Love is in the air! Mr. and Mrs. Williams celebrate almost four decades of marriage

My husband, Mark, and I share a sweet history together. I could write a book! The Lord has blessed us in many ways that we certainly don’t deserve. He gets all the honor and glory! We have shared 40 wonderful years together if you begin counting from our first date November 8, 1980. I graduated from Swainsboro High School in 1980 and the same year, Mark graduated from Myers Park High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was truly God who led us to find one another.

On the first day of fall quarter 1980 at Emanuel County Junior College, I noticed Mark from a distance as I was walking to class with my friend, Shari Gambrell Watt. The library now sits on that spot. I had never seen him before. Much to my surprise, he was sitting on the other side of the room in my first class, English 101! Through my friend, Jacquelin Powell Davis, I learned that Mark’s little brother, Jeff, was in class with her sister, Julie, at Swainsboro High School. Through the “old timey grapevine,” we learned of our mutual attraction for one another. Finally, he gained the courage to stop me on campus the first of November and ask for a date! (That spot is now where the new student center is.) Our first date happened on November 8. We drove to Vidalia to dinner and a movie. We ate at The Captain’s Corner. We wished we had ditched the movie for a longer time to talk and get to know one another. Back then, you had to wait on phone calls. My mother would not allow me to call a boy. Mark was nervous and didn’t want to scare me off, so he didn’t call for a few days. It’s so amazing how different courtship is now days.

We both agree that we experienced “love at first sight!” By the time we had dated for six months, we knew we would one day be married. In the middle of our three-and-a-half-year courtship, Mark’s father took a job in Houston, Texas. We were devastated. I was afraid I would never see him again. My grandmother, Nuna, was my prayer partner. After I watched them drive away west on Highway 80, Nuna and I began to pray for him to come back. I lived to go to the post office in hopes of getting a letter from Mark. Letters and the phone were our lifeline. He mentioned that if he could find a way to come back, he would. He had only been gone for 30 days and I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Early one morning at 6 a.m., I thought I heard something at my window. I peeked through the curtain, and there was Mark! I flew out of the door, and we honestly shared one of those moments you see in old movies—me in a flowing white knee-length gown and Mark in his cutoff jeans and t-shirt, running across the front lawn into one another’s arms! After a month apart, we had both lost 10 pounds, and we were both already skinny. From that moment on, we knew we would never again be apart. He drove a 1974 gold Super Beetle Sunbug Volkswagen (it had a sunroof and factory air!). His little car was packed with all of his clothes, his stereo system, two huge speakers, a jar with a little tea left, one last sandwich and only $7 left in his pocket! He was home! He didn’t tell his parents he was leaving. Just this past year, we discovered that his daddy had already called my daddy to say that Mark didn’t show up at his office to get his check to enroll in school at the University of Houston, so be on the lookout. My daddy was up for a drink of water early that morning and had already seen him outside sleeping in his car.

Soon after our reunion, we began to plan for our future. We decided to get married on June 16, 1984 at Bartow United Methodist Church where my parents married in 1961. It seemed like that day would never come! Our wedding day was simple and sweet! Surrounded by our families and close friends, my Baptist minister daddy was the minister at our ceremony. Mark remembers sweat dripping off his body from the pressure of having your father-in-law to perform the ceremony. Everyone there had to endure the heat of south Georgia in the summertime, a church full of people, over 100 candles, and a church air conditioning unit struggling to handle the pressure of the hot day and full church. It was so hot the candles were curved rather than straight. I barely remember anything but Mark and my daddy. Daddy challenged me that day to always be encouraging to Mark. After a brief reception, we rode off into the sunset in that 1974 Sunbug (that Mark had hidden out of town at a friend of the family’s house so the boys would not mess up the paint job) headed for the mountains. We first stopped in Helen and stayed on the river where I grew up visiting in the summers before Helen became a popular place. We went to hiking trails and camping spots that he had enjoyed backpacking on growing up in North Carolina. Of course, the Biltmore House and Gardens was one of our stops. It also wasn’t so popular back then, and we were practically the only guests. We cruised the Blue Ridge Parkway with our sunroof wide open. The highlight of the trip was when the Sunbug (“Charlotte” was her name) had a blowout on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Mark remembers wondering if the spare tire was even inflated. It was, but it was an old dry-rotted “maypop” as he called it. It was nothing like the radials on the other three wheels. The trip around the curvy roads of the parkway slowed down from that point on…

Our married life began on Hill Street right across from the back entrance of ECJC where we met. We rented a little house for $175 per month. We loved our first years as newlyweds on Hill Street. Most of our furniture was old. We paid $125 for our very old refrigerator and $150 for our used stove. Our table was such an antique that it fell in and completely broke into two pieces right in the middle of a meal with our friend, Bob Bridges, who was a local florist. Thank goodness the tablecloth held it all together!

