By Michael Ireland, ASSIST News Service (amended)
In an era where nearly half of marriages end in divorce, a 65-year marriage, and a happy one at that, is remarkable. And for such a marriage to last in the entertainment industry is nothing short of astonishing.
Legendary entertainer Pat Boone, who was popular in the 1950s and 60s, had just such a marriage, which ended on January 11, 2019 with the death of his wife Shirley at age 84.
People Magazine reports she passed away at the Boone's home in Beverly Hills, California. She had been suffering from vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels, for less than a year.
As she passed from this life to the next, Shirley was surrounded by her husband and their four daughters, who were by her bedside singing hymns to her.
The couple's Christian faith was a key factor in their strong marriage, and is now a sustaining force in Pat's grief.
"We lived a wonderful, blessed life together for 65 years. I've parted with my better half for a little while... but we don't die, we just move on to another place, and today was moving day," Pat said of his high school sweetheart.
"We didn't have the perfect marriage, but it helps to marry a magnificent woman," Pat told PEOPLE. "You make your commitments to God and each other, and in troubled times, you hang on to the commitment to God, and to your kids. You see the problems through and you find you're stronger because of it."
In an announcement to family and friends, he stated: "Dear Shirley BOONE doesn't dwell in Beverly Hills now – she's just been warmly welcomed into a beautiful new mansion in Heaven, prepared specifically for her and her husband by Jesus Himself, who said 'that where I am, you may be also.' Rejoice for her, she's begun her eternal life. She loves you too, as I do."
Author and Christian minister Shawn Bolz said the Boones have been a force for God in the entertainment industry.
"Behind the scenes, they have led some of the most famous people in entertainment and music to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They have hosted more events, Bible studies, and prayer meetings at their house than probably anyone else in Beverly Hills in history," Bolz explained.
Susan Stafford, former host of Wheel of Fortune, said: "Shirley is no longer in pain, but Pat will be for some time. Saying goodbye to so many causes us to focus on what is important in this life so we can be prepared for the next. Eternity is forever, it just happens to begin on earth."
Following her death, Pat, 84, who once famously said "When you get married you forget about kissing other women" told PEOPLE magazine that he will meet his long time love again.
"I expect to join her one day. I'm very confident of that," Pat added. "That took the sting out of what happened today because we know we're gonna be together again and have a whole new beginning."
Pat and Shirley began their love story at 16-years-old. "We were very much in love," Pat revealed.
It wasn't until they were 19 when Shirley's family planned to move away, that Pat realized it was time to ask her father — country singing legend Red Foley — for permission to marry Shirley.
"He tearfully asked me one thing, 'Will you take care of my girl?' and I said I would," Pat explained.
In November 1953, the pair eloped and then settled in Teaneck, New Jersey, where they welcomed their four daughters in five years.
Together, they supported each other, as their lives and careers were established — Pat was working his way through rigorous Columbia University (he graduated cum laude) and battling with Elvis for the hearts of America's teenagers, while Shirley focused on raising their four girls.
They eventually moved to Beverly Hills together, where they resided for more than 50 years, watching their four children, 16 grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren grow up.
In addition to being by her sweetheart's side for more than half a century, Shirley was also a best-selling author, recording artist, television hostess, and humanitarian.
She started a billion-dollar Christian ministry, now called Mercy Corps, one of the most prominent worldwide hunger relief organizations.
"[Mercy Corps] started from her tears and her conviction that we could do something," Pat said. "She was always ready to interrupt what she was doing and help somebody else."
And that desire to give back was one of the things Pat says he will remember most about his wife.
"She had an honest, deep, earnest love for people," he said. "She was so easy to love because she loved so easily and so naturally."•