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Married for 67 years, Ora and John Costello died 20 hours apart

Ora and John Costello shared a kiss in their Weston home earlier this year. They were married 67 years.
Ora and John Costello shared a kiss in their Weston home earlier this year. They were married 67 years.Costello Family

Orry Kelly met John Costello on Valentine’s Day in 1951 when their college roommates fixed them up on a blind date. Both knew right away it would be much more.

“I’m going to marry him,” she told her friends afterward.

“Immediately, I knew I was toast,” he recalled 56 years later, when they were well past their golden wedding anniversary. “We married two years later when I was in law school. Life has been a ball ever since.”

They started a family and went on a weekly dinner date — just the two of them, even while raising five children. Their long lives also eventually brought frail health — at the end they were in hospice care together. But always there was a morning kiss, a reminder that their love never waned.

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Ora died Thursday, asleep in the bedroom of their Weston home. Twenty hours later, just past midnight, John’s heart gave out. She was 91, he was 93, and they had been married for more than 67 years.

How did they make love last? Orry was always optimistic, and John knew he was fortunate.

Friends would ask, “Is Orry always up? Is she always happy? Is she always smiling? Is she always so witty?” he said at a 2007 ceremony, when the Women’s Community League of Weston honored her as the Woman of the Year. "I always answer, ‘Yes, absolutely, yes, even early in the morning!’ "

Meanwhile, their ability to treat so much of life as if it were one long first date inspired those they knew.

“Growing up, they made life and marriage seem so easy — effortless, fun,” their son Matthew said through tears. "My siblings and I would always be pulled aside by friends of theirs who’d say, ‘Do you realize how lucky you are and how special they are?’ "

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Even those encountering the couple for the first time could sense their affection.

"You could look at them from across the room, if you were having dinner and didn’t know them, and you would say, ‘What a lovely couple,’ " said their daughter Maureen Trippe of Napa, Calif. “How in love they were. He adored her.”

Those who did get to know Orry and John were quickly welcomed into their circle.

“Curiosity is a useful thing. They had a way of getting the best out of everyone,” Maureen said.

“He had a great way with people. He was just gifted in that way. He would never forget your name,” she added. “And my mother would never forget your birthday. She ran a birthday and anniversary chart — it was a feat of engineering to get it all on one page. She would never forget.”

The Costellos were the youngest children in their respective families.

Ora Ann Kelly was born in Hornell, N.Y., on June 18, 1929, and John Walter Costello was born in Boston on April 30, 1927.

Her father, Dr. J. Raymond Kelly, was chief of surgery at the hospital in Hornell. Her mother, Ora Eppler, raised the couple’s seven children, of whom much was expected.

Dr. Kelley had attended the Georgetown University School of Medicine, as did his four sons, said Maureen, who added that her grandmother “had the third floor of their Victorian home turned into a ballroom, hand-painted with a Monet-like scene of flowers and gardens.”

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Growing up with a precise eye for colors, a gift for drawing, and a love of fashion, young Orry graduated from high school in Hornell and attended Marymount College in Tarrytown, N.Y., graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art history. She later served on the board of trustees and received alumna awards.

The youngest of three siblings, John W. Costello was the son of Walter F. Costello, who had played professional basketball before becoming a lawyer, and Kathleen Brazell, a homemaker.

Mr. Costello grew up in Jamaica Plain and was a standout athlete who lettered 10 times at Cathedral High School.

He attended high school during World War II, enlisted in the Navy just before turning 18, and headed off for training, volunteering for combat duty as a fighter plane radio operator and navigator.

“The war ended right before I got sent over,” he would say many years later, when finally coaxed to speak about that time.

Returning home, he went to the College of the Holy Cross, where he played football and was the school’s top 100-yard swimmer — at least until entering politics.

“The Navy veteran and 50 friends conducted a bell-ringing campaign in the Jamaica Plain, Forest Hills, Roslindale vicinity of his home,” the Globe reported of a campaign that coincided with football season.

Elected in 1950, he became a student-legislator.

“I’ll go to classes in the morning, go to the State House in the afternoon, and do my studying at night,” he told the Globe that November. “I guess I won’t have any time for swimming.”

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While serving as the Legislature’s youngest member, Mr. Costello graduated from Holy Cross, became a lawyer by attending Suffolk University Law School at night, and eventually cofounded a law firm.

Mr. Costello served as a state representative in the 1950s and on the Governor’s Council in the early 1960s. He befriended fellow lawmaker Tip O’Neill and was a Jamaica Plain ward leader for John F. Kennedy, when the future president was a US senator.

In 1964, as the Democratic nominee, Mr. Costello narrowly lost the lieutenant governor’s race to Elliot Richardson, a Republican.

Ora and John Costello on their wedding day.
Ora and John Costello on their wedding day. Costello Family

After he and Ora married in 1953, they lived in Jamaica Plain before moving to a six-bedroom, six-bathroom house in Weston that became a second home for their teenage children’s friends.

The family’s residence was “never locked because the back door was always open,” Maureen said. “We had every after-graduation party, every after-prom party,”

Even when their children finished high school, the Costellos kept chaperoning the prom, though they eventually moved from their large house to a smaller residence across town.

"My mom always said, ‘This house needs to be filled with children,’ " Maureen recalled.

A former president of the Women’s Community League of Weston, Mrs. Costello volunteered at its Clothing Exchange, which raises scholarship money for the local high school’s seniors, and managed the boutique department.

As long as Mrs. Costello’s health permitted, she and her husband kept going out on dinner dates, often at the Woodland Golf Club in Newton’s Auburndale section.

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“They delighted in delighting each other, especially with surprises or special gifts,” Maureen said. “The gifts could be big or small, for an occasion or just because, but the plotting and the planning was half the fun. To see the delight in the other when the gift was revealed . . . such joy.”

Mrs. Costello, who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was in hospice care for months, but “made every day seem easy-breezy,” said Matthew, who also lives in Weston.

“She was always able to see the bright side of everything,” he added. "She had a sign at her recliner chair that said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t begrudge growing old, so many people don’t have that privilege.’ "

In addition to Maureen and Matthew, the Costellos leave three sons, Brian of Colchester, Vt., T.J. of Manhasset, N.Y., and John of Dennis; Mrs. Costello’s brother, Dr. Raymond Kelly of Queensbury, N.Y.; six grandchildren; and a step-great-granddaughter.

The couple’s funeral and burial will be private.

John Costello held the hand of his wife, Ora, in the moments after she died.
John Costello held the hand of his wife, Ora, in the moments after she died. Costello Family

“People who saw them together as a couple knew they were witnessing something really rare and special,” Matthew wrote in a tribute.

On Thursday morning, after Orry had died in her sleep, John reached to hold her hand once more, a gesture he had repeated countless times since their first date 69 years ago. And later that night, asleep in the same room, he died, too.



Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.