During the last three months of their life, Clarence and Betty Cole, 80, were only together a couple of days. Much of the separation was due to Betty Cole’s hospitalization for heart issues after being on dialysis for eight years.
Betty Cole had already survived two brain surgeries in 2003 after falling during a time in which she was taking prescribed blood thinners. Clarence Cole was also in a battle after receiving a recent liver cancer diagnosis.
In the final days, Clarence Cole was often too weak to visit his wife, including when Betty Cole passed way from congestive heart failure on a late Tuesday afternoon, March 4.
Loved ones attribute the stress of the separation as the reason for Clarence Cole’s death just 60 hours later, early Friday morning March 7.
“We didn’t even realize Dad was that sick,” said the Coles’ eldest daughter, Karen Douglas.
In fact, Clarence Cole was so ill he was not told about Betty Cole’s passing.
“He was never well enough to tell him,” Douglas said.
Yet on the days surrounding her death, Clarence Cole tried several times to leave his hospital room.
When asked by the nurse where Clarence Cole thought he was going, Douglas was told he responded, “I am going to see that beautiful lady that takes care of me.”
Douglas also recalls her father talking to a voice in his hospital room in those final days, but there was no one speaking.
“We think mom called him home,” Douglas said.
Shared stories about the young sweethearts
Cindy Gould, the youngest of the Cole children, had recently asked her father many questions about his younger days. Gould thinks her father opened up because he was lonely and missed his wife, who was hospitalized.
The love story of Clarence and Betty Cole begins when they were young children in LaGrange.
Although Clarence Cole said he fell in love with Betty Cole in their hometown church, their children said their mom could not place exactly where the two first met.
“He always seemed to be around,” Betty Cole told Douglas about Clarence Cole being the paperboy for her childhood home.
The entire family laughs at the retelling of a story when Clarence Cole returned from a family trip to Florida with a small alligator, which he then tossed at Betty Cole.
When asked why he would do such a thing, Douglas said her dad replied, “Because I liked her.”
Years later, when Clarence Cole proposed to his sweetheart, she was only 18 years old and a senior in high school. This left Betty Cole a little embarrassed to be wearing an engagement ring at such a young age.
But the bashfulness about their young love was overcome when Clarence Cole left home to serve as a corporal in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
The Cole children have found a bag filled with letters written while Clarence Cole was stationed in France. The correspondence is an early display of the couple’s mature devotion to each other.
The couple was married on Dec. 20, 1953, in LaGrange and honeymooned in Daytona, Fla.
During a dialysis treatment, Betty Cole told her daughter, LaDonna Wheeler, a comical story about their road trip.
When honeymooners decided to stop for the night, the hotel attendant asked for Clarence Cole’s license, Wheeler said.
Betty Cole described her new husband rushing out to the car and returning with the wedding certificate to prove they were married. The attendant stopped the confusion and said he only needed a driver’s license.
“Mom said, ‘We were so green. We were so naive. We were so innocent,’” Wheeler shared.
The Cole family grows in Cobb
Before marrying Betty Cole, Clarence Cole lived in an upstairs boarding house off the Square, Gould said.
Once married, the couple purchased their first home in Smyrna and raised five children, who were all born within 15 years.
Gould said their home was always bustling with her siblings and neighbor children.
“We played outside all the time,” she remembers.
Randy Cole, who still refers to his parents as ‘Momma and Daddy,’ was more independent as the oldest sibling and only son, Gould said.
Cole said he liked being the oldest because it meant he was blessed to know their parents the longest, and felt like a protector for the girls.
After a brief five- or six-year stint in Alabama, Douglas said it was clear the family would return to Cobb.
“We have been in this area most of our lives,” she said.
The Coles bought their second home near the intersection of Sewell Mill Road and Old Canton Road, where they finished raising the children and enjoyed retirement in east Cobb.
The five siblings, who all live in the metro Atlanta area, remain very close as adults.
“That was just so important to Mom and Dad,” Gould said.
Although Gould said her mother did not push them together, she instilled the value of family by example.
That dynamic is evident in Wheeler remembering the many notes the kids would leave on the dining room table to wish their father a safe work week or positive messages from their parents placed on bedroom pillows.
Douglas said the entire family gathered for major celebrations, with Betty Cole starting many lifelong traditions for her children.
“It made her so special,” Douglas said.
Last Easter Sunday was the first holiday the siblings spent together without their mom or dad.
“Birthdays were also a very big deal,” Douglas said.
Clarence Cole’s birthday was at the beinning of April, so the family gathered at his favorite restaurant and released white balloons.
Saying goodbye to loving parents
Both Clarence and Betty Cole were employed by Lockheed Martin in the 1950s. Then Clarence became the Southeast regional manager for Biro Manufacturing, a restaurant equipment supply company for 23 years, a job that required him to travel much of the week.
Betty Cole, meanwile, worked at Allstate Insurance for 28 years.
Gould said her parents’ relationship was built on loyalty and respect for each other.
“They were a team,” Gould said about their gentle and considerate partnership. “No matter what hardship, you could always tell they loved each other.”
A joint service was March 9 for both Clarence and Betty Cole at Roswell Street Baptist Church with the Rev. Nelson Price officiating, who has been a pastor at the church for 12 years.
Price said he knew the couple well, who for 30 years attended Wednesday night and Sunday morning services, as well as Sunday school and Bible studies.
“They were regular in worship and were always joyous people,” Price said. “They were just warm and friendly to everyone they encountered.”
The Sunday after the couple died, which was also the day of the funeral, fellow congregation members placed two white roses in the places where Clarence and Betty Cole had worshiped for decades.
The tribute to the Coles at Roswell Street Baptist Church came together so suddenly that many of the people attending the visitation only knew about Betty Cole’s passing and were shocked to see two caskets at the head of the church.
It is hard for Clarence and Betty Cole’s children to say if it was harder to lose both parents at once, but they find a silver lining in knowing that they are no longer in pain and together in heaven.
The couple was laid to rest in Kennesaw Memorial Park off Whitlock, where the U.S. Army played taps and presented an American flag to their son.