Still Sweethearts 50 Years Later
Ron and Carolyn Brazzell Celebrate their Golden Anniversary May 2nd
By Jerri Menges
If you want to talk to Ron Brazzell about his 50 years of marriage to his sweetheart, Carolyn, you first have to answer two questions: Do you believe in the supernatural, and do you believe that God has a plan for your life?
Ron is certain it was the supernatural power of God that drew them together in the summer of 1968. He likes for Carolyn to start the story, and she remembers vividly …
It started on July 1, 1968, when she was 17 and headed for her first day on the job at Southern Bell Telephone Company in Charlotte. She still felt good from her decision several weeks earlier to surrender her future completely to God and follow His guidance. She was driving her mom’s brand-new Crown Victoria. Before the advent of I-77.
“You had to go up 21 and then up 49 and get to Charlotte that way,” she says. As she drove through Fort Mill, she got behind a blue Plymouth Roadrunner with a tall, brown-haired guy behind the wheel. She could see him looking at her through the rearview mirror.
She thought, Wow, he’s got a nice car. He’s got to be a nice guy.
She liked what she could see of his face, so she waved at him and he waved back.
She continued behind him all the way up the snaky, one-lane road until they came to the stoplight at South Tryon Street, where the road widened. She was in the right lane and he was in the left. They rolled their windows down.
“I’m Ron Brazzell,” he said.
“I’m Carolyn Smith,” she answered, with a smile.
Almost every red light from then on stopped them, and each time, they learned a little more about each other. He was from Fort Mill; she was from Rock Hill. He had been in the service, returned home, and was now working as a heating and air technician in Charlotte. She was fresh out of high school.
“He was tall,” she says. “He filled up that car good. I was thinking all kinds of good things.”
On into Charlotte, Ron had to turn to get to his job and Carolyn continued on to Southern Bell.
All day long, she thought about Ron Brazzell, the tall guy in the Roadrunner.
“On the way home that afternoon, I declare if I didn’t run into him again,” she says. “When we got to his turnoff, he motioned for me to pull over at the filling station in Fort Mill. There was an old cedar tree out there near the store, so we pulled over and parked right next to that tree, him still in his Roadrunner and me still in my car. We talked and talked, then we talked some more.”
So much that when he left, he was running late for a softball game.
“He went flying up the road to get to his game and got caught by a policeman and got fined,” Carolyn says, grinning at the memory.
A couple of days later, she saw him again, and they stopped at the same filling station and talked under the cedar tree. A pattern developed, a routine that lasted three months. Ron had been dating several girls, all at the same time. But having been raised better than that, he’d stopped seeing all of them and was taking a break. He was having fun with Carolyn, not thinking anything serious. She was cute, and she was nice, but she wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for a serious relationship. She wasn’t tall, she didn’t have dark hair, and she was a little young for him.
Nevertheless, he kept up the routine.
“When I’d go to work, if I thought she was somewhere behind me, I’d have traffic backed up a mile waiting on her,” he says. “If I thought she was in front of me, I’d be driving like a maniac trying to catch up with her.”
And, yet, with all that, he says he was trying his “ever-lovin’ best” to dissuade her interest.
“'You don’t need to be messin’ with me,' he told her. 'You need to go find you somebody else.' I tried every way in the world to get out of it … but something kept pulling me back.”
For Carolyn’s part, she says, “I didn’t keep after him. I just drove back and forth to work every day.”
In October, Ron finally asked her to a Rock Hill High School football game.
“After we had that little date, that was it,” he says. “I wasn’t even thinking about datin’ nobody else. She even got me goin’ to church, and I wasn’t even thinking about the Lord.”
“After we had that little date, that was it. I wasn’t even thinking about datin’ nobody else. She even got me goin’ to church, and I wasn’t even thinking about the Lord.”
Carolyn had accepted Christ at Catawba Baptist Church when she was 9, but her faith had deepened right around graduation when her pastor asked graduates during a sermon: “What are you going to do with the rest of your life? What are your plans? Have you asked God?”
Carolyn had applied to several companies during Career Day at school, but she hadn’t given any thought to talking to God about the matter. So at the pastor’s invitation, she went to the front of the church and he prayed with her.
She went back to her seat, not fully satisfied. Late that night in her bedroom, she knelt on her knees and asked God what He wanted her to do.
“I didn’t know what He had planned for me,” she says. “I prayed and prayed and prayed. And I finally just turned it over to Him. I said, ‘Lord, I’m going to leave it to you.’ And I felt a calm that He was going to take care of everything.”
The next morning Southern Bell, one of the companies from Career Day, called and asked her to come in for an interview, and they offered her a job on the spot. And the very first day, she met Ron on the road. She couldn’t help but think he was part of God’s plan, but she was troubled that He didn’t know the Lord. She prayed hard for his salvation.
Ron had one hero in life, his dad. The two of them would go hunting and fishing together. On one particular day, his dad got off work at 2 o’clock and came home so the two of them could go quail hunting in Rock Hill, close to where Carolyn lived. Near her house, as they started down a little logging road, Ron looked over at his dad in the passenger seat and knew immediately that something was wrong.
He stopped the truck and ran around to the other side and opened the door. His dad grabbed his hand and squeezed it, and then he was gone.
