The James H. Quillen VA Medical Center recently hosted a wedding between a beloved Community Living Center resident and his best friend.
Veteran Paul Brown, 81, married Juanita Ratliff, 81, in front of a small gathering of friends and family in the medical center’s chapel. But this special ceremony was only one small piece of their story. It started in the 1960s, when Brown married his first wife, Reba Ellen, who also happened to be Ratliff’s sister.
In 2007, Reba Ellen, close to passing away, made her final request. She asked the two people she loved the most – her husband and her sister – to promise to take care of each other. You see, Juanita’s husband, Carl, had passed away the year before, leaving her on the same path Brown was preparing to walk. Brown and Ratliff were both at her side when she made the request, and, as Brown told it, “that kind of put us together.”
Ratliff has now been gracefully overseeing the care of her brother-in-law for more than a decade. What started as a promise quickly developed into a meaningful friendship and found its place in their history as an enduring love story. Their families seamlessly accepted and encouraged their relationship. Over the past six years they began to date, and not long ago, began to attend church together. Upon Brown’s most recent admission to the VAMC, he had an idea. “Let’s get married,” he asked her, and an idea that may have seemed foreign years ago suddenly felt “as right as rain” to the both of them.
Brown served in the Army from 1954-57 in the 11th Airborne, 457th Field Artillery Battalion Motor Pool, during which time he was stationed in Munich, Germany. When asked to talk about one of his most memorable experiences in the Army, he shared with a smile, “I think it was New Year’s Eve. I dispatched myself a jeep and it was the Colonel’s jeep because I was the battalion dispatcher at the time. And we went to town in it and did a little drinking… and we rolled the jeep over… and we got in a little trouble over it.” He went on to concede that the battalion attempted to charge him for the incident, but in the end, dropped most of the charges.
When Ratliff was asked if she knew she was marrying such a troublemaker, the couple laughed as she replied, “I don’t think he could top me!” The troublemakers have made it official and are now known as Mr. and Mrs. Brown, living out the rest of their days fulfilling their promise to take care of each other.
The James H. Quillen VAMC and Community Living Center staff members were honored to be a part of such a special day for two special people. The staff provided a cake and a reception for the family and friends who had gathered to celebrate the happy couple. The couple also sings the praises of the hospital and staff who take care of Brown at JHQVAMC. A team effort from the staff, paired with supportive family and friends, resulted in a beautiful ceremony to celebrate the love of a Veteran and his best friend.