Two April Weddings
By Leslie Moore
Two couples were married in April: Sixty-three years apart. Much about their lives is very different, but the love they share is unchanged by the passage of time.
The first boy met the first girl, and they fell in love. He asked, and she said yes. Thus began their life together. The boy was handsome, just out of the Navy. He bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle and was driving it home from Conway to Little River when he spotted her on the side of the road, talking with a group of girls. Sweet sixteen, pretty and perfect in his eyes, it was love at first sight. They were married two weeks before she turned 17. That was 64 years ago this month. The boy was Merlin Bellamy, well-known as the North Myrtle Beach Police Chief for many years, and his love for his wife, Joyce, has been the guiding force of his life.
“The pride of my life is my wife,” said Mr. Bellamy while we visited in Myrtle Beach Manor where he was a patient. [Mr. Bellamy has since returned home.] “I saw her that day when I was coming home from Conway on my motorcycle, and knew I had to have her as my wife.”
Young Merlin’s family attended the same church as Joyce’s, and he asked his sister to bring that “Hunt girl” home for dinner after church so he could begin his campaign to win her heart. Unfortunately, his sister brought home the wrong Hunt sister! “She was such a beauty, I knew I had to act fast or someone else would snap her up,” Mr. Bellamy remembered. “After my sister brought home the wrong girl, I started hanging around my cousin’s store on Hwy. 90 because it was across the street from her house.”
Fortunately for this love sick young man, Joyce felt the same way, and he began visiting her at home. “They used to laugh and say that Joyce’s father had to sweep me off the steps at night to get rid of me,” he said laughing. The couple were soon married and settled in Little River to begin their life together, raising a daughter and a son, and now have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Mr. Bellamy began his career in law enforcement as a Special Deputy Sheriff in Horry County, serving the Ocean Drive area. When North Myrtle Beach incorporated, he became the new city’s first police chief, serving until his retirement in the 1970s. Today he is still known by many as simply, “Chief.” “I never had to shoot anyone,” said Chief Bellamy. “I was cautious about what I said and was always making new friends. I didn’t want to give anyone a record if it was not necessary.”
Chief Bellamy was loved and respected by his community, but became a true hero on October 14, 1954. “That day, I received a call from a weather forecaster in Charleston. He asked if I knew that Hurricane Hazel was coming our way and would hit North Myrtle Beach at around 8 o’clock the next morning. Until that phone call, we all thought the storm was going to pass out to sea and leave us mostly unscathed.”
This courageous man immediately recruited local firefighters, and the group began going house to house, evacuating the entire town. Through Chief Bellamy’s efforts, many lives were saved. “My siren blared all night while we knocked on doors. I didn’t lose anyone under my jurisdiction.” Hurricane Hazel leveled the Grand Strand and, years later, Chief Merlin Bellamy would again tell his story on national television when he was featured on The Weather Channel’s “Storm Stories.”
Through it all, Joyce was by his side, raising their family and making a home. “I don’t believe we’ve ever had a really bad argument,” Mr. Bellamy said, glancing at his wife who nodded her agreement with a smile. “We lived together in unity.”
After Hurricane Hazel, Chief Bellamy tried to learn everything about hurricane preparedness and it became a family tradition to keep up with storms. “After Hazel, I started helping the weather bureau and gave hurricane preparedness talks with Diane DeVaughn Stokes. “We spoke all over the community, and I enjoyed knowing I was helping save lives.”
A talented musician, Mr. Bellamy played guitar and harmonica for many area square dances, and he and a group of friends would get together in his garage on Friday nights to pick and sing bluegrass tunes, eventually recording several CDs. He remembers well the first song he played for his beloved Joyce, “My Filipino Baby.”
Merlin Bellamy’s love for his wife has remained strong. “I’ve never been sorry I married Joyce and have never seen another lady I wanted,” he began. “The secret to a good marriage is love – without love you’re in trouble. If God said I could have another life, I’d say let’s keep it the way it is. I’m proud of my past.”
Fast forward to the 21st century and love blooms for another young couple. Their lives are very different from the Bellamy’s, but the love is much the same – cute boy knows pretty girl for years, a spark ignites, boy asks, girl says yes and two lives are joined together. “I knew Jewell growing up,” began O’Neil McCoy, General Manager of Broadway at the Beach. “Our best friends are brother and sister, and they set the whole thing in motion.”
Both Myrtle Beach natives, O’Neil and Jewell McCoy might have never gotten together if not for some behind the scenes intervention by their friends. “I’m six years older than Jewell, and she was in her senior year at USC. I had already finished my graduate work at Clemson and had just ended a relationship. I told myself I was just going to date and have fun – famous last words.”
Love will have its way. O’Neil had always thought Jewell was cute, but didn’t know she was interested until he heard she might have a crush on him. “I decided to call her out of the blue at school. It was the most awkward conversation you can imagine. I had written an outline with bullet points so I wouldn’t forget what I wanted to say – but she still agreed to go out with me,” he said laughing.
After that first date in January of 2009, O’Neil knew he wouldn’t be “just dating” Jewell. “She graduated in May and moved back home to work at South Atlantic Bank. I never dated anyone else,” O’Neil said. In May, 2010, O’Neil and Jewell took his niece and nephew, who call him “Uncle No No,” to the beach to collect shells. Later, O’Neil’s nephew confided that he wanted to surprise Jewell with a necklace made from the shells.
“I told Jewell about the necklace – we both thought it was adorable. What Jewell didn’t know was that I had decided to propose to her during our upcoming trip to the Bahamas. The kids made a box and decorated it with seashells. Inside the box was a shell necklace that I had made, and on the lid was written ‘Will you marry No No?’ I taped the ring on the last ‘O.’”
Jewell said yes, and the couple came back from their vacation excited to begin planning their wedding. “We wanted a small wedding with just our family and close friends,” said O’Neil. “We looked at several destinations, but chose Bald Head Island, a small island located off the southeastern shore of North Carolina that is only accessible by boat or ferry.”
The big day was planned for April 9, 2011, and everything went off without a hitch. “All I cared about was delicious food and a great band. Jewell and her mom planned everything else. I am the outgoing one, and Jewell is somewhat reserved. I thought she would have a hard time being the center of attention, but it turned out that she was calm and collected, and I was a total wreck!”
After a honeymoon in Jamaica, the McCoy’s returned to Myrtle Beach and moved into O’Neil’s condo. Their first year of marriage has been good. “We cook together a lot; Jewell has become a great cook,” began O’Neil. “And we ride bikes together. We don’t take advantage of the beach as much as I would like, but that’s true of many locals I think.”
O’Neil and Jewell are surrounded by family living in the area, including both sets of parents. The family is very close and spends a lot of time together. Jewell has left banking and gone back to school for her Masters in Counseling.
“It’s been a fun first year of marriage, said O’Neil with a big smile. “We like each other – I married my best friend.”
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.