John and Vivian Ingersoll, Lawrence and Marva Carter and Alvin and Lydia Foster, each recently married, had all arrived at Boston University’s School of Education.
The men, each of whom were head directors of dormitories while pursuing doctorate degrees, met for the first time at staff meetings.
Colleagues at first, their relationship soon grew to include their wives, Marva, Lydia and Vivian, who became quick friends, too.
The six of them would become almost inseparable, gathering often to debate the issues of the day or break bread, preferably at Lydia the dietitian’s table.
“Lydia was the quintessential hostess, and she could throw down in the kitchen,” Marva said.
Those moments, though, were about far more than food and fun, they said. They were also therapeutic.
“Black worship and gatherings like we’d have at the Fosters were uplifting and inspiring because they helped you endure the racism,” Lawrence Carter said. “When we left, it was like being renewed because everybody understood the cultural references and you didn’t have to explain everything.”
Over the next 16 years, they would each add a son — the Ingersolls in 1972, the Fosters in 1973 and the Carters in 1985. Lawrence Carter would complete work on his Ph.D. in pastoral psychology and counseling while Marva wrapped up her piano studies at the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University and work on a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in Urbana.
John taught for three years at Boston University and was director of foundation relations at the Boston University office in New York. Vivian was the first black Harvard University personnel manager and founding director of the university’s Center for Training and Development before going to work for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Education.
Alvin Foster completed his Doctor of Education degree in 1974 and later opened his own advertising business. Lydia worked in the public schools of Boston, where the couple still lives.
Both the Ingersolls and the Carters would eventually trade in their Boston ties for Atlanta, but not even distance could keep the three couples apart. They talked often by phone and showed up for birthdays, graduations and funerals. Lawrence Carter, who performed Aaron Foster’s baptism, also presided over Justin Ingersoll’s wedding.
As their golden anniversary approached recently, the Ingersolls thought it was the perfect excuse to gather again. Their friends agreed, and so hours before their celebratory dinner in late July, they told me about their journey.
It’s been quite a ride.
After spending nearly their entire careers in either education or government, the Ingersolls and Fosters have retired. Only the Carters remain, teaching at Morehouse College and Georgia State University.
At 81, John is the oldest in the group, with the rest ranging in age from 72 to 77.
How have they remained married and friends all these years?
They share a commitment to racial justice and anger at injustice. They are unpretentious. They believe in the power of God in their lives. And they consider family, faith and friendship among God’s greatest blessings.
“I grew up with connections with people, and once you made that connection, you kept it,” Lydia Foster said.
And so there they were the other night, seated at a table lined with rose petals, enjoying plates of seafood, glasses of Champagne, a golden-anniversary cake inscribed with their names, and one another. Just like old times but surprisingly subdued.
Knowing how rambunctious and rollicking they could be, Vivian reserved a private room away from the rest of the restaurant guests.
When you’ve been asked more than once to tone things down some, you get the message.
On this night, though, the humor remained but they were uncharacteristically serious. National politics, the anecdotes and misadventures that dominated past conversations never came up. Stories about those they’d lost, about past events, did.
They’d planned to end the night at the Hotel Clermont’s rooftop lounge, but after nearly four hours they parted, vowing to meet again next year.
“We like to think we’re cool, but only until 10 p.m.,” John Ingersoll said. “We came home exhilarated, thankful that we met these wonderful people way back at Boston University 50 years ago.”
Fifty years ago and counting.