“He had a massive heart attack, right there in the truck with me,” Ron says. “I turned the truck around and drove up to the end of the dirt road at the highway and got ahold of Carolyn’s mom, and she called the ambulance.”
“I didn’t know what He had planned for me. I prayed and prayed and prayed. And I finally just turned it over to Him. I said, ‘Lord, I’m going to leave it to you.’ And I felt a calm that He was going to take care of everything.”
Ron followed the ambulance to the hospital, but he already knew the outcome. He was overcome with grief and in the upcoming days and weeks, uncertainty. He and Carolyn had been dating over a year now, and he had been thinking about proposing, but he didn’t want to leave his mom alone. He was an only child; there were no other siblings to look out for her. And in the middle of this, some of his work friends had been talking to him about Jesus, and somehow that was playing into his feelings.
“He didn’t know it, but he was under conviction,” Carolyn says.
Finally, he called Carolyn and asked her to set up an appointment for him with her pastor and asked if she would go with him. In those days, the sanctuary at Catawba Baptist was where the chapel is now, and the pastor at the time had a little office in that area. Carolyn and Ron went in, and as Ron poured out his heart, the pastor helped him see that Jesus could bring him peace and give him direction.
“He led me to the Lord right there,” Ron says. “And at that very moment, it felt like a weight just lifted up off of me. It was gone. I came home and told my mom and my neighbors.”
And of course, Carolyn was rejoicing at God’s answered prayer. Ron proposed the following New Year’s Day. They were married May 2, 1970.
Looking back, as they so often do, they see God’s hand so clearly. “Even though at the beginning, I didn’t think she was the one for me, I realized after we started dating that she was the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, the second best really. The Lord is the best thing. And if I’d married some tall, dark-headed girl, ain’t no tellin’ where I’d be. I might not even be a Christian today. I might be dead.”
God worked out His perfect plan for their marriage, and their faith has laid the foundation for their family. When Carolyn was pregnant with both their babies—“Little Ron” and Shelly—she would sing to them and read stories to them about Jesus. When she brought them home from the hospital, she took them to the window where she could look out and tell them about the great big world that God created.
Their Christian walk hasn’t always been perfect. They were out of church for about a year when the kids were small and Ron was so preoccupied with hunting. But God didn’t let go of them.
“When I worked at Duke Power, I’d be comin’ home and I’d be talking to the Lord,” Ron says. “And tears would be runnin’ down my face, and I’d say, ‘Lord, how long are You gonna let me go like this right here, until You allow somethin’ to happen that gets me back in church where I’m supposed to be?”
The men from Catawba Baptist would faithfully come by their house every Monday night to invite them back to church, until Ron conveniently started finding somewhere else to be on those nights. But God had His plans. In His timing, Carolyn was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease that can be fatal.
“He led me to the Lord right there. And at that very moment, it felt like a weight just lifted up off of me. It was gone. I came home and told my mom and my neighbors.”
— Ron Brazzell
“You talking about a wake-up call,” Ron says. “That got me back in church.” Carolyn recovered fully, and the couple have continued their walk with the Lord, keeping their marriage and their faith strong. On Sunday mornings, you can find Carolyn and Shelly teaching Sunday school and “Big Ron,” now a deacon, attending the 8 a.m. men’s prayer time, and later in the foyer of the church welcoming people as they come in.
“I’ve never been to another church besides Catawba,” he says.
To anyone starting out in a dating or marriage relationship, Ron and Carolyn have the same advice: seek the Lord.
“If they’re not a Christian, they need to really think seriously about accepting the Lord,” Ron says. “They need to commit themselves to God and allow Him to guide and direct them and lead them through their whole life. That’s the only way things are going to work out good for them.”
Take your time in a relationship, Carolyn says, especially to girls. Don’t rush to go out with the first guy that asks you for a date; that might not be God’s plan. Marriage is serious; it should be treated like it’s forever.
“I told Ron when he asked me to marry him that I would never marry him unless he was willing to live with me the rest of my life,” Carolyn says. “That was the stipulation. He had to live with me forever, for better or worse.”
“I told Ron when he asked me to marry him that I would never marry him unless he was willing to live with me the rest of my life. That was the stipulation. He had to live with me forever, for better or worse.”
— Carolyn Brazzell
Carolyn and Ron are both retired. Their house, situated between their two children, Shelly and Little Ron, is the gathering place for Sunday’s homecooked meals, which are served up in the dining room of their home on Sturgis Road, where they are sitting now. They’ve had 50 years of fun—with each other, with their kids and grandkids, and with their extended church family. They are rarely seen without big smiles on their faces. Big Ron still stands at 6’3” and loves to joke around and hand out candy to the kids at church. Carolyn, at 5’3”, always has a hug and she’s often in the kitchen during any church function that includes meals.
Something supernatural happened on the way to Charlotte all those years ago.
“I don’t take no credit,” Ron says. “I want God to be lifted up and glorified in our little story. And maybe some young couple or somebody that may be thinkin’ about getting married will read this, and they’ll understand that if you allow God to work His plan out in your life, and you trust Him and you believe in whatever He does, everything will work out. He don’t make no mistakes.”
“I want God to be lifted up and glorified in our little story.”