He was a college student peddling the Atlanta World newspaper when he fell in love with the sister of one of his neighborhood friends.
She was 16, a high school senior who, like him, loved to attend the local dance parties.
It was 1948 and, under the leadership of President Harry Truman, the United States had recognized Israel as a country and Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Ninth Symphony was played on television for the first time.
But for Ruby and Augustus Clay, the only thing mattered was each other.
Ruby’s mother thought he was too old for her daughter, but she too had fallen in love with the man everyone calls Gus, who would later be referred to by their children as having a “Ph.D in professing, providing and protection.”
“He was always such an interesting person to me and I wanted to find out what made him tick,” said the soft-spoken Ruby Clay, now 85 years old, as the couple prepares to celebrate their 63rd Valentine’s Day as husband and wife.
“He was wild and anxious and jumping around,” she said, but not hesitating to add, “I fell for him right away.”
Throughout their years, the couple, individually and together, prioritized education. Gus, 87, is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and holds master’s degrees from Atlanta University. Ruby, who taught elementary school, holds a degree from historically black Spelman College.
Each of the children have college degrees.
“I thought I was well-known in the community and I had never seen Ruby before and I saw her at the dance and asked one of my buddies who was she,” Gus said of his first meeting with Ruby. “The interesting thing is that her mother objected to me dating her because I was a college man and she was a high school girl.”
Ruby added, “Notice he said college man?”
It’s that kind of playfulness, love and attention that’s kept them together and happy for more than six decades, without so much as a fight.
“I think one thing that has kept them together for all these years is that my father is a very traditional man, especially of his day where you took care of your family, you loved your family, and you protected your family,” said Karen Clay, one of the couple’s four children (the oldest, Augustus III, is deceased).
While Ruby sparkled in her career as a teacher, Gus worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Atlanta, then D.C. before President Jimmy Carter’s administration assigned him to San Francisco and then back to D.C.
The family — except for Lisa, the youngest daughter — currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
“My father had a Ph.D. in professing providing and protection and my mother is the quintessential polite woman with all of the social graces,” Karen said.
Karen, a twin to Kathryn, recounted a recent event that she said underscores the unceasing love and dedication of her parents.
“We were visiting and my mom asked where my father was and I pointed to her that he was sitting in a corner,” Karen recalled. “She gets up start walking toward him, took his hand said some term of endearment. She then sits in his lap, lays his heads on his chest and he puts his arms around her and she goes to sleep.
“It was a happy moment but a moment that makes you want to cry with happiness to see your parents who’ve been together so long and raised four children, losing their eldest child and weathering that and to see the love and to see my father just taking care of my mother is like, wow,” she said.
So what’s the secret?
“Ruby is just a wonderful person and always supportive,” Gus said. “I can’t ever think, in 63 years of marriage, of having one cross word said to each other. We’ve never had a downright argument and I think that’s the reason we’re probably still together because of the love and respect we have for each other.”
She also had sound, but simple, advice for others.
“A wife should be concerned about how she carries on,” she said. “My husband is a wonderful man, a protective and loving man.”
For newlyweds or those considering marriage, the couple offered more sage advice.
“Young people who are getting married should respect the marriage vows,” Gus said. “When you gather your family and friends together and you make those commitments they should be made in sincerity. You should read the vows before the wedding and if you don’t think you can adhere to them, then don’t take those vows.”