This Month in New Bern History – December 2023

To Love and to Cherish, 'til Death do us Part

by Claudia Houston, Historian, New Bern Historical Society

Photo courtesy of

Our 3d annual History Quest historical scavenger hunt featured the touching story of Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher, a local couple buried side by side in a small James City cemetery. The Fishers have the distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest married couple -- at 86 years and 290 days! From the Great Depression and World War II to the civil rights movement and the pandemic, the couple experienced many momentous events together in their record-breaking marriage. 

Zelmyra Fisher was born in James City on 10 December 1907, the daughter of Isaiah George and Ludie Idlett. In May 1924, 16-year-old Zelmyra married 18-year-old Herbert Fisher. Their early years during the Depression were hard. Herbert sometimes worked for as little as a nickel a day, and the couple grew most of their own food. Herbert eventually got a job as a mechanic at the Coca Cola Bottling Company and saved aggressively, enabling them to send all five of their children to college. According to Zelmyra, "We were poor but we knew one thing. If he had two cents, he saved one cent." Herbert built their home in James City in 1942 and the couple lived in it until their death. 

Photo of Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher on their wedding day, courtesy of Wikipedia

As close as they were, one thing they did not do was go to church together; in fact, they attended separate churches for most of their lives. Zelmyra was a member of Jones Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church and Herbert was a longtime member of Pilgrim Chapel Missionary Church Baptist Church.

The Fisher's granddaughter Iris Godette was responsible for researching and submitting information to the Guinness Book of World Records. Her first application in 2005 was not accepted as there was another couple who had been married a few months longer. In 2008 she submitted the application again, and during that year they officially became the world’s longest married couple still living. There was a huge celebration honoring the couple in James City, with journalists from around the country interviewing them for newspapers and magazines. They even received a signed commendation from President Barack Obama.

After Herbert’s retirement, the couple spent a lot of time sitting on their front porch, talking with neighbors as the trains went by, and watching TV news programs. Perhaps it was Herbert's fondness for baseball and his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, that prompted this advice: “Remember, marriage is not a contest — never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win.”

Herbert passed away on February 27, 2011, at the age of 105. Zelmyra died two years later on February 20, 2013, also at the age of 105. They left a wonderful legacy in their five children, ten grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. You can visit the Fishers at the small Meadows Cemetery, tucked in an out-of-the-way spot near the airport in James City. Their distinguished black granite headstone is reflective of the honor bestowed to them and the legacy they left for their family and community.

When asked about their secrets for a successful marriage, Zelmyra and Herbert cited a piece of advice they received early on: " respect, support, and communicate with each other. Be faithful, honest, and true. Love each other with ALL of your heart."

Truly, wise words for us to consider as we celebrate the holidays and ring in a new year full of promise.

We wish you all the best for 2024!
from your New Bern Historical Society

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