Worcester couple reflects on 50 years of love and laughter

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By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

Lillian and Donald Griffin, Sr.,
Photo/Bonnie Adams

Worcester – What is the secret to a long happy marriage? For Lillian and Donald Griffin, Sr., who have been married for 50 years, it is love of course, but also respect and a big helping of humor.

The couple have lived in Worcester for most of their lives. Both were married before and when they wed in 1968, between them had eight sons. They now live at a Colony Retirement Home in Worcester.

As a young man, Donald was a witness to one of the most tragic events in Boston’s history – the Cocoanut Grove Fire in 1942. The blaze was the deadliest nightclub fire in the history of the United States, claiming a total of 492 lives and injuring hundreds more.

“It was after the Holy Cross versus Boston College football game,” Donald recalled. “Everyone was just marching through the city, having fun. Then we saw this huge fire, it was all smoke. It was really tragic.”

Years later, after being discharged from the U.S. Army, he himself became a firefighter, serving the city of Worcester for 25 years. Although thankfully he did not have to fight a blaze like the Cocoanut Grove fire, he did see his share of tragedies, he said, including one fire that had claimed the lives of two children.

Donald also worked for many years a company installing shades and awnings.

Lillian was an inspector for Astra Pharma before staying home to take care of their big family. Six of the boys were still home when they wed, ranging in ages 11 to 17.

“We had a lot of fun with the kids,” she said. “They played a lot of sports which we loved watching. We certainly also had a lot of laundry!”

As much as the couple love to gently joke with each other, their faith is also an important part of their life together. A number of years ago they became “born again” and started participating in services and activities through the Tribe of Life Church.

“It’s still an important part of our lives,” Lillian said.

That faith, the couple added, has helped keep them steady as they go through the aches and pains of aging as well as dealing with loss.

“It helps put things on the right road,” Lillian noted.

Lillian also loves to sing with the group “Jolly Jills,” which until her death in 2015, included her sister Dorothy Longtin.

“We perform at local nursing homes,” Lillian said. “A lot of our songs are ones that were popular in the 1940s.”

“I come from a very musical family. My mother had a beautiful soprano’s voice,” she added.

Over the years, the Griffins also enjoyed traveling. On one trip they befriended a couple from New Jersey, who they continued to meet up with years afterwards. For his 80th birthday, Donald, his two sons and eight friends went to Ireland. While there, they visited Ennis, where his mother, one of 20 children had hailed from.

“Half of them ended up in Worcester,” he said of the siblings.

Until recently, the couple used to walk up to five miles a day. They still enjoy going on road trips throughout the region, going as Donald said, “North, south, or east of Worcester.”

Living at the Colony Retirement Home has been a blessing for both Lillian and Donald, they said. And in a delightful twist, an old friend of Donald’s, Kevin Gallant, now also lives there.

“I had not seen him for 57 years,” Donald marveled.

But there is one reason in particular, he added, that he is most happy about their decision to move to Colony.

“I know that Lillian will be safe and happy here if anything happens to me,” he said. “We have everything we need here.  She will be all set. This [decision] was all about her.”