Married 55 years, Macon husband and wife die hours apart

jkovac@macon.comMarch 28, 2014 

John W. Newberry died in his living room, there in the house at the end of Macon’s Dapleton Drive where he and his wife moved 30 years ago.

He had been sick since December. Bone cancer.

Faith, his wife of 55 years, suffered from breathing problems.

They were both in and out of the hospital.

John, 74, in hospice care, died in a bed set up in the living room because Faith was bedridden in their room.

About 5:30 Wednesday evening, an hour or so after he died, his oldest son, Doug, said to his three brothers and his sister, “Has anybody told mama?”

No one had.

So they all gathered in their parents’ mint green bedroom, where Faith lay.

There was a “Get Well” balloon on the dresser, an oxygen machine by the window.

For years, John, a boxer, dairyman, carpenter and truck driver, had slept on the left side of their bed by the gun rack with the Bible on it. Faith, once a waitress, factory worker and homemaker, had slept on the right side by the nightstand with the cocoa butter and the penny jug.

Now, at age 72, she was barely conscious, reeling from a chronic lung disease.

When Doug broke the news, she grimaced.

“Heartbreak,” he said.

It was 6:30 in the evening.

By 8:35, Faith was dead.

‘I’m gonna marry her’

Faith had gone into the living room a few days earlier to check on John. She talked to him. He didn’t respond.

Faith returned to her room and took off her oxygen tube, quit taking her medicine.

Before he was too ill, John sometimes prayed, “I wish we could just both go together.”

Back around Christmas, he was walking 5 miles a day through their neighborhood in Macon’s Bloomfield area, down below Rocky Creek Road near Burghard Elementary.

“He would go around praying for everybody,” Doug, 54, said.

Up to then, he had taken care of Faith. He washed clothes and dishes, he cooked, and he vacuumed.

“He did everything that she had done for him for 55 years,” Doug said Friday as his family prepared for the couple’s Saturday funeral.

But Faith knew the young boxer she’d fallen in love with was fading.

They’d met in the late 1950s. He was 19, building a Jim Walter home near Hightower Road. She walked by.

“You see that woman right there?” John had said. “I’m gonna marry her.”

John, a 5-foot-11 middleweight, was a Golden Gloves state champ. “Hobo” Newberry, they called him, because he hitchhiked to bouts.

Family legend has it that he once sparred with famed knockout artist Rocky Graziano.

“Rocky took Dad too lightly and didn’t put his mouth guard in, and when he climbed in the ring to spar with Dad, Dad knocked some of his teeth out,” Doug said.

Another story has it that John, who grew up on a farm out Lizella way, once tossed his sixth-grade teacher, a man, out a classroom window. The teacher had thumped John in the head with a book because John had fallen asleep on his desk.

John was expelled. Permanently.

Doug said his father was short of temper, long on common sense, a “collard-green-eating, corn bread rascal.”

‘What have you done to him?’

Faith, who was 4 feet, 11 inches tall, could handle herself, too.

When they were young, when John would pretend to box with her, she would smack him.

As one of their sons put it, John was the rough-cut lumber, and Faith was the plane.

When John took Faith to meet his mother, John’s mother said, “What have you done to him? He doesn’t fight anymore.”

Faith, who grew up around downtown Macon, devoured romance novels and Reader’s Digests.

She waited tables for a time. Later, she lost the ends of two of fingers in a metal-press accident at the plant where she helped make struts for Ford Tauruses.

Sunday dinners at her house were fried chicken affairs, with potato salad, scratch biscuits and gravy. Friday nights it was cubed steak and mashed potatoes.

On a trip to Florida, where she and John lived for a time, a pregnant Faith was craving watermelon. She had John pull over at a melon patch outside Eastman. She hopped out and stole two melons.

“Five or 10 miles down the road,” her son Doug recalled, “we were at a roadside table eating watermelon.”

More recently, Faith learned computers.

She had three Facebook pages. Not that she was into Facebook so much, but from time to time she’d forget her password and have to make a new page.

‘You can go now’

One of the Newberrys’ sons, John, 49, said his mother “worshipped the ground Dad walked on.”

His mother and father, he said, called one another Mama and Daddy.

As his father’s health worsened in the days before his death, his father would cry out, “Mama! Mama!”

“I think she heard him,” Doug said. “And when we told her that he was gone, I think it was like saying to her, ‘You can go now.’ ... I think it was divine. Almost like ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ They planned to go out together.”

In the minutes before Faith died, her children urged her to use her oxygen machine.

She rubbed Doug’s arm with both hands, then pushed the oxygen away.

“Mama,” Doug told her, “I respect this.”

Faith reached out and hugged him.

Doug sat there and cried.

“I knew my mama was telling me goodbye.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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