Fond memories of couple devoted to Fenwick, each other

Date Published: 
August 8, 2014

The AlexandersThe AlexandersAfter 65 years of marriage, John and Betty Alexander were still a team, ever in love with each other and with Fenwick Island. Passing away in July, within six days of each other, the Alexanders were even memorialized with a rare double obituary, published in the Coastal Point on July 18.

Summering for decades on Oyster Bay Drive, Elizabeth “Betty” Alexander, 86, and John “Jerry” Alexander, 87, seemed to attract life.

“The love of their lives was Fenwick Island,” said their daughter, Carolyn Wheale of North Carolina. “I would say most of their friends are down in Fenwick. The whole family’s been meeting there and going there for 50 years, just about.”

The Alexanders were always the first to greet new neighbors.

“Every afternoon, they had their own little happy hour on the back porch,” said neighbor Sally Craig.

“They were in their 70s when we first met them, but they were two of the most widely wholly alive individuals that I’ve ever met,” said neighbor Cheryl Himmelfarb. “A highlight of our beach weekend would be happy hour with John and Betty.”

Even though they were in their 30s, Himmelfarb and her now-husband, Paul, said the Alexanders “were fun. They had wonderful stories and were such wonderful people. … They were just sharp and funny and fun.”

“They were so young at heart,” Sally Craig said. “You’d never know they were 82, 87.”

“They loved it when new neighbors would come and they were a young family with kids,” Wheale said. Even this year, in assisted living, “Mom tended to stay in her room and befriended all the staff in their 20s and 30s. And they loved her.”

Claiming one of the earlier houses on the former West Virginia Drive (costing about $35,000 in 1975) the Alexanders originally had a clear view of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse from their back porch.

But the population grew, and the Alexanders welcomed their neighbors with open arms.

“We grew up knowing a lot of their children and their children’s children,” Wheale said.

Wheale said her own son worked in town.

“They were still so much in love after all these years. John was so devoted to her,” said Craig, who remembers seeing John take care of Betty in her wheelchair after she developed Parkinson’s disease: “He’d walk her down the street and back — just so devoted.”

“My father was taking care of my mother for [several] years,” Wheale said. “They wanted to stay in their home. They’re very independent. … He was really dedicated to taking care of her.”

After years spent living in Maryland, they downsized, keeping a condo near medical centers in Annapolis, Md., a summer house in Fenwick and a home in Naples, Fla.

“They made many friends in all those places,” Wheale said.

After marrying in 1949 and raising two children (Wheale and John “Jack” Alexander of Mt. Airy, Md.) Betty became a legal secretary, then executive secretary to the director of the EPA for many years.

John was in the U.S. Army, then became a bank examiner for the U.S. Treasury.

“I understand he was the last one hired who did not go to college,” Wheale said. “He had such good skills they hired him as a bank examiner, [and he] worked his way up in the bank.”

Elected executive vice president of American National Bank of Maryland, he retired as senior vice president of First National Bank of Baltimore (now M&T bank).

They were proud of their work, but they loved to travel, possibly because they weren’t able to travel when they were little. So the Alexanders filled their passports with stamps from Japan, Mexico, most of Europe and their beloved tropics.

“My mother’s face lit up when she talked about traveling,” Wheale said. “She just sat and thought how she never dreamed she’d be in a place like this, just seeing different cultures and seeing history.”

Although he took up golf at age 71 and was known for bicycling through Fenwick regularly, John’s own health issues eventually caught up to him.

This spring, when John no longer had the energy to care for Betty, she moved into Sunrise of Annapolis assisted living, and he was back at home in the condo across the street. John moved into Betty’s suite a few months later.

“She passed away peacefully … and when my father realized she had passed away, he said that it was his time, too,” Wheale said. “They passed away within six days of each other.”

The Alexanders were cared for in their last weeks by Wheale, her husband, Duncan, her brother, Jack, and his wife, Lynn.

“He took care of himself,” Wheale said of her father. “But when you get old and your immunity breaks down,” there’s a limit, she said. “It was very fortunate he was in no pain. We made sure he was comfortable. He didn’t linger. … They received last rites, and they both let go when it was time.

“We were all, of course, very sad, because they were great parents, always there for us,” Wheale said. “I was humbled by the number of friends that wrote to us, sent food, surrounded us with love.”

Betty passed away peacefully on July 2, and John followed on July 8.

“My father was very faithful to my mom and faithful to their children. They had a very, very wonderful life,” Wheale said. “They were always the last couple standing to dance. They loved to dance.

“It was so sad, and yet I can look back on their lives and see a lot of good stuff,” Wheale said, from children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to loving friends and neighbors.

Himmelfarb remembered them as “two very special people who had clearly such a strong love for one another.”

“They will be greatly missed. And even all summer … there’s a void without them. It’s not the same. But we have many wonderful, wonderful memories.”

As both got older, Wheale said, the Fenwick neighbors were always prepared in case of a medical emergency.

“That’s what kind of street it was,” she said.

“Fenwick’s magical. We will probably return for years to come,” Wheale said. “There aren’t many beaches that are like Fenwick.

There will be a visitation and memorial service held for Betty and John Alexander on Sunday, Aug. 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Lasting Tributes Cremation & Funeral Care at 814 Bestgate Road in Annapolis, Md. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to Hospice of the Chesapeake; 90 Ritchie Hwy.; Pasadena, MD 21122. Condolences may be sent online at www.LastingTributesFuneralCare.com.