Robert and Joy Bennett lived the dream for 26 years on Orcas Island.
But, their love affair with this special place started many decades before.
And it certainly didn’t end with their deaths, about seven hours apart on Feb. 2, while living at the Lighthouse Memory Care Center in Anacortes.
He had just turned 87 and she was 91.
Bob’s life slipped away under the hourly care, hugs and heartfelt support at Lighthouse, his death finally the result of a heart disease that many doctors predicted would kill him many years before.
He had “graduated” from Hospice before, gaining strength from those who rode the ferries to visit him regularly. He would crawl from his bed and await their arrivals with a smile as he sat in a recliner where he often watched boats and kayaks travel toward Sucia Island and planes land at the airport.
It became obvious after a year in Hospice that he wasn’t ready to leave Orcas and this world, no matter his pains and physical limitations. He persevered, it was also obvious because he couldn’t imagine life without Joy.
Those feelings were definitely mutual. She couldn’t imagine life without him.
That fact takes on deeper meaning — no matter your spiritual beliefs — when realizing that her death was highly unexpected on the evening of Feb. 2.
Their imprint will be cemented together forever, like the impression on the bed that was created as they held each other through his final hours.
Bob’s brother, Gary, staff members at Lighthouse and friends from Orcas were among those amazed at the calmness and the forward vision that Joy expressed, among the tears of course, after “her Bobbie’s” passing. “He’ll be there waiting for me,” she said many times, expressing her belief in heaven — and that true love does, indeed, last forever.
She still planned to reach 105 years old, as she’d promised for decades.
Little did anyone know that Bob’s waiting would not be for long.
She simply died that evening from a broken heart, family, friends and care workers said time and again in the days afterward. There is historical truth to broken-heart deaths. It happens often enough that is defined as a syndrome in medical fields.
But, seldom do deaths occur this close together. Simply put: It was meant to be.
It was meant to be, too, for Bob and Joy to make a home on Orcas in 1991.
He grew up in West Seattle, while she grew up around Bellingham, where the met in the late 1960s.
Robert fell in love with Orcas while working for months as a microwave engineer for Bell Telephone in helping the island (and others in the San Juans) recover from the effects of the Columbus Day storm in 1962. He worked regularly for many years afterward in the little building that sits just outside of The Lower Tavern in downtown Eastsound.
As a small-plane pilot, Bob loved Orcas’ pioneering history in aviation. He and Joy loved the hour-long ferry rides from Anacortes and the small-town feel of Eastsound.
Bob and Joy loved the free and caring spirit of islanders.
She became enamored with Orcas while visiting her sister and brother-in-law, Lillian and Frank Rouleau, longtime residents.
Bob meticulously planned their house on Alder Street that had a clear view of the water.
Frank helped them lay the foundation and the driveway for their dream home.
Finally, in 1991, Bob and Joy moved in. Soon after, Joy’s oldest daughter, Kathy Eastman, came to join them and make a home on the island.
She soon found the love of her life in Ed Eastman, a man with deep Orcas roots.
Bob and Joy loved to help others and to entertain. He regularly trimmed the grounds at the American Legion with his riding mower and helped members of the Lions Club harvest trees that provided free firewood for the needy. She volunteered at the library and the senior center.
She planted and grew amazing things in their backyard. She could identify the dozens of birds that landed on their back porch.
They nurtured many other great things in their lives.
Kathy became an educator with Orcas Public Schools.
Joy is survived by three other natural children: Ron Buatte (wife, Charla) of Boise, Idaho, Julie Rollins of Las Vegas, Nev., and Curtis Buatte (Susan) of Twin Falls, Idaho.
Bob is survived by a daughter, Joyce Higman (Bruce) of Missouri. His son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Wendy, came to live on Orcas and served as caregivers for many years.
They now have a home in Springfield, Mo.
They are survived by sisters and brothers, 14 grandchildren, more than 20 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Bob and Joy were very generous in helping any family members or friends who had a need without asking anything in return. They were thankful for their lives and the people who helped them along the way.
There is no way to complete their story without thanking some of them.
They include Dr. David Russell and his caring staff; director Laura Willingham and everyone at the Lighthouse; staff at Orcas Island Physical Therapy; Christine, Dena and Sarah of Hospice.
And they include Butch Norton, Karla Rieg, Sue Douglas (Rankin), Melanie Davis and other amazingly caring friends and neighbors.
Bob and Joy would be honored for any gifts given to the library or senior center in their names.
Memorial services are pending, but are expected in late spring or early summer on Orcas Island.