He started working at the Food City on Jaybird Road in Morristown in April of 2018 and she accepted a position there in October of the same year.
It started out as an ‘acquaintanceship,’ then a friendship, then companionship, then a long courtship, then a stronger courtship, according to Greg Skinner.
“As the veterans would come through the line, I would thank them for their service,” Greg said. “I’m an Army vet myself.”
He took note when the new cashier, Carolyn Thompson, revealed herself as a Navy vet.
“Come to find out, we had the same job in the military. We were both Chaplain assistants,” Greg said. “She’s from Illinois and spent most of her life in North Carolina. I had 59 winters in the Chicago area, those were just ‘wonderful.’
“How many of them were good, you ask? None!” he said.
The couple agreed to a recent Over50 interview, during which it became fairly obvious that they have a strong partnership – and she calls him ‘sweetheart.’
Which is convenient to the theme of their story. Both of them volunteered the annual Veteran’s Outreach event as Jaybird Road Food City employees. They had a photo taken that was later posted to Facebook and labeled “the Food City sweethearts.”
Their first official date was Valentine’s Day 2020, a dance at Regency Retirement. They were supposed to attend the Senior Prom in April at the Senior Citizens Center (that’s the official name; most folks have shortened it to the Senior Center).
A ‘much maligned’ pandemic came along and put the ‘Kibash’ on that, in Greg’s words.
They got to talking and listening to Greg’s Oldies CDs – geriatric music from the 60s as he describes it.
Pre-pandemic, Regency hosted a Veteran’s lunch every second Tuesday. When Carolyn wasn’t working, she would go. He made arrangements with Food City with regard to the work schedule: no Sundays.
Greg put his assistant Chaplain experience to good use by volunteering on Tuesdays and Thursdays for Avalon Hospice, specifically calling on Veterans – “Mostly for moral support,” Greg said, “And I presented them with some of the Quilts of Valor.”
The couple each have their own quilt. In September 2019, they had lunch on the patio at Regency, where it was announced that those who had served didn’t have to be a combat Veteran to qualify for a quilt, and Greg was presented his that day.
“It was 95 degrees out and they wrapped me up in the thing,” he joked.
Caroline received her quilt the following month.
Over50 had to ask: “Carolyn, what was it about Greg that caught your eye?”
“His caring attitude,” she said. “He’s always wanting to help others. A couple of years, he received the Claude Varney award at Food City for volunteerism. If he were still there, he would have probably gotten it again,” she said.
His volunteer hours were spent at Avalon, Regency, the Senior Center, Friends of the Morristown-Hamblen Library, Disabled American Veterans and Our Savior Lutheran Church, where he is now an Elder Emeritus.
He used to teach a Driver Safety Class for Senior Citizens at Regency, the Senior Center and the library. “I can’t do them anymore,” he said. “I taught for AARP for 5 years in Memphis, then AAA in Morristown – I figure I taught at least 200 students.”
So who was the ‘most forward’ in the relationship?
“The cashiers and the front end managers were trying to fix me up with every chick that came in the place,” Greg said. “They knew I was a widower.”
American Legion has a ‘meet and eat’ dinner at Davy Crockett Restaurant every third Tuesday, where the couple would hang out with the group.
So … was there an immediate spark at the Valentine’s dance?
“It crossed my mind,” Greg said. “Oh yes,” Carolyn said.
And Greg makes an impression with his smooth dance moves (as he has demonstrated during at least one Tribune employee function – Greg works part time in the newspaper’s call center).
He calls himself ‘Blue Beard’ when attracting younger partners on the floor and he freely admits to pursuing younger women.
“With us I’m kind of robbing the cradle,” Greg said. “She’s 15 years younger than me.” (He’s 80).
Can a big part of staying young be credited to staying involved in the community?
“I think so,” Greg said – Carolyn was quick to agree.
His daughter lives outside of Memphis; his son lives in Morristown and both are “thrilled,” Greg said, that he has something to do to keep himself busy. He was married for 47 years – “That hurt doesn’t go away” he said. “And now Carolyn has been an absolute godsend.”
