Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tobin and Seventy Years Together
February is a month celebrated for romance. All over the world, chocolates and flowers are bought, decorated with pink hearts meant to symbolize love. Valentine’s Day has become a pretty picture; couples finding each other or taking the time to reconnect over a romantic gesture. The holiday commercials make us all yearn for that special someone. So much so, that it’s easy to forget what a real love story looks like.
Robert and Audrey Tobin recently celebrated their 70th Wedding Anniversary this past January at Fox Manor. And after years of experience, they can both tell you that love isn’t always wrapped in a pretty pink bow.
Audrey was born in London, England, and her childhood was spent in the midst of WWII. She grew up facing the Battle of Britain and the London bombings. As a result, she moved with her family a lot in an effort to obtain a relative amount of safety.
“It got to a point of droves and droves of aircrafts flying over, and you didn’t know where the bombs would land. I spent a lot of time in air raid shelters,” said Audrey.
At age twelve, she was all set to be evacuated to America. She had a pen pal in San Francisco who invited her to stay with their family, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I had my papers ready and my clothes packed. Then they sent us a letter saying the program had been discontinued.”
A boat carrying children to the safety of the states had been torpedoed. The transportation of children to America was no longer an option. Instead, Audrey and her mother were evacuated to the Midlands of England, better known as Worcestershire.
“We rented a cottage in the country,” said Audrey.
Her father stayed behind and worked as a roof spotter. It was his job to watch for incendiary bombs and report where they landed to the Fire Brigade.
At the age of sixteen, she got a job as a Switchboard Operator in the American 93rd General Hospital. That was where she met Robert Tobin.
“I drove the Commander’s car. I got a call to pick this young lady up until further notice,” said Robert.
The hospital was five miles from where Audrey lived with her mother and the road was very dark to travel at night. Until that time, she had taken her bike to work every day. Robert made sure she got home safely and eventually asked her out on a date.
“A lot of our big dates were bike riding,” Audrey explained. A small smile touched her lips. There were a lot of little villages where they could explore, picnic, and just enjoy each other’s company. “That’s what everyone did around then. There was beautiful countryside.”
When she went back to London, Robert visited from time-to-time, and their relationship continued to grow, though they still faced their share of hardships.
“A lot of the time, he wasn’t supposed to come up from London,” said Audrey.
Robert had his own Jeep, which made the trip easier. But it wasn’t without risk. Traveling about England wasn’t always safe.
“I was coming back from a long trip. I wanted to see London,” Robert explained. As he drew near to the city, the roads got busier and the traffic slowed. He was near the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) Headquarters at the west end of London when the bombings started. “The police tried to get me down in the air shelter, but I was there unofficially. The second bomb blew out the front of the building.”
“That was the times we lived in,” Audrey added. “Anywhere you happened to be, when the air raid went off, you had to seek shelter.”
She recalled taking the bus through London. Upon reaching the London Bridge, the Conductor was stopped and forced to turn around. “The docks below were all on fire. The sky was really red and the bridge itself was hot to touch.”
As the end of the war drew near, Robert and Audrey began to feel the pressure of time. Knowing Robert would leave for home soon, they decided to get married. The process wasn’t easy, however. They needed permission from the Camp Chaplain. Paperwork had to be filed, listing their background information. They also had to explain why they wanted to be wed.
At the end of it all, the Chaplain denied their request. The reasons for his denial were based on differences in religion. Robert was Catholic and Audrey was Anglican.
“At the time, the two churches were different,” said Audrey.
The Chaplain didn’t believe their marriage could work and worried that Audrey only wished to marry in order to escape the conditions of war.
“Robert was so angry,” recalled Audrey, laughing softly. “He went back to base and his superior officer filed paperwork, giving him a pass to go to London and get married.”
They had a civil ceremony January 19, 1946.
Robert returned to America in May of 1946 and Audrey followed in early June. She took a converted hospital ship, The Saturnia, to New York City with six hundred other war brides.
“There were a lot of girls who married G.I.s,” said Audrey. And many of them had never left England before. Not only were they leaving the familiarity of home, they were bound for destinations remarkably different from the environment they were used to. “Some were destined for the Kentucky Hills. There was nowhere like that in England.”
From New York, Audrey had another three day journey before she reached Bay City, Michigan, where Robert grew up.
“She stepped off the train looking like a prima donna,” laughed Robert.
“I was wearing what we wore at home.” For Audrey that meant a long skirt, wool blazer, gloves and a hat. She was dressed for the weather in England and looked vastly different from the girls in Bay City.
Robert’s grandparents had arrived at the train station with him, to meet Audrey for the first time. “My grandparents were just ordinary people,” recalled Robert. “And she steps off the train wearing gloves.”
Robert’s uncle found them a small upstairs apartment, a task that wasn’t easy after the war. Neither was furnishing their apartment.
“You were put on a waiting list for any kind of furniture,” said Audrey.
With hard work and determination, they made their house a home. Robert went to work for the Coca-Cola Company, starting as a route salesman. He worked his way up in stages, eventually landing a management position.
Audrey also found a job, working in the office of the Bay Cooperative Cannery until she learned some unexpected news.
“I didn’t know I was pregnant at first. I got so sick from the smell of the canned tomatoes,” said Audrey. She gave up her job at the cannery after a few months, but it would be at least another five years before she could stomach the smell of stewed tomatoes.
In June of 1947, Robert and Audrey welcomed their first child, a daughter they named Barbara. They had a total of six children, a far cry from the life Audrey was used to as an only child. Robert had only two younger sisters. The youngest of which passed away at age three from polio.
As always, they managed, finding delight in the little things and leaning on each other.
“You just get up in the morning and do what you need to do,” said Audrey.
Robert took an early retirement in 1981, after thirty-two years with the Coca-Cola Company. He and Audrey decided to retire near the water and purchased property on Lake Huron between Rogers City and Cheboygan, Michigan.
“It’s beautiful. It’s not busy like the other side of the state. It’s quiet,” said Audrey.
Living near the water afforded them the time to spend with their family. They have fourteen grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren, many of which would visit during the summer.
They also traveled a lot, especially in the south. Through his connections at Coca-Cola, Robert met Bobby Allison the Race Car Driver. They became life-long friends, and it wasn’t uncommon to find Robert and Audrey cheering at the race track.
Seventy years later, Robert and Audrey are still very much in love, facing new challenges together. Their marriage is an example of true partnership and devotion, and definitely a story to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. But both Robert and Audrey know that it takes more than romance and love to get where they are today.
“It takes a lot of tolerance and patience,” said Audrey. “When you make a commitment, you stick with it.”