When David Ross and Phyllis Cheek met in 1949 it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
The University of Maryland students enjoyed each other’s company after getting set up on a blind date by friends, but when after a year of dating David Ross attempted to seal the deal by giving the young Kappa Delta his Sigma Chi fraternity pin he was rebuffed.
The fraternity custom signals a member’s commitment to the young woman who receives the pin.
“I thought it was moving too quickly,” said Phyllis Ross, now 87.
David Ross, one year Phyllis’ senior, moved on to the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore and tried to forget about the blonde–haired damsel that had his heart, but when the two saw each other at a mutual friend’s wedding they knew they’d made a mistake, Phyllis Ross said.
“That changed everything,” Phyllis Ross recalled last week. “We realized it was a real relationship.”
The rest, as they say, was history.
The couple married within the year — though neither recalls how exactly the proposal played out. They had two children, David Ross, 62, and Margo Ross, 59, and in December, the elder Rosses celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary at Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson, where they have lived for the past seven years.
“They just always seemed to be meant for each other,” the junior David Ross said of his parents from Washington state last week.
The Rosses tied the knot on Dec. 20, 1951, at the Riverdale Presbyterian Church in University Park after a heavy snowfall that left much of the area stranded. Much of what could go wrong did, Phyllis Ross said.
“My mother sprained her ankle and my bridesmaids had to ride their suitcases downhill to get to the house to get ready there was so much snow,” she said.
Following the wedding, the two set off on “a trip of a lifetime.” David Ross had secretly arranged a honeymoon in Longboat Key, Fla., to surprise his new wife. The mid-Atlantic natives spent about a week taking in the sun and ocean views.
“I don’t know how he thought to put that trip together, but I’d never seen a palm tree,” Phyllis Ross said. “It was really special. Back in the day that was a big trip.”
After the honeymoon, Phyllis Ross moved to Baltimore to be with her husband. The couple moved into a walk-up apartment downtown with uneven linoleum floors that pooled water on one side of the room when mopped.
It was all worth it to be together, the Rosses recalled.
Friends worried David Ross’ grades would suffer during the honeymoon stage but were proven wrong, he said.
“Those were the best grades I ever had,” David Ross said of the semester that followed his marriage to Phyllis.
After graduation, he took his first job as a law clerk in Annapolis, while Phyllis Ross finished her degree at the University of Maryland, commuting to College Park by Greyhound bus a few times a week.
Phyllis walked to work at the Air Force Systems Command, in Baltimore, until she got pregnant with the couple’s first child and took time off to raise their young family.
The couple moved to Original Northwood, in Baltimore, where the junior David and daughter Margo were born.
In 1967, the couple purchased a 1929 stone-and-stucco Tudor in North Roland Park with six bedrooms and a sun porch where they lived until moving to Towson.
The following year, with more than a decade of clerking and attorney work under his belt, David Ross was appointed by former Maryland governor Spiro Agnew to serve on the Baltimore City Supreme Bench, which today is the Baltimore City Circuit Court. He served full time until his retirement in 1996, according to the Maryland State Archives.
”He was the judge that other judges went to [for advice],” said retired Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Clifton J. Gordy of his mentor, Judge David Ross. “He was also the judge that good lawyers adored and loved but the bad lawyers not so much. He was knowledgeable and didn’t tolerate incompetence.”
Gordy, 71, of Ellicott City, was originally appointed in 1985 by former governor Harry Hughes and retired in 2006 after more than 21 years on the bench. He first came to know Ross when he and five other judges ran together in the 1986 general election.The group of judges became friends and years later, still meet socially and remain close friends with the Rosses a fixture of that friendship and the epitome of love, he said.
“We should all be so lucky to have marriage like theirs or even a relationship like theirs,” Gordy said. “’Anyone would be most fortunate to have a lifetime love affair with their mate [like the Rosses].”
In a time when 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association, the marriage of David and Phyllis Ross has stood the test of time and bucked the trend.
“We have a reciprocal feeling about each other that’s hard to describe,” David Ross said.
The couple has had their share of disagreements, Phyllis Ross said, but they have always been able to resolve them.
“We get mad at each other but we never thought of leaving,” Phyllis Ross said. “He’s a good guy to live with.”
The longevity of their marriage, they say, is due to “love” but it’s helped to grow together over the years. Getting married so young has allowed the pair to craft their world views and opinions together, they said.
“You need to grow together and be ready to change,” Phyllis Ross said. “We had friends whose husbands wouldn’t let the wives work, but that was never an issue for us.”
The junior David Ross credits his parents modeling to his own happy marriage of more than 30 years. Though the couple was not overly affectionate in public, the Rosses showed respect for each other in other ways.
While some of the couple’s friends stuck to traditional mid-century norms of a woman’s place in the home, Phyllis Ross worked before she had children and went back to work in admissions at Roland Park Country School when they were school aged. David Ross cooked, cleaned and shared responsibility for other duties around the home that men of the period typically shunned.
After a long day in court, Judge Ross would come home and “have a happy hour” out on the sun porch with his wife. The pair would talk about their days and current events and otherwise enjoy each other’s company before moving on to dinner with the family, he said.
“In this era of so many divorces I feel so grateful,” the junior David Ross said. “They showed respect, worked hard and spent quality time together. I was influenced by how they lived and —subconsciously, you don’t realize it — but I feel lucky they were such good role models.”
Today, the couple is separated for the first time as David Ross requires more help getting around due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Two months ago, he moved out of the independent living apartment the pair shared into the assisted-living section of the retirement community to have more help with mobility issues related to the disease.
“We had said that when we turned 80 we either needed to get close to a family member — which meant leaving Baltimore — or put ourselves in a place where we would be taken care of,” Phyllis Ross said. “Friends are wonderful but so many of our friends are as old as we are and they can’t help.”
However, in keeping with a decades-long tradition of sharing time together before the family’s suppertime, the Rosses still meet for dinner each night, sometimes sharing a meal upstairs and other times eating downstairs with friends.
“We’re still kicking — sort of,” Phyllis Ross said.