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A Valentine remembered: Everlasting sweetheart card may be passed today for the last time

BRADENTON — The Valentine’s Day card may be old, yet its message is timeless:

“Everyone needs someone ...” it began.

Sarah Russ needed someone then and that someone was Freeman Russ.

It was almost 40 years ago in Richmond, Va.

She worked for an engineering firm, Allied Signal. He was a lifelong railroad man with the Chesapeake & Ohio.

“I’d just gone through a bitter divorce, and he was my lifeline,” said Sarah, a 75-year-old great-grandmother and Wilson, N.C., native. “Swore I’d never get married again. But when we met, I knew.”

They married in 1969 and on Valentine’s Day 1970, the mother of four gave the divorced father of two this same card.

Gave it to him every Valentine’s Day since then.

Thirty-eight years, to be exact.

“I just thought it was so pretty,” Sarah said. “It’s the first card I gave him, and it’s still sentimental to me. He might not care to pay any attention to it.”

Freeman does.

It’s a bit difficult for him to show, what with his oxygen aparatus, wheelchair and all.

“I always remember it,” said the 82-year-old Buena Vista, Va., native.

Freeman has made his own greeting cards via the family computer for the past decade.

“I make them for the people who mean something to me,” he said.

Three of them were in the same room.

Sarah, her daughter ,Vicki Jarratt, and his daughter, Marcia Davis.

“I’d rather have a card from him than anything,” Davis said.

Deep down Freeman feels that way about his wife’s old Valentine’s Day card.

It has never meant more.

It may be his last one.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed,” Sarah said.

Freeman’s in the final round of a courageous battle against lung cancer.

Doctors originally gave him 12 months tops. That was 41/2 years ago.

The family attributes his longevity to a number of factors. Not the least of which is a lot of love.

“He’s a stubborn old guy and was not going to give up,” said Jarratt. “Plus, he’s been surrounded by people who put him and his needs first and allowed him to maintain his dignity and self-respect.”

Freeman’s had a lot of folks pulling for him.

Davis moved in with them two years ago.

He’s gotten a card from a brother-in-law almost weekly for the past four years.

But it’s Sarah’s card that reiterates the feelings they shared long ago.

“I’ve written different personal notes in it every year. The first envelope wore out, so I made another,” Sarah said. “He knows he’s going to get the same card, but it means so much to me.”

It means so much to Freeman and his family, too.

“Every day is a blessing,” Jarratt said.

Especially Valentine’s Day.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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