Thursday, June 17, 1999

A 1954 photo of James Upchurch and Annette
Lippa, whose friendship blossomed into a love story.

Couple discovers
it’s never too late
to say ‘I love you’

They knew each other for
47 years, and now, both 60, they'll
be married at Iolani Palace

By Lori Tighe


They love I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, liquid laundry detergent, traveling ... and each other. They are a match made in Hawaii that took 47 years to happen.

James Upchurch and Annette Lippa, both 60, have known each other since age 13 at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in the Punchbowl area.

After staying in touch all those years, love finally blossomed. They're getting married tomorrow morning on the Iolani Palace grounds.

He said: "I believe it's true love."

She said: "It's so overwhelming, so wonderful. I never felt this way my entire life."

They became sweethearts in the ninth grade. He was a hunk and she was a shy beauty. They were always together.

"There was an instant attraction. I called him Joe Cool. He always liked me a lot, but never admitted it," she said.


"I believe it's true love."
James Upchurch

"It's so overwhelming,
so wonderful."

Annette Lippa


Then the world tore them apart. Lippa's mother died from lockjaw at age 28 from stepping on a piece of glass. Relatives thought it best she live with an aunt in New York.

"On June 9, 1954, I left the islands. It was very traumatic. I was so unhappy, I missed home," Lippa said.

Her aunt in New York wrote to Lippa's friends in Honolulu and told them to stop writing because she wasn't adjusting well to New York.

"I just ignored her aunt and kept on writing," Upchurch said.

Knowing she had no chance of returning home, Lippa slowly began to socialize and the couple went on to their separate lives. He married once, she married twice. She had four children, moved to California and became a certified purchasing agent. He had three children, fought in Vietnam and returned to Hawaii to work for Matson Navigation.

But they kept writing. He sent her a Hawaii calendar every year. He called her occasionally in the middle of the night after he had had a few drinks just to say hello.

"He was a very warm and loving person. He always ended his letters, "Love you always, Jimmy,' I thought it was a friendship love and that's just the way he is," she said.

They went to a few Roosevelt High School reunions and hung out together. Although both had divorced by then, they felt the other wouldn't want to jeopardize their lifelong friendship by becoming involved romantically.

The last reunion in April in Las Vegas was "the one that lit the fire," Upchurch said. "I guess it was maturity. You see things more clearly. I saw her as a beautiful lady with a great understanding of life." Instead of enjoying a show with the gang, the couple ventured off and ate sushi. They missed the show and their bus to the hotel because his watch was slow. But love -- finally -- moved fast.

"It was sort of like coming out of the closet," Lippa said. "The feeling was stronger than ever. I loved everything about him. Little butterflies were in my stomach."

When they parted, it was sweet sorrow. Upchurch gave Lippa a quick kiss on the cheek and asked her to call him when she got home to Riverside, Calif.

"I just didn't want the holiday to end. I wanted to be with her," he said. He proposed during their next phone call.

"I feel we should be together," he told her. "Why don't we just get married?" And she said yes.

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