Carolyn said, “I’ve been married and divorced twice and I thought, ‘Well, this is it.’ I didn’t know if I would meet anybody else again. My girls are happy for me. My brothers and my oldest daughter have yet to meet him, but he’s met my grandchildren – that means so much, it really does.”
Talk about their children and grandchildren include homes located all over the country: as far north as Wisconsin, out west to Colorado and as south as Florida.
Carolyn arrived in Morristown several decades ago with her then-husband, $1,000, a cat and a three and a half-month-old baby girl.
“My in-laws at the time were nice enough to put us up at their house for about 11 days, she said. My step mother-in-law found us a trailer for us to rent who happened to be a great-uncle on my husband’s side of the family: 30 dollars a week and you could see the back side of College Square Mall. It was on Thompson Creek Road. We moved up here from Jacksonville, Florida.”
She was stationed in Mayport, right outside of Jacksonville.
Her husband worked as a finance manager; they were then transferred to Gardner, Kansas, where she gained her first experience as a cashier at a store chain called Price Chopper located in Overland Park.
They relocated to Kansas City before he was transferred by his company back to Morristown, where – in Carolyn’s words – “things didn’t go too well.”
“We were married for 18 years – he gave me three beautiful girls,” she said. The oldest has been an RN for five years; sons, Gabe and Eric; they live in Knoxville and is looking for a home in Morristown; Rebecca and daughter, Patience, live in Mooresburg – she works with autistic children; the youngest will soon earn her third college degree and will work as an ultrasound technician.
“She earned her degree while working full-time as a supervisor at Green Mountain. “All my girls have a caring attitude,” Carolyn said.
“Meeting Greg is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m so happy,” Carolyn said.
Their relationship success is a given if you measure it by the dogs vs. cats rule.
Greg has had three Golden retrievers. Molly, the 80-pound Golden retriever – “Carolyn met her before she passed,” Greg said. “She had her own Facebook page.”
Greg is a dog lover; Carolyn has cats: Sunny and Smoky. Smoky was recently re-homed to a woman in Greg’s building because she just recently lost her cat.
“I feel it blessed me as much as her. He filled a void in her life,” Carolyn said.
“We took the cat to her apartment on Saturday,” Greg said. “We took him out of the carrier. He looks around and down the hall he goes, right under the bed. She called Carolyn on Sunday and said he was adjusting just fine. He used the litter box and slept with her that night.”
“He gives her kisses on the cheek,” Carolyn said. “He’s very affectionate.”
As for the Golden’s penchant for shedding, Greg said after his wife died, he decided to move. After emptying the home of furniture and items, he filled the vacuum cleaner twice – “It stalled, and I had to come back the next day and do it again” he said.
Carolyn still works for Food City – he’s still heavily involved with various organizations. He also attends Walters State Community College basketball and baseball games – Carolyn goes with him when her schedule allows.
“I wrote baseball trivia columns for two newspapers – one in Illinois and one in Bartlett, TN. Of course, in the Chicago area, you’ve got two teams and you can’t be for both. He worked at a sporting goods store in Illinois that gave away prizes for the trivia and as well owned his own insurance agency.
“So I’m not unaccustomed to being in the limelight” he said. He’s worked as a DJ at the Spring Fling hosted by the Walters Ridge apartment complex where he lives.
“He’s brought me out from under a rock,” Carolyn joked.
He bought her a CD player for Christmas, so she can play those 60s tunes.
And they travel now and again.
In the spring of 2022, they took a memorable trip on the Smoky Mountain Railroad through the Watauga Valley.
“It was a nice trip,” Carolyn said. “It was a long train, about 50 cars, including the two engines in front. We were given a box lunch and a box dinner; Oh, it was nice.”
“I thought it was going to bother me, so like a dummy I took a Dramamine. I was half dozed out, and he was trying to keep me awake. I’m missing all the views, but it was very nice,” she laughed.
“You know, life is too short,” Carolyn said. “Everyone should have somebody. That says it all right there. And we’ve got plans of moving forward.”