Marriage of newlyweds, ages 96 and 95, questioned

By Matthew Barakat
Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — In some ways, Rebecca Wright doesn’t understand all the fuss over her 96-year-old mother’s recent marriage. After all, she says, “Anybody who wants to get married must have a little dementia.”

The courts, though, and some of Wright’s other relatives aren’t amused. And the future for newlyweds Edith Hill, 96, and Eddie Harrison, 95, is very much uncertain.

The two have been companions for more than a decade after a Hollywood-style meet-cute — they struck up a conversation while standing in line for lottery tickets, with one of the tickets turning into a $2,500 winner. They married earlier this year, with a 95-year-old church elder presiding over the ceremony, no less.

“I guess I wanted company,” Hill said in an interview, explaining why she married. “I wanted somebody I could help, and they could help me. ... We were both single. My husband was gone. His wife was gone. We became the best of friends.”

Robin Wright, Hill’s granddaughter, said the relationship is more romantic than Hill’s explanation allows.

“You catch them kissing all the time,” she said. “They’re actually in love. Really in love. ... I know he’s part of the reason she gets up every morning.”

Legally, though, the wedding has been problematic. Hill has been declared legally incapacitated for several years. A judge said at a hearing last month that he believes Wright — co-guardian over her mother along with Rebecca Wright’s sister who opposed the marriage — acted improperly by taking her mother to get married without the court’s permission. Cary Cuccinelli, representing the sister who opposed the marriage, Patricia Barber, said at last month’s hearing that the wedding occurred without other family members’ knowledge, and that it complicated the matter of how to eventually distribute Hill’s estate, which includes property on the edge of Old Town Alexandria, worth about $475,000, according to real estate assessments.

“Legally, Mr. Harrison now has a right to a portion of Ms. Hill’s estate,” she told the judge, saying it also complicates decisions over who will care for Hill, and where she will live.

While the judge, James Clark, found the marriage to have been improper, he also worried that breaking up the couple could “create a circumstance in Ms. Hill’s life that she doesn’t deserve.” Clark ended up removing Wright and Barber as Hill’s guardians, and appointing a lawyer, Jessica Niesen, instead. The judge instructed Niesen “to investigate the marriage and take all actions appropriate and reasonable to protect the best interests of Edith Hill.”

Niesen, in a phone interview, said she is still gathering facts and has an upcoming appointment to meet Hill and Harrison. While there are numerous issues to be sorted out, including questions about inheritance and where the couple will live, she would just as soon let the marriage continue.

“I see no reason to break this couple up, if there is no harm,” she said. One solution might be a postnuptial agreement preventing Harrison from inheriting Hill’s estate.

Niesen said that if she finds that the marriage is not in Hill’s best interest, she has the authority to pursue a divorce or possibly an annulment on Hill’s behalf.

Wright said she remained concerned authorities would try to break up the marriage. She also opposes a postnuptial agreement, saying the marriage should be respected just as any other.

The interracial aspect of their marriage is unique as well. She is black and he is white. In fact, the longtime Virginians would not have been allowed to marry if they had met in their 20s or 30s or 40s, given Virginia’s law banning interracial marriages at the time.

Wright says she has concluded after doing some research through Guinness Book of World Records that the two are likely the nation’s oldest interracial newlyweds.

Edith Hill, for her part, doesn’t give the interracial aspect of her marriage too much thought, despite the fact that for half of her life it would have been illegal.

Asked about the old laws barring interracial marriage, she said, “That’s done away with, isn’t it?”

For now, the two live together in Annandale, with Rebecca and Robin Wright helping care for them. Rebecca Wright said the two do a good job taking care of each other — his hearing is not great, and her vision is not great. They dance, listen to music and take walks, which has improved their health.

And Rebecca Wright said the companionship two people of the same age provide each other can’t be underestimated.

“They can talk about things that nobody else knows about,” she said.

Eddie Harrison said he and Hill never fight, and they both understood what getting married would mean.

“The first time I married I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I was 18. She was 26. Two weeks later I wanted a divorce.”