Loving couple inseparable in life and death

TRYON, N.C. - George and Betty Stephens lived the ultimate love story, their children say.

Old-timers may remember George Stephens as Mecklenburg County's police chief back in the 1960s. He was a cop's cop, feared by crooks and respected by community leaders, recalls Joe Epley, a WBTV police reporter at the time.

But their personal story is timeless.

George Stephens was born and raised in Charlotte. Got his pilot's license at 16. Joined the Army Air Corps when he finished high school, as World War II wound down.

He became a police officer, and did well enough to be tapped for training at the FBI Academy in Washington, D.C.

Betty Wike, eight years younger, grew up in Hiddenite, a tiny town about 50 miles north of Charlotte. When the FBI came recruiting for secretaries, she jumped at the adventure.

On his first day at the academy, George grabbed a seat at a table full of young women in the cafeteria. Betty was one of them.

That was April of 1955. By July they were married.

They came back to Charlotte, where George rose through the police ranks. He made captain a few months after the wedding, and was chief of police from 1960 to 1967.

A higher-paying job at the Westinghouse nuclear facility lured him from public service. After that he did security for Duke Power.

He and Betty had four kids: Alisha, Zane, Anita and Allyson. Betty raised the children, did volunteer work and supported her husband's career.

They all loved to sing, favorites like "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "You Are My Sunshine."

Allyson McNeil, the last to leave home, remembers watching TV with mom and dad in the evenings. They were almost always holding hands.

The kids grew up, got married, had kids of their own. In 1993, George and Betty moved to a log cabin next to daughter Anita Williamson's home in Tryon, N.C.

Advancing years brought hardship: Betty developed diabetes and Parkinson's disease. George had Alzheimer's. He lost a lot, but he never stopped knowing his wife was at his side, the children agree.

"They were hanging on for each other," says Alisha Jarnagin. "Neither one was going to go while the other was still there."

On the Friday before Christmas, George developed respiratory trouble.

He died on Christmas Eve, at 84.

The entire family was gathered. Betty's kin, who normally celebrate in Statesville, had come to Tryon, knowing she was frail.

On Dec. 26, Betty, who was 76, told Anita her chest hurt. But she spent the day with children, grandchildren and great-grandkids, sisters and nieces and nephews.

Cameras flashed, capturing memories.

"She got a good night's sleep, and she never woke up the next morning," says Anita. "She didn't want to live without him."

Tuesday, the family held a candlelight service to celebrate the long love story of George and Betty Stephens.

They'll sing the one song George never forgot: "You Are My Sunshine."