• Warren Bell

Fifty-Seven Years and Counting

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Friday is my usual day for blogging, but I had more important matters to attend to this week. Fifty-seven years ago yesterday, I did the smartest thing I ever did. I married Annette Hudgens, the love of my life. We have traveled an exciting journey through the years, facing many challenges and blessings, but we always faced them together as a team. We are truly life partners.

The early years were not easy financially. At first, we struggled to get by on a small research fellowship and a secretary’s salary while I completed my Masters degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Arkansas. But the tough times were smoothed by an abundance of love. As soon as I graduated, the Selective Service was breathing down my neck. To keep from being drafted as a private in the Army, I enrolled in Navy Officer Candidate School. Annette stayed with her parents during that four-month separation, again working to keep our finances afloat. She flew up to Rhode Island for my commissioning in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. She charmed the whole class with her Southern accent and grace.

We ended up spending twenty-nine years in the U.S. Navy. We both enjoyed those years immensely. Finances were again tight, as a Navy Ensign made a paltry salary in those days. Annette continued to work until our children were born. Our son, Stephen, was born in 1961. Our daughter, Karen, came along in 1963. We had many adventures. We moved from coast to coast several times, experiencing both California and Virginia Lifestyles. We were stationed at Kodiak, Alaska in 1964 during the Great Alaska earthquake. Annette capably shouldered our family responsibilities during my two Seabee tours in Vietnam totaling seventeen months. Raising two small children alone and keeping the family organized were daunting tasks, yet she never complained.

When the Navy sent me to the George Washington University to get a Masters of Business Administration degree, we again found expenses outstripping my Navy salary. Annette went to work at the Center for Naval Analysis. She found her groove there and moved through several positions while we remained in Washington. I was stationed in the Pentagon after getting my MBA, and then did a tour at the Headquarters of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

I learned that doing well in Washington can be a mixed blessing. In helps with getting promoted, but once recognized as tolerating the bureaucracy well, it is hard to get stationed elsewhere. I spent 11 of my last 14 years in the Navy in Washington. During this time, we got our kids through college. Stephen became a Civil Engineer at the University of Virginia. Karen earned her accounting degree at Old Dominion University. Both are married, and we have four treasured grandchildren.

After completing my Navy career, I spent nine years as the City Engineer for Alexandria, Virginia. After our children had graduated and gained employment, Annette decided to go back to school and complete the accounting degree she abandoned to get married. She graduated with honors from George Mason University, then took and passed the Certified Public Accountant exam. She worked in accounting for the remainder of her career.

After I retired from Alexandria, we designed and built Annette’s dream house in Williamsburg, Virginia. By pure luck, we employed the best custom builder in the area. Our new home has been a joy for over ten years. Annette has become an expert and respected Master Gardener. She works in a number of their programs and works and leads tours of the gardens at Colonial Williamsburg. After spending several years making small boards out of large boards in my woodworking shop, I took up writing novels to keep my mind active. My three books are available on, and a fourth is in the works.

One of the activities Annette and I have enjoyed together over the years is performing choral music. We met and fell in love in our college choir. We have performed together in Methodist or military chapel choirs for our entire marriage. Music is part of the glue that inseparably binds us together. We’ll keep singing for as long as we have the capability.

Like many parents, we consider our children to be our greatest accomplishments. After a distinguished career in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, Stephen is working for an engineering firm in Texas. Karen became a computer expert and had a successful career in the consulting industry. She became an author’s publicist and media expert to help her father. She enjoyed it so much that she now has a number of other clients.

We’re often asked what is the secret to a long and happy marriage. First, I advise to keep love alive. My cardinal rule is to NEVER do anything on purpose to hurt Annette. Try to always be supportive and to remember, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Note: Warren Bell is an award-winning author of historical and military fiction. His first two novels, Fall Eagle One and Hold Back the Sun are set during World War II, while his third novel, Asphalt and Blood, is set during the Vietnam War.

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