 92, the parents of Virginia musician Shannon Gunderson who is a member of the bawdy and fun singing trio “The Divas,” are down-to-earth Midwest.
They were born when the 1920s were still roaring and grew up as children of the Great Depression when the world’s economy crashed in 1929.
John shipped out to fight in the Solomon Islands in World War II’s Pacific Theater, while Margaret helped keep the home fires lit and burning as she furthered her education and joined the workplace at the Union Pacific Railway in Rawlins, Wyo.
John, like so many other men his age, was just answering the call of duty. Margaret, like so many other women her age, was just being a real feminist before that word became trendy, overused and often wrongly applied.
That made them remarkably normal along with so many others of their generation. And normal at that time in history was something so admired.
They married on Feb. 2, 1946, and set about building their post-World War II life — John working the Union Pacific as a railway fireman and then an engineer for more than 40 years; Margaret as a proud and loving homemaker and mother of three.
They have shared their love of wanderlust to travel in retirement and to enjoy calling Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and Minnesota, where they now reside in a comfortable apartment at Edgewood Vista, home.
“Where I hang my hat is home,” John says with unassuming simplicity.
John and Margaret represent a great generation with style and class — indeed the greatest of generations.
We once had a lot of Johns and Margarets among us. But their numbers are sadly dwindling. The passing of time can sometimes be so cruel.
The men and women who have lived such incredible history as John and Margaret are treasures.
They are the We Generation, not the Me Generation. They believe in unity, not self-absorbed narcissism. Many talk sparingly of their accomplishments, rather than exalting in verbal selfies.
They are people whom we should honor. They are living history and deserve, at the very least, our respect and attention.
Take time to have actual conversations with those of this generation. Listen and learn. They are tremendous educators.
I have been fortunate to talk with John and Margaret for several hours over the past few months while chronicling, with Shannon and her husband Dale, their wonderful lives. I’ve gotten to know them and share in their journey together through 73 years of marriage.
I’ve been able to develop two new friendships. That’s pretty neat. What a joy are John and Margaret. How lucky I am.
My dad died young. I was 21. My mother would live to 87. I miss them both every day.
I was like a sponge at times when my parents would reflect on their lives and tell some wondrous stories.
But I regret now that I didn’t listen even more to what they had to say. I should have asked more questions about their lives, their feelings and their observations as magnificent events unfolded and also as our family’s routine played out.
I should have been more we and less me when my own adulthood came calling.
I asked these two gentle souls, John and Margaret, who have lived a total of 186 years so far what they still had to do that was on their bucket list.
“Been there, done that,” John said with his traditional sly smile and shrug of the shoulders.
“Just pray for my kids and grandkids,” said Margaret.
Ah yes, straight-to-the-point John, and oh so sweet Margaret.
May your grand journey continue for many more years.