She started working at Food City on Jaybird Road in Morristown in April of 2018 and she accepted a position there in October of that year.
It started out as an “acquaintance,” then a friendship, then companionship, then a long courtship, then a stronger courtship, according to Greg Skinner.
“As veterans cross the line, I would thank them for their service,” Greg said. “I’m an Army Vet myself.”
He took notice when the new cashier, Carolyn Thompson, turned out to be a Navy vet.
“Come to find out, we had the same job in the military. We were both assistant chaplains,” Greg said. “He’s from Illinois and has spent most of his life in North Carolina. I’ve spent 59 winters in the Chicago area, those were just “wonderful”.
“How many of them were good, you ask? Nobody!” he said.
The pair agreed in a recent Over50 interview, during which it became pretty obvious they have a strong partnership — and she calls it “honey.”
Which is convenient for the theme of their story. Both volunteered at the annual Veteran’s Outreach event as employees of Jaybird Road Food City. They snapped a photo that was later posted on Facebook and labeled “the Food City sweethearts.”
Their first official date was Valentine’s Day 2020, a dance at the Regency Retirement. They were supposed to attend prom in April at the Senior Center (that’s the official name; most people shorten it to Senior Center).
A “much maligned” pandemic has come and put the “Kibash,” in Greg’s words.
They started talking and listening to Greg’s Oldies CDs – geriatric 60’s music as he describes it.
Before the pandemic, Regency hosted a Veterans Luncheon every second Tuesday. When Carolyn wasn’t working, she went. You’ve made arrangements with Food City regarding working hours: no Sundays.
Greg put his experience as an assistant chaplain to good use by volunteering Tuesdays and Thursdays for Avalon Hospice, calling veterans in particular: “Mostly for moral support,” Greg said, “And I gave them some of the quilts from the value”.
The couple each have their own quilt. In September 2019, they had lunch on the patio at the Regency, where it was announced that those who served did not have to be a combat veteran to qualify for a quilt, and Greg was presented with his own that day.
“It was 95 degrees out and they wrapped me up in the thing,” she joked.
Caroline received her quilt the following month.
Over50 had to ask, “Carolyn, what caught your eye about Greg?”
“His thoughtful attitude,” she said. “He always wants to help others. A couple of years he received the Claude Varney award at Food City for volunteer work. If he was still there, she probably would have gotten it back,” she said.
His volunteer hours have been spent at Avalon, Regency, Senior Center, Friends of the Morristown-Hamblen Library, Disabled American Veterans, and Our Savior Lutheran Church, where he is now an emeritus elder.
He taught a driver safety course for senior citizens at the Regency, the Senior Citizens Center and the library. “I can’t do them anymore,” she said. “I taught for AARP for 5 years in Memphis, then AAA in Morristown – I guess I taught at least 200 students.”
So who was the “later” in the relationship?
“The cashiers and front-end managers were trying to set me up with every girl that came to the place,” Greg said. “They knew I was a widower.”
American Legion hosts a “meet and eat” dinner at Davy Crockett’s restaurant every third Tuesday, where the pair hang out with the group.
So… was there an immediate spark at the Valentine’s dance?
“It crossed my mind,” Greg said. “Oh yeah,” Carolyn said.
And Greg impresses with his flowing dance moves (as he demonstrated during at least one function as a Tribune employee — Greg works part-time in the newspaper’s call center).
He calls himself “Blue Beard” when he lures younger partners to the floor and openly admits to pursuing younger women.
“With us I’m stealing the crib,” Greg said. “She is 15 years younger than me.” (She is 80 years old).
Can much of staying young be attributed to community involvement?
“I think so,” Greg said – Carolyn immediately agreed.
His daughter lives outside Memphis; Her son lives in Morristown and both are “thrilled,” said Greg, who has something to keep busy. He’s been married for 47 years — “That pain won’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, that’s it.’ I didn’t know if I would meet anyone else again. My girls are happy for me. My brothers and my eldest daughter have yet to meet him, but he has met my nephews and that means a lot, really.
Talk of their children and grandchildren includes homes located across the country: as far north as Wisconsin, as far west as Colorado, and as far 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 kind enough to host us at their home for about 11 days,” she said. My stepmother found us a trailer to rent that was a great-uncle in my husband’s family: $30 a week and you could see the back of the College Square Mall. It was on Thompson Creek Road. We moved here from Jacksonville, Florida.
He was stationed in Mayport just outside Jacksonville.
Her husband worked as a finance director; they were then moved to Gardner, Kansas where she gained her first experience as a cashier at a chain store called Price Chopper located in Overland Park.
They moved to Kansas City before he was moved by his company to Morristown, where—in Carolyn’s words—”things didn’t go so well.”
“We were married for 18 years – he gave me three beautiful girls,” she said. The oldest has been a RN for five years; sons, Gabe and Eric; live in Knoxville and seek homes in Morristown; Rebecca and her daughter, Patience, live in Mooresburg – she works with autistic children; the youngest will soon obtain her third degree and will work as a sonographer.
“She graduated 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 has ever happened to me. I’m so happy,” Carolyn said.
Their relationship success is a given if you measure it by the dogs versus cats rule.
Greg has had three Golden Retrievers. Molly, the 80-pound Golden Retriever—”Carolyn met her before she died,” Greg said. “She had her own Facebook page.”
Greg is a dog lover; Carolyn has cats: Sunny and Smoky. Smoky was recently moved into Greg’s building by a woman because she just lost her cat.
“I feel like she has blessed me as much as she has. She filled a void in her life,” Carolyn said.
“We took the cat to his apartment on Saturday,” Greg said. “We took him out of the carrier. He looks around and goes down the hall, right under the bed. He called Carolyn on Sunday and said she was adjusting well. He used the litter box and slept with her that night.
“He gives her cheek kisses,” Carolyn said. “He is very affectionate.”
As for Golden’s penchant for shedding, Greg said that after his wife died, he decided to move. After emptying the house of furniture and belongings, he refilled the vacuum cleaner twice: “It got stuck and I had to come back the next day and do it again,” he said.
Carolyn still works for Food City – still heavily involved in various organizations. She also attends Walters State Community College basketball and baseball games-Carolyn goes with him when her schedule permits.
“I wrote baseball trivia columns for two newspapers: one in Illinois and one in Bartlett, TN. Obviously, in the Chicago area, you have two teams and you can’t be for both. He worked at a sporting goods store in Illinois that gave away prizes for trivia and he also owned his own insurance agency.
“So I’m not used to being in the spotlight,” he said. She DJed at the Spring Fling housed in the Walters Ridge apartment complex where he lives.
“He pulled 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 from time to time.
In the spring of 2022, they took a memorable trip on the Smoky Mountain Railroad through the Watauga Valley.
“It’s been a good trip,” Carolyn said. “It was a long train, about 50 cars, including the two locomotives in front. We were offered a packed lunch and a packed dinner; Oh that was good.
“I thought it would bother me, so like a dummy I took a Dramamine. I was half asleep and he was trying to keep me awake. I miss all the views, but it was very beautiful,” he laughed.
“You know, life is too short,” Carolyn said. “Everyone should have someone. That says it all there. And we plan to move forward.”