Married for 82 years, couple still going strong

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER  Surrounded by family, Norman and Norma Burmah accept gifts at the Governor's Mansion Tuesday afternoon.  The Louisiana Family Forum along with the first family, celebrated the couple's 81-year marriage on Valentine's Day.  They are the longest known married couple in the state.  MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS/
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER Surrounded by family, Norman and Norma Burmah accept gifts at the Governor's Mansion Tuesday afternoon. The Louisiana Family Forum along with the first family, celebrated the couple's 81-year marriage on Valentine's Day. They are the longest known married couple in the state. MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS/

Together, Norman and Norma Burmah went through much of the Great Depression, World War II, the social upheavals of the 1960s and seeing the New Orleans Saints win a Super Bowl.

To mark their 82 years of marriage, Gov. Bobby Jindal honored them on Valentine’s Day as Louisiana’s longest known married couple. He also recognized nine other couples married 73 years or longer.

The Burmahs — Norman is 102, Norma 99 — exchanged wedding vows on Jan. 26, 1931, and are believed to be the longest-living married couple in the United States. Guinness World Records lists Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher, of North Carolina, as holding the record for the longest marriage. They were married May 13, 1924 — 86 years, 9 months and 16 days as of Feb. 27, 2011, the day Herbert Fisher died at age 105.

In a telephone interview Thursday, the Burmahs said making any relationship last as long as theirs takes patience and a lot of love.

“And trust,” she added.

“And attention,” he said.

When asked how she and her husband had managed to stay together for such a long time, Norma Burmah said: “To tell you the truth, we are Catholics and we don’t believe in divorce and separation. That’s one reason.”

Norman Burmah said it was love at first sight when he met his wife for the first time at church one Sunday morning. Asked whether she felt that way as well, he said, “I think so.”

Later, Norma Burmah echoed his sentiment. “Yes, yes it was,” she said, softly.

The Burmahs live independently though they get a “little help” from an aide who comes in daily, Norman Burmah said, but he added that his wife still cooks for him sometimes.

“She often gets up and makes coffee and she’ll sometimes poach an egg or fix French toast,” he said.

The Burmahs once owned a private catering company in New Orleans, where they spent most of their lives until Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in eastern New Orleans. Now, they live near their daughter in Marksville.

Norman Burmah said sustaining a marriage is not always easy. “But it’s what I promised to do so many years ago and I practice it every day. It’s nothing extra, it’s just normal. It takes love, attention and patience.”

He said he doesn’t often give young people advice on keeping their marriages strong, mainly because women have become so independent and younger generations aren’t always willing to work to get the results.

“When they (women) started working at the beginning of World War II and put on those pants, I think now they don’t depend on a man like they used to. In fact, I think the man is now depending on them,” he said.

He said younger couples often have made up their minds about whether to continue a marriage.

“But by tomorrow, they’ve changed their minds again,” he said. “I say ‘Give it a try, don’t stop and you’ll find it’s all worthwhile.’”

The Burmahs were unable to attend Thursday’s reception at the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge, where Jindal presented the couples with proclamations recognizing their marriage achievement and gifts, including a bouquet of flowers, books and stuffed “bride and groom” teddy bears.

Present for the event, sponsored by Louisiana Family Forum, were Earl and Betty Harps, of Denham Springs, married 75 years; Clyde and Geneva Cockerham, of Walker, married 73 years; and Edward and Hilda Guedry, of Brusly, also married 73 years.