How do you describe a woman like Shirley Lee Foley Boone, with all her accomplishments and talents and considerable impact on so many lives? Especially when King Solomon already described her to a T in Proverbs 31?
It’s the last part of the Book of Proverbs, believed to have been written as his “sign off” by a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines… a man who God allowed to experience such things (though He didn’t approve them), and could tell other mere mortals what really counted in a woman and what to search for, perhaps in vain, in a prospective wife.
I married that woman.
And the old King was right, as he described “a virtuous wife. Her worth,” he wrote, “is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil, all the days of her life.”
We started holding hands the moment we met at David Lipscomb High School in Nashville when we were 16. Though we were both popular, active and healthy young kids, and I was strongly attracted to her, we didn’t kiss for 9 months. I knew even then she was so special, and I didn’t want to mess it up with something superficial and too soon.
Tentatively, after a romantic school hayride in the fall of our junior year, I leaned in at her front door and kissed her gently for a second.
I never recovered.
I was hooked forever. She told me later she went in and asked, “I waited 9 months for that…?” She had expected more, she told me, but we began to make up for it from then on. We married at 19, with her Dad, Red Foley’s, consent (he bought our rings), but didn’t consult my parents who I knew would try to dissuade us in favor of finishing college first.
She dropped out of nurses training and we moved to Denton, Texas, and NTC, so we could literally be on our own, while I prepared (I thought) to be a teacher/preacher like my role models at David Lipscomb College.
We dreamed we’d have a quiet, useful life in a cottage with a picket fence, two or three kids, and I’d teach English and preach on Sundays. But God had different plans for us… more different than we could ever have imagined.
Barely four years later, I graduated from Columbia University in 1958, magna cum laude, with a top ten music variety show on ABCTV (on the cover of TV Guide) 6 million selling records, three hit movies, the number one best-selling nonfiction book of advice for teens, and Shirley and I had four little girls – and we were 23 years old.
What 19-year-old bride could have coped with all that? Handling all the crazy excitement, demands, unexpected responsibilities, four pregnancies in 3 and a half years, with four kids to raise, a husband in college and movies and television all at the same time?
Only one in all the world. Shirley Boone.
Somehow, with God’s help, we navigated through my early career as our little girls grew up and we stayed faithful in our Church involvement while I made more movies, hosted my own TV series, traveled the world, sometimes together, sometimes leaving her at home with our active, popular daughters.
She grew wise to the world of show biz, blended in with me when she had to, but was always my anchor spiritually. She never lost sight of what was really important to us and our girls, and in spite of the money and fame and countless opportunities to lose our way—she always reminded each of us that God had blessed us and had His hand on us for His purposes.
We invited Him to live in our house, our home in Beverly Hills, and He did. Over all the 58 years we’ve lived here, people would frequently tell us, “I feel something different in your house when I come over… what is it?” And Shirley would smile and say something like, “Well, we asked God to make His presence felt in our home, and He does.” There was no pretense or “religiosity” about it; she was just answering the question.
There was something different about her, too… and it was the same thing: the evidence of God in her life, her character, her honest love for others – and her overflowing generosity.
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