Troy native played cupid to thousands during careerPublished 11:00pm Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Richard Johnson doesn’t look like the stereotypical cupid but don’t let that fool you.
During his 40 years of service to the Mobile County Probate Court, the Troy native logged between 35,000 and 40,000 marriage ceremonies. Probably closer to 40,000.
How many of those marriages have stood the test of time, Johnson, laughingly, said he has no idea.
“I started marrying couples in July 1973 and, during the late 1980s and mid-1990s, I was averaging marrying 200 couples a month,” Johnson said. “The most couples I married in one day was 56. That was on a Valentine’s Day that came on Friday.”
Johnson’s “chapel of love” was a 9×14 foot conference room and his “ceremony” was a simple one.
“Probate Judge John Moore wrote a ceremony to use but it was long so, after a while, I shorten it because I had so many marriages to perform,” Johnson said. “But, I kept the vows and the I’ do’s. Some of the couples had written their own vows and they were usually hard to read so I would ask them to read to each other. Usually what the women had written was well done and poignant. Can’t say that about most of the men.”
Johnson said about a fourth of the marriage ceremonies he performed in the early years were for college students and young men from Kessler Air Force Base and the Seabees base in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“They were young, away from home for the first time and in love,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “If they were 18 years old, they could get married without a parent’s permission and they did.”
Johnson said he performed many marriage ceremonies for immigrants.
“I’ve performed marriage ceremonies for couples from every country in Central and South America,” he said. “They were college students, couples here on vacation or individuals marrying Americans. I’ve also performed marriage ceremonies for couple from every country in Europe. And with the availability of overseas scholarships and government involvement, I performed marriage ceremonies for couples in every country in the Middle East and West Africa.”
Of all the marriage ceremonies that he has performed, the one that stands most vividly clear is the marriage of the Daisy Duke look alike.
“That was back in the 1970s and Daisy Duke had nothing on that girl,” Johnson said, laughing.
And ‘that girl’ had almost nothing on.
Johnson said she was the prettiest girl that he ever seen and he has seen nothing to equal her beauty since.
“The boy had on flip-flops, a swimsuit and a white sleeveless ‘wife beater’ shirt and a Massey Ferguson cap,” Johnson said. “She had on flip-flops and shorts there were shorter than the pockets and a loose knit top. That was all. And the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. I was 25 years old and my eyes nearly popped out of my head.”
That ceremony was quite a contrast to the ceremony Johnson performed for a couple in their 80s.
“They were in love when they were teenagers but they had lived wonderful lives apart,” Johnson said. “But in their later years, they found each other again and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Did I mention that they were first cousins? First cousins can marry in Alabama.”
Johnson remembers a couple that came from France to Mobile to be married because their ancestors helped settle the area. And he can’t forget the couple he married with the bride in hard labor. The baby was born shortly after the ceremony but, luckily for Johnson, in a hospital.
Johnson said the demographics of the couples wed in civil ceremonies have changed greatly over the years.
“In the 1970s, I would marry men who were 15 to 20 years older than their brides,” he said. “In recent years, women in their 30s and 40s are marrying men in their 20s.”
But no matter the ages of the couples or the circumstances of their marriages, they all stood before him with an ‘unto death do us part” mentality.
Johnson said he would not venture a guess as to how many couples made it that long but he takes heart in knowing that he did his best to get them off to a “civil” start.