Our low rent helped us to save money, which eventually allowed us to build our home/studio on South Main Street. Soon after we married, Mark joined me in working with my parents at Hunnicutt Funeral Home. Our photography business was actually not planned. Friends we made in college began asking Mark to take photographs for them since they knew he was a photographer. He was awarded the Kodak Regional Medallion of Excellence in his senior year at Myers Park. He was so shy and scared. He finally decided to get a loan (for $300) to buy photography equipment. He was terrified! I constantly reassured him that he could do it! So, in 1985 Mark Williams Studio was born. We truly made a great team from the very beginning. Where I was weak, he was strong and vice versa. Someone once told us that marriage is never 50/50 percent but instead 100/100 percent! That is truly good advice for every couple.

Before long, we had saved enough to make a down payment on building a studio with living space. (My dad, Josh Hunnicutt Sr., had given us the land that allowed us to get the loan for the building.)

We moved into our home studio in October 1988. One month later, we suddenly lost my father. His loss presented many challenges to us as a couple. He and Mark were very close. Neither of us had ever experienced loss like this. In addition to our grief, Mark now found himself helping my mother continue my father’s business and facing the debt and responsibility of the studio we had just built. Needless to say, we trusted God with our fears and worked as hard as we could. Prayer is as essential as breathing in a successful marriage! Mark continued to help Hunnicutt Funeral Home until my mom sold the funeral home to Ken Tomlinson. That was the point where the studio became our full-time gig.

We always knew we wanted at least one child. Mark thought he wanted only one child but in 1989, God had other plans... We were expecting twins! Mark went into nesting mode and our architect friend, Tim Earls, who worked at Buckley and Associates, got busy helping us plan an upstairs in our one-story studio home. Our babies were due in May. The very first Saturday in April, a month that was filled with weddings that year (our studio shot seven weddings that month without my help), was the day the twins would come. Mark found himself loading not only my suitcase for our trip to the hospital but also his camera equipment. We became the parents of Marielle and Julianne on April 7, 1990! An hour after they were born, Mark left the hospital en route to Waynesboro to photograph a wedding. We have always been in awe of God’s help and blessing in our married life. He gave us just enough time to have the babies and get Mark to work on time! He was on time to the wedding. They were born at 2:18 and 2:19, and he left the hospital at 3:18!

By the time they were 3-years-old, the girls were “helping” since we lived at work. Once, when Marielle was almost 4, she picked up an 11x14 framed portrait and took it to a client. It was the right portrait. She said to the lady, “We have to work if we want to go to Disney World!” Our home life was always buzzing with excitement. We were at a wedding on one occasion and an older lady asked me how our children and home life were. I replied, “I don’t know whether to compare it to an ant bed or a bee hive, but it is always as busy as it can be.” I never forgot the elderly friend’s reply. She said, “Oh, honey, your home is definitely not as organized as an ant bed. Your home is a bee hive! At least ya’ll are making honey!” I have always loved that thought! So, when life is so crazy and busy with the little ones God has blessed you with, remember always that you are making honey!

With two busy little girls, we depended on several “teams” of very special babysitters over the years. These girls grew to be like our own children, and they helped us at the studio also. When you must have helpers with your children, it is so important to let God lead you in the choice. The girls who worked with us also had very supportive families who were there for us as well. We are still grateful for them today and thank God for the great influence they all were on our family. We give them credit for the way our girls turned out! Thank goodness for good help!

We were busy, happy, and so involved. Finding time to “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10) was so important to us staying grounded and focused as a couple. Taking the time to be thankful to God and give Him the credit for our success in business and parenting helped us to overcome many struggles. There is no way to be successful without God’s blessing, and there is no way to face trials without taking them to the Lord in prayer. We kept our family involved in church, even though we were out late (sometimes past midnight) most Saturday nights. Taking time to worship and thank God was our first priority. Worship at home is of vital importance, too. Children live what they learn!

By 1995, we had outgrown our studio home and needed to separate our home life from our work life. We needed to focus on the girls at home away from the distraction of our dearly loved work. Mark remembers my hesitance to borrow the money, but knew we had to make the break from living at work… Once again, our friend, Tim, helped us design a home. Before we built our home, we faced yet another tragic trial as Mark’s mother was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This was really hard for us since his parents now lived hours away in Mississippi. We visited as often as we could. Some very memorable trips were made to visit when the twins were little. Mark’s mother got to see our house not long before we moved in during the summer of 1995. We lost her in March 1996.

