After 37 years, Ray Beaty and Len Leatherwood have learned a lot about what it takes to make a marriage last. Beyond looking in each other’s eyes and seeing the passion and infatuate love of their 20s, the couple, who reside in the historic Lyon house on Crockett in Sherman, describe their connection as balancing Ray’s sense of humor with Len’s tactful approach to the life that they face together.
In their nearly four decades together the pair has learned to love each other’s flaws.
“When we met, I was 24 and he was 19,” Len explains. “I was a therapist and he was an orderly at a psychiatric hospital in this area. We became best friends. I decided to move to Arkansas to be nearer to my boyfriend. Then after a while, the relationship ended. Ray was renting my rental in Denison near the hospital. I came back here to see him.”
The friends had a wonderful night and admit that in their time apart, they had both missed each other terribly.
At the end of the night, Ray looked at Len and said that he had been waiting for her all of this time and so she needed to tell him now if she was interested in him because he could not wait anymore. He had to move on.
“I had nothing so I had nothing to move on to,” Ray admits jokingly. “I have no game. I was lucky though because she didn’t catch my bluff.”
That day in 1979, the couple hugged each other and their embrace has held strong ever since then.
“I would say that as I have gotten to know Ray, I know I can really really trust him,” Len says of her husband, who designs outdoor spaces and pools for $50 million homes. “He can say something now that 30 years ago would have driven me crazy. I would have been like, ‘I cannot believe you said that.’ Now, I see the world through his perspective. I understand why he said it. One of his main things in life is to look at things really honestly and I kind of grew up in the rose-colored glasses. The combo is pretty important.”
At this point, Len says that the question of how to deliver information has been answered. Ray will go the most direct route and she appreciates that.
“I would also say that we were an unlikely pair to make it,” she explains. “I am five years older. I have had several people say around the time that we got together, ‘What are you doing? He is still trying to figure out what he was going to do.’ But, I knew on some type of soul level that this was the guy and I decided that it did not matter about the other stuff. I had been engaged to a guy in medical school. My life would have been set, but I knew I would not have been happy there.”
For Ray, the strength in his and Len’s marriage has been in the bluntness.
“I like all of the broken bits and pieces,” he says of his wife’s vices and virtues. “That is where the interest is. It is like the Thanksgiving dinner you remember is the one where the dog gets the turkey. All of the others are kind of a blur. It’s about all the little blips. Life is like that. Perfection is boring.”
Life is like the odd note written in a symphony.
“It’s like bam,” he demonstrates. “That should not be there. But that is what makes it amazing. This house, us — if my wife was a Barbie doll or something, she would not be as dimensional. There would be no attractiveness. It’s all about expression and life — the flaws. I like things to have character. It’s about not understanding it all or liking it all. It’s about wanting to know more. It all fits into the same puzzle.”
While the first pieces of Ray’s and Len’s puzzle were laid in that psychiatric hospital, the picture really began taking shape when the couple faced a morality issue early on.
“When we were deciding whether or not to get married, I was working at a job that had a morality clause,” Len says. “It said that I could not live with someone without being married. I was the only mental health clinician in three counties. I had made friends with this ex-Catholic priest and nun who had left the order and the priesthood to get married. They had three children. I met them through an Episcopal group that they were involved in.”
Ray and Len went to them to talk about marriage since they did not want to be apart but had not discussed marriage.
“He asked where we saw this going,” Len explains. “We were like well maybe one of these days if things go well, we will get married. He said why not go ahead and get married. I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding?’ I looked at Ray and said well would you want to do that?’”
He said absolutely.
“We went to the shores of the White River in Mountain View, Arkansas, and walked,” Len says. “As we were walking, Ray convinced me to marry him. He gave a very spirited argument.”
Later, Len was visiting the same friends, probably complaining about something Ray did and thinking back now, she did not realize the wisdom in her friend’s words.
“The wife said, ‘The very things that you are mad about are the things that make him unique,’” she remembers. “I understand now. I see the world much more through Ray’s perspective. I see the world the way he does in a way that I never could before. I do appreciate the things that drove me crazy before. I really admire it now. It’s one of my favorite things about him. He also has an exuberance for life. I love that.”
Also, the jokes, Len says keep her loving the simple moments with Ray.
“Young love is idealized and it’s not real,” Ray says of his definition of love. “It is all in your imagination. Then there are the reality years where you have to deal with reality. Then you learn to love the flaws. Now, I love her quirks more than her successes. I love what I know more than some ideal — which is the plastic model thing. Len is a real person. She is a lot more entertaining, fun and interesting and will bring you chicken soup when you have a fever.”
Ray and Len have three children ranging in age from 26 to 34. They raised them between Beverly Hills and Sherman. For many years, Ray and Len lived in a Victorian home on the corner of Grand Avenue and Pacific Street in Sherman.
“We wanted to keep our Texas roots so strong and so deep,” Len says. “That is why we always wanted to have a house here. We did not want our children to forget who they are and where they came from and what our values are. They think of themselves as Texans, but they also have that balance between the two areas.”
Now, Ray and Len are more than empty nesters. They have decorated more than 600 Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurants and renovated several historic homes in the Sherman area. They know not only what it takes to be partners in business, they have learned the art of being partners in life as well as how to maintain a friendship.
“We have a really independent life,” Len says of the couple’s plans to keep working together. “We have always kept moving. Our children have said that they do not want us running around so much, but then they are also glad that we do because they do not want us calling them so much. We do think that it is good to continue living. It’s also a great time of life.”
When the children left, it was important not to slow down.
“Retirement sounds like the most creepy thing,” Ray says about his business ideas that he thinks could last him the next five lifetimes. “I do not even know what to do. Neither of us have much of a quit plan on the horizon. We do not really have time for that right now. We enjoy being grandparents and seeing them every week, but we like to stay busy and have plans.”
Ray’s excitement for life is one way that Len stays excited about the next chapter of life.
“There are two reasons that I married Ray,” she says. “I have never met anyone as smart as Ray and I have never met anyone who can make me laugh as much as Ray. If you want a good recipe for looking for a husband then that is the one.”
“No game and a lot of jokes,” Ray laughed at himself.
For couples that question whether they are a match made in heaven, the advice that Ray and Len have is simple. Love is about settling in and commitment.
“I have never updated my relationship with you,” Ray looks at Len. “Once we decided to get married, this is what we were doing. There has not been that much evolution. The details are important, but it is what we did. When we started working on this house, it was not like we were going to do a little bit and then bail out. We were in it for the long haul. We knew we would be staying here till it is done.”
And while it may have taken time to get each other in focus, Len says when things got hard, she recognized that arguing was not a sign of a bad choice.
“In the normal range of relationships, it’s not about that,” she says of their early years. “One of the things that I did, which was really healing and helpful for me, was when I got mad, I said instead to myself, ‘Ray is a good man and he is doing the best that he can. And, you are a good woman and you are doing the best you can too. Period.’”
That became Len’s mantra and every time she wanted to go into the litany of all the things that Ray had done wrong, she began repeating her mantra.
“I am happier in our marriage than I have ever been,” she says.