Betty and Jim Kelly

Betty and Jim Kelly were married Feb. 16, 2019, in Madisonville, Tennessee. They actually met 60 years ago in college and dated for two years, but circumstances split the two apart for more than 50 years. In the intervening years, they each married to spouses who later died. Jim said “you never forget your first love.” Jim worked in Firestone’s synthetic division.

Many men remember the first time they met the girl they end up marrying, but Jim Kelly remembers the exact date.

“It was Jan. 2, 1962. I remember because it was the first day we were back on campus after Christmas break — and the day before that I helped my uncles butcher five pigs,” he said.

He was in the student center at the former Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee, when he saw Betty.

“You never forget your first love,” he said.

She was from Virginia and he was from Ohio, and they had both come to the private liberal arts college in Tennessee.

“We dated for about two years, and then we both got sick,” Betty Kelly said.

There had been an outbreak of Hepatitis A and they were among 50 students who contracted it.

“I went home to Virginia and he went to Ohio,” she said.

That was before cell phones and Facebook and email, and they lost touch.

“Then life went on,” Jim said.

They each met and married other spouses and had children.

“My husband, who I married in '69, was in the Navy,” Betty said. “He died in '91 — we had just moved to Orlando.”

She moved to Inverness in 2012.

Jim, who lived in Ohio, was married for 52 years before his wife died three years ago.

“After she had passed away, I was in a funk and started thinking, ‘I wonder whatever happened to Betty.’ So, I started looking online,” he said.

Hiwassee College was planning a reunion and Jim received a notice.

“They had a list of people they could find — I was on that list — a list of people who they knew had died and a list of people they couldn’t find. Betty was on the ‘we can’t find’ list,” he said.

He found out what Betty’s married name was and an Internet search located someone with that name in North Dakota who “may have a criminal record.”

Although he knew many records searches say that, he still likes to joke, “I was sure she murdered somebody.”

However, the Betty in North Dakota was not his Betty.

“Then I remembered her brother who lived in Virginia, and I knew the town she was from,” Jim said. “I called several times, but no one answered. Finally, someone did and said, ‘You’ve been calling this number a lot.’

“I said I went to school with Betty and was looking up former classmates,” Jim said.

Her brother said he wouldn’t give him her number, but he would give her his.

“She called me a week or two later,” Jim said.

She called him on Oct. 2, the day before his birthday, and they continued their phone conversation for more than six months.

“Then I got sick two years ago, and he came down here (Inverness) to see me,” Betty said. “He never left until he took me to Ohio last year. Now we’re snowbirds.”

They got married on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, in Madisonville, Tennessee, the town where they met 58 years ago.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or

(1) comment


True love will never die

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