May 7, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Longtime Issaquah resident Bessie Burton clearly remembers the day she first laid eyes on her future husband of 60 years, Robert.
She was standing on a street corner in Deer Lodge, Mont., just before her shift at a local restaurant began, when a slick yellow car caught her eye.
“Robert drove by in a 1949 Ford convertible with the lid down and I emphatically asked, ‘Who is that?’” she said. “I saw him and that was it.”
The courtship did not start immediately, since Bessie worked nights, making it difficult to form a relationship. During that time, Robert dated other girls and visited other restaurants, Bessie said.
He soon became a regular at the diner Bessie worked at, once spending an entire day at the restaurant.
“Once I started going in there, that was it. I dumped them other restaurants,” Robert said with a smile.
The Burtons dated for about a year before it was time for Robert, who was only in town temporarily to help construct power lines, to return home to Washington. He could not dream of heading back to the Pacific Northwest without Bessie, though.
“When the job ended, I was devastated,” she said. “But then, he said, ‘Well, will you marry me?’ and I said ‘Yes.’ So, we picked up and moved here.”
A simple wedding
One of the many things that attracted Bessie, 81, to Robert, 87, was his positive relationship with her young son from a previous marriage. Robert also had two kids from a previous marriage.
“He took right to my son,” she said. “That was important to me. I wouldn’t date unless my son went with me. Robert was very caring and very affectionate.”
Robert, Bessie and her son left Montana for Washington in the early 1950s. On April 24, 1953, Robert and Bessie visited Spanaway Lake for what she called, “a very simple wedding.”
“We went down to Spanaway Lake before a judge and got married there,” she said. “Our wedding photo was just in front of a chicken coop. It was very simple but very meaningful.”
Robert found work across the state working as an electrician, repairing power lines and offering maintenance during power outages. It was a trade he learned at a Chicago electrical school, thanks to the GI Bill.
“It’s the best kind of work I know of. Just don’t get hung up in it,” he said. “I really enjoyed the camaraderie of working with the other guys in the field.”
The Burtons moved to Issaquah in 1966, when Robert secured a job with Puget Power, now Puget Sound Energy. During power outages or windstorms, he would go out and repair power lines.
When Robert was working in the field, Bessie would sit by a police and fire scanner to make sure that he came home safe.
On July 17, 1983, though, while sitting by the scanner, she heard the words she had always dreaded.
“They said, ‘There’s been an electrocution,’ and with the faith that we have, I began to pray immediately – Please God, not my Robert,” Bessie said.
After the dispatcher had made contact with every maintenance worker except Robert, Bessie quickly got dressed and waited by the door of her Issaquah home.
“I got up and got ready to be called, because I knew someone was going to come get me,” she said. “It was Robert all right and he had taken 7,200 volts through his left hand.”
The accident nearly killed Robert, and garnered him a two-month stay at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
As doctors assessed him when he first got to the hospital, there were doubts that he would survive, Bessie said.
“He was grotesque looking, he really was,” she said. “He looked into Heaven and God sent him back.”
The accident claimed Robert’s left hand, but just four months later, he was back on the job.
“I was very proud of him,” Bessie said.
Through the whole ordeal, Bessie never left Robert’s side, making the daily trek from Issaquah to Seattle to see him.
“I think it drew us closer,” she said. “We were awfully close. Everywhere we went, we were together, but that was the most traumatic thing, and it renewed our faith.”
Robert and Bessie still do everything together, from camping trips to outdoor hikes. On the day of their 60th anniversary, the couple visited Snoqualmie Falls.
“It was just the perfect way to celebrate our 60th,” Bessie said. “It was so beautiful.”
The couple also took Bessie’s wedding ring to the jeweler to add a sixth ruby to it.
“Six beautiful rubies to symbolize six great decades together,” she said.
The key to enduring 60 years is to simply stick by your partner, Bessie said. The Burtons, in particular, complement each other perfectly. The soft-spoken Robert doesn’t talk much, but he doesn’t have to with the outgoing Bessie by his side.
“You’ve got to work together, share together and do projects together,” she said.