Ed and Kate O’Malley reflect on more than seven decades of marriage and life in South Philly.
Over the past three quarters of a century, Pennsport has experienced untold changes, as cotton mills crossed over into condominiums with countless businesses existing in the years between.
But, as business, cultures and demographics came and then vacated the community, one couple has stayed rooted amid the metamorphosis of the South Philly neighborhood.
On June 26, Edward “Ed” Patrick O’Malley, 97, and his wife, Kathleen “Kate” Jane O’Malley, 94, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary and lifelong residence in the Irish-American quarter.
“In 75 years, so much has changed,” Ed said.
Recalling memories from morning coffees with Babe Heffron to cows running loose on Moyamensing Avenue, the couple recently reflected on the cornerstones of their more than seven decades of union, reflecting on their children, their travels, and, of course, South Philly.
“When you see those (wedding) pictures, it brings back memories,” Kate said. “We have to be thankful. … We were lucky. We had good kids, good grandkids. How lucky can you get?”
After giving her a ride one night, Ed showed up at Kate’s doorstep on Halloween in 1942 to formally commence his courtship in costume. One accessory in particular, he says, whisked her away.
“She liked the straw hat,” Ed said.
After getting engaged the following Valentine’s Day, Ed, a graduate of Southeast Catholic, now Saints Neumann and Goretti Catholic High School, and Kate, a graduate of Edward W. Bok Technical High School, were married at Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ that June.
Shortly after their honeymoon to Coney Island followed by a cruise to Wildwood, New Jersey Ed served in World War II where he was stationed in the Pacific, including Guam while Marines constructed the U.S. Naval Base.
After Ed returned home, the couple eventually moved into their current Moyamensing home in 1953, which actually belonged to Kate’s grandmother, who raised 10 children in the two-bedroom home, and is believed to have been in her family since the 1890s.
Over the next several decades, the couple sparked an O’Malley lineage, as photos of four kids, 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, plus two on the way, adorned the walls of the home.
“I remember coming here as a kid and this just being the home hub,” said their grandson Ryan Lawrence. “The meeting ground for all of the families. … These are two of the most loving people. They’re the best role models you can have.” ”
And while families flocked to Ed and Kate’s home, the couple consistently followed their kin wherever life led them — across the country and even around the world.
When their eldest son served in the military or when their daughter moved to Europe, the couple traveled as far as Hawaii, Germany, Italy and beyond to check in on their children.
As major Phillies aficionados, the couple even flew to Clearwater, Florida, where they met former outfielder Shane Victorino in recent years to visit Lawrence while he was covering the team.
While the couple says they can’t quite travel these distances now, their summers are still spent by the sea in Avalon, New Jersey.
Yet no matter how far they journeyed, their hearts always led them home to South Philly, where, they say, between family and community, they could never envision themselves living anywhere else.
“We were always satisfied here,” Kate said. “And the people are nice. They always treated us nice.”
“I like South Philly. It’s very historic,” Ed added.
In fact, the couple, whose ancestors descended from Ireland, also have archival traces around the neighborhood and even other aspects of American history.
Ed’s mother’s side landed in Jamestown in the 1700s. His great-grandfather was captured by the Confederates at Gettysburg and taken prisoner to Virginia.
Kate’s great-great grandfather was involved the 69th PA Infantry Regiment — an Irish Regiment that ended Pickett’s Charge.
Bringing it back to the present, nearly 50 descendants of these forebearers planned to gather in Collingswood, New Jersey this past weekend to celebrate Ed and Kate’s 75 years of marriage. Aside from the grand reunion, the couple even received a shoutout on live TV by sports broadcaster Tom McCarthy during a Phillies vs. Yankees game last week.
While contemplating their lifelong companionship, Ed offered a few words of wisdom for lovers.
“Respect each other and have a lot of sense of humor,” Ed said. “You need a sense of humor to get along.”
For Kate, this milestone unmasked many things she says she took for granted all these years, like the persistent and passionate presence of her progeny who still make it a priority to visit them in Pennsport.
“I say ‘I guess we did something right,’” Kate said. “Right, Ed?”