Soon after losing Mark’s mother, we were completely surprised to learn that we would be welcoming another little one to our home in June 1997 (which we designed with two bedrooms for our “two” children). The twins were now almost 7-years-old and in first grade. They were thrilled! We were shocked! June, so we thought, was not the best month for a photographer and his wife to have a new baby. Once again, God already had it all planned. We welcomed our new baby daughter, Caroline, on June 24, 1997. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t on a Saturday morning (we had “planned” the delivery around our wedding calendar).

During this time finding time to be with one another was a challenge. We cherished our Saturday weddings. Attending a wedding every weekend was our getaway time. Every Saturday, we heard couples make vows to one another before God. Experiencing this over the years has been such a blessing! Every Saturday, we were reminded of our own vows. Even though we were usually with a church full of people, it was like time stood still during every ceremony as we heard those vows and thought of our own wedding day many years before. Our business had become a gift from God in more ways than one. Mark and I were the first married couple to spend time with a couple as they walked out of their ceremony. We always felt like that was such an important time to encourage a newly married couple.

After graduating from high school in 2008, our girls became more involved in our business. It was truly God’s plan once again since the photography industry was undergoing major changes during the digital revolution. Having their input was a breath of fresh air. They had always taken an interest in our work, but now it was obvious that it was in their hearts just like it was in ours. We never dreamed that we would be a family who all worked together. By the time our younger daughter was in high school, she worked with us, too.

In 2012, both of our twin daughters got married. Being in the wedding “business” made planning interesting as our daughters had become a key part of our business. (Mark remembers all too well how they both wanted to do all of the decorating, design, and setup, except for the food, at locations that had no running water, toilets, or electricity.) Not too many years later, we learned we would be grandparents. I remember first seeing Mark as a grandfather just made me love him in a whole new way. I thought my heart would explode! Within five years, we had five grandchildren! We look forward to more!

Not long before our first granddaughter turned a year old in 2018, Mark suffered from alopecia or complete hair loss. Only our first grandson remembers him with hair. People who haven’t seen him in a while are surprised and don’t always recognize him. As he was experiencing this, my sister, Leah, was undergoing treatment for cancer. Many people also thought he was having treatments of some sort. This was truly a time to reflect on our many blessings. As my sister recovered, we learned to love Mark’s new look. Mark remembers visiting Leah and her family after a wedding in north Georgia and Leah not even recognizing him as he approached her in the parking lot of the restaurant where we met for dinner. She thought she had lost a lot of hair!

Though 2020 was filled with challenges, we joyfully added a third “son-in-love” to our family. Our youngest daughter, Caroline, married her soulmate in a small reverent family ceremony in August. Our home and hearts are filled with love! Mark remembers talks with Caroline (when traveling to and from weddings) about the right person God would send for her if she would just have the patience and peace that comes from God only. The funny thing about all of this is that God sent His “sign” the week after Caroline met her husband. They met at a wedding on Cumberland Island. He was there helping the caterer. Interestingly, Dillon is also a photographer and works with us whenever we need him. Coincidentally, that was the week that Mark’s hair fell out!

I guess when I think about what I love the most about Mark... Well, I love everything! I wouldn’t change a thing! He is hard-working, always business-like, patient, dependable, creative, talented, attentive, focused, trustworthy, devoted, a family man, a caretaker for everyone in our family including a few family friends, and above all, he is still my best friend and my “boyfriend!” He is still the one that makes me feel comforted when he enters a room. He makes me feel safe, loved, and at home as he has for almost 40 years. He is my anchor that holds me in place. I am not me without him. Always remember to “see” the heart of the person you fell in love with in the very beginning. And remember that marriage is not a contract that can be broken. It is a covenant with God. Marriage is made of three, not two. (This saying was on a framed plaque given to us as a wedding gift from Mr. Roy & Mrs. Irene McGee.) As the Bible says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Together, with the Lord’s help, we built our home on the rock of Jesus Christ and His love. As our daughters grew, we prayed that we would honor God in the way we parented them. When our lives are over, the only thing we can take with us to our heavenly home is the love in our hearts and the love of those who we are blessed to lead to the love of Christ Jesus.

Over the years, it is vital to a healthy relationship to be honest and considerate of one another. Don’t always assume you know how your spouse feels. It is okay to ask for forgiveness. Share your heart. Pray always for one another. When you don’t know what to do, take it to the Lord in prayer and let Him lead you as a couple (Proverbs 3:5-6). Never let “the little foxes tear down the vines” of love in your marriage (Song of Solomon 2:15).

As we prepared to share our love story, we realized that our journey together has had many ups and downs, just like that long honeymoon drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway all of those years ago. “By faith,” we pray to have many more joyous years together to watch our family grow. We have the hope that the old saying “the older the violin, the sweeter the music” will apply to us as we live out the rest of our lives. My Nuna used to say, “To love and be loved is the greatest joy on earth.”

– Mark and Andrea Williams

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