Ask Jack Bailey to open his wallet, and he’ll show you a picture of his wife Pat, beautifully adorned in the wedding dress her mother made.
It was taken the day Jack and Pat Bailey were married on Aug. 14, 1953. When Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. When the No. 1 song on the charts was “Vaya con Dios (May God Be With You)” from Les Paul and Mary Ford. And the same day a father created a light plastic ball for his 12-year-old son, and called it a Wiffle ball.
Yet, this photo, perfectly preserved in his wallet, is the only picture Jack has from that special day 60 years ago. A flash flood in the mid-1970s claimed the couple’s wedding mementos, taking away both pictures and the dress Pat’s mom made for her trip down the aisle.
But as beautiful as Pat was on her wedding day, Jack says she’s even more beautiful now as they celebrate their diamond anniversary.
“I love her to death,” Jack said, without taking his eyes off Pat, sitting just across the living room in their Wesley Chapel home. “For a woman who is 79-and-a-half, she is one of the most attractive women in the world.”
A small smile cracks through Pat’s tough exterior, but then she waves him off.
“He is going to get every last month in there until I turn 80,” she said. “But I guess as I always say, you hit middle age at 93.”
The Bailey home is filled with everything they love — pictures of their two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. And pieces of Scripture they hold dear from The Holy Bible.
“Jesus Christ is our savior,” Jack said. “He is the leader of our home, and for the last 20 years, he has been No. 1 in our relationship. I just wish every couple could have what we got.”
Jack said he made a promise to Christ when he was 12 years old and growing up in Tampa. While other boys were praying for pickup trucks, all he wanted was a good wife and a good son.
Two years later, he would meet Pat for the first time.
“We lived about two blocks apart,” Pat said. “It was impossible for us to miss each other.”
Jack said he was intrigued by the fact she never wore shorts, and never enticed the boys to look at her.
“She was with her mother and two sisters visiting someone across the street from me, and I saw her for the first time,” Jack said. “That memory is embedded in my head. I can’t bring up in my mind what happened yesterday, but that image will never leave me.”
The two started to date, but the relationship was hardly storybook perfect. In fact, over their three-year courtship, they did nothing but fight. However, after Jack served his country in the U.S. Navy, he returned home and proposed to Pat. And when they were married soon after, Jack discovered a pleasant surprise.
“She pulled a total reverse on me,” he said. “She was 100 percent wife, and when she said, ‘I do,’ she meant it.”
Jack and Pat started their family immediately, staying in Tampa. Pat took on a job at the American Can Co. on 22nd Street, and Jack found himself going into business with his father, starting a company that would become Florida Boiler Sales & Service, which his son Jack Bailey Jr. — or Denny Bailey to his friends — still runs today. The company serviced steam generators primarily, which help create power.
Jack himself didn’t retire until four years ago. And while he misses the work, he doesn’t miss spending more time with Pat, and the congregation they’ve frequented for the last two decades, Faith Baptist Church of Seffner.
Jack is the associate pastor there, serving under Pastor J.W. Carr, who founded the church more than 50 years ago. Jack devotes his life to his faith, always acknowledging the 20-year period in his life when he strayed from the church before suffering a heart attack in the early 1990s.
It took that brush with death — when he was just 60 — to remind him the promise he made at 12. Jesus had held up his part of the bargain, and Jack realized he was not holding up his.
He cites the popular biblical story of Abraham ready to sacrifice his son Isaac simply because God asked him. It was a test of Abraham’s devotion, but not to prove it to God, but instead to prove it to Abraham himself, Jack said.
“God already knows all things, and here this was God telling Abraham that ‘now I know that you know,’ and that makes all the difference in the world,” Jack said. Turning to Pat, “I know how much she loves me, and I don’t have to worry about that. The love is strong, and it will carry us through everything in life.
“And she also knows that I love her, and I would defend her with my last breath. And that is what makes life so good.”
Family and friends from the present and past gathered to celebrate Jack and Pat Bailey’s anniversary last month with a special dinner and party. They did stop to remember those who had joined them a decade before for their Golden Anniversary, but were no longer with them to celebrate this one.
And despite their vitality, Jack and Pat know the odds are against them to be doing it all again for their 70th anniversary in 2023.
But that doesn’t faze them.
“I tell her I’m going to die tomorrow all the time, just to make sure she’s going to miss me,” Jack said. “And there is no doubt.”