Sunday, July 24, 2016

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A high-flying love that has lasted for six decades

042412kitty-cookCHARLOTTE — On a clear evening in 1948, Murrell Cook took his girlfriend Kitty up in a twin-engine plane – just the two of them – to watch the sun set over Charlotte. She thought nothing more of it than another chance to practice her flying with the World War II vet who was helping her earn her pilot's license.

But when they were flying high above the city, Murrell used that opportunity to pop the question.

"I figured if I had her up there, there wasn't much she could do about it!" Murrell laughs.

Kitty said yes, and the couple has spent the past 63 years as life partners, flying partners and business partners. Murrell and Kitty say they have been each other's biggest support in all things throughout their marriage.

Pictured: Kitty and Murrell Cook (Photos provided by Mary B. Worthington | Catholic News Herald)

"I have always had great respect for Murrell and his knowledge of running the business," Kitty says. "If we had a problem, we talked about it."

042412kitty-cook2Murrell and Kitty met in 1946 when Murrell returned from the South Pacific, where he served as a U.S. Air Force pilot during World War II. Murrell has only been a Catholic for one year, but they have shared Sunday Mass together since their second date more than six decades ago.

This is what happened: Murrell fell asleep on their first date – a movie at the drive-in theatre in Gastonia. Scrambling for a way to make it up, he called Kitty and offered to drive her to church the next morning at St. Peter's.

"He came in and sat down and stayed the whole time!" Kitty recalls.

"And I've continued to go to Mass," adds Murrell, who converted to Catholicism and entered the Church last Easter.

Their children attended St. Gabriel and Mercy High School (now Charlotte Catholic High School). Murrell even served as an usher, and he and Kitty formed a strong friendship with both pastor Father Jean Paul Byron and with the teaching sisters at St. Gabriel School.

"We used to take the nuns out to the Riverview Inn for dinner and a beer. I didn't even like beer, but I would drink it with the sisters!" Murrell laughs. "Father Byron joked that I was more Catholic than the Catholics."

The Cooks always had tremendous adventures together as a family. For many years, they spent weekends at a cottage in Myrtle Beach. To Kitty's great surprise, one day Murrell confessed that he never liked the beach. "I enjoyed it because you enjoyed it so much," he told her.

After that, they bought a small plane, a Scout, and a house at Beech Mountain. They spent their weekends where their three now-grown children "had a lot of freedom," Murrell notes. "The kids would be gone all day exploring and we never worried about them."

"We even took the nuns up there once!" he adds.

In 1988, Kitty told Murrell that he was too old to fly, and they sold their last plane.

"Then I told him, I never liked it! I never liked the mountains!" says Kitty with delight. "So I guess we were even, then!"

Another time, Murrell told Kitty he wanted to trade in his 1953 Ford Thunderbird for a larger car so he could take clients out for lunch. Kitty was driving a slightly newer station wagon at the time, so she had a solution that would work for both of them: "I'll trade cars with you, Murrell," she said. "But you have to put it in my name!"

Murrell agreed to the swap, and the Thunderbird became Kitty's baby. She drove it daily, and when it began to show signs of wear 20 years later, she became the first female graduate of Central Piedmont Community College's mechanic program so she could rebuild the engine.

"I just couldn't leave my baby overnight at one of those garages," she explains.

"I didn't know one tool from another – well, I knew what a hammer was," she adds. "Even now, I can't diagnose a sick car, but I can take the engine apart and put all the new parts in it and put it back together."

The Thunderbird became a show winner and still starts up easily for a drive every once in a while.

The stress of daily life and business never got Murrell and Kitty down. Kitty explains that respect and communication have been the key to a happy marriage that has lasted more than six decades.

"For me, one word would be respect," she says. "We never had an argument. I could never say anything to Murrell that would hurt his feelings. I could never imagine doing or saying anything to hurt him."

Murrell agrees, adding, "We have always had a very loving family. Our children and grandchildren are that way, even our friends."

"We raised our children together," Kitty explains. "If there was a controversy, we worked it out together in private. It was never 'Mom said this and Dad said that.' We always approached everything as a team."

Kitty now suffers from recurring minor strokes – she had one the morning before this interview – and Murrell continues to stay by her side. With her declining health, they now are unable to go to Mass, but Murrell is still the "driving force" for their faith.

"Now, I try to remember to read her the devotions each Sunday and the ladies from (St. Thomas Aquinas) Church bring us Communion each Tuesday," says Murrell.

— Mary B. Worthington, correspondent


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