Russ and Helen Harvie playing one of the card games they enjoyed with friends and family. Photo courtesy of Harvie family

Gail Anderson’s parents were visiting her in Arizona when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and they ended up staying longer than expected.

One day, they joined a Zoom call with her co-workers, who were eager to ask the secret to a long and happy marriage.

“They both basically said the same thing,” said Anderson, 57. “They have to be your best friend. Make that person your best friend and you will go through the ups and downs of life together. Prioritize them and treat them like your best friend.”

Anderson’s parents, Russ and Helen Harvie of Old Orchard Beach, lived by those words every day until they died – just an hour apart – on March 6.

Russ, 83, died first, of sudden cardiac arrest. Then Helen, 84, had a stroke that family members believe was brought on by the stress of her husband’s death.

“I heard her for many years saying, ‘If Russ dies before me, I don’t think I’ll make it. I don’t think I’ll survive,’” said Dory Cote, 76, Helen Harvie’s sister. “She didn’t. There’s a part of it that’s really tragic. We lost her and her husband, and their children lost both parents, on the same day. But it’s an amazing love story because neither of them wanted to live without the other.”


The couple would have celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary this June.


Helen, born and raised in Westbrook, was one of five children. Russ was born in Littleton, New Hampshire, and grew up in South Portland as one of six boys.

They met at a school dance in 1959. Helen’s good friend Bev was dating Russ’ oldest brother, Len.

Helen and Russ married two years later.

Keith Harvie, of Manchester, one of Russ’ younger brothers, remembers their early relationship well. “The simplest way to say it is that he was totally changed when he met Helen,” the 77-year-old said of his brother.


Russ and Helen Harvie on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Harvie family

The couple wanted to get married right out of high school, but Keith Harvie said his mother insisted that Russ further his education first. He studied culinary arts at the Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute – now Southern Maine Community College – and they later moved to Buffalo, New York, where Russ worked for a hotel chain.

Later, when the couple moved back to Maine and settled in Westbrook, Russ owned and operated Harvie’s Diner, until it was destroyed in a fire in 1967. After that, the pair found a variety of jobs.

Helen worked for Weyerhaeuser and G.H. Bass, Russ at the S.D. Warren Paper Mill in Westbrook and at Unum Insurance and Cabela’s.

They raised three children – Mark, Gail and Michael – in Westbrook while cultivating a network of close friends, both nearby and in their travels.

“They never wanted to miss a party or any event we were having,” said Mark Harvie, 60, of Kennebunk. “Our friends became their friends.”

When his girlfriend’s brother didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving one year, his mother set an extra place at the table, said Michael Harvie, 56, of Scarborough.


“He happened to show up and there was a place there. It was just an accepting, anyone-can-come attitude.”

Helen once welcomed a young woman who had a yearlong job at G.H. Bass to live at their house.

“Mom and Dad were like, ‘We’ll take her,’ and she lived with them for a year,” Anderson said. “She was like part of the family. … There are a million stories like that.”


Throughout their lives, Russ and Helen’s marriage was always a priority, and they complemented each other perfectly.

“They were stronger together and inseparable, even in death,” Mark wrote in the family’s obituary. “As one of their grandchildren put it, they ‘had a love for each other that I’ve only seen in movies.'”


Russ and Helen Harvie Photo courtesy of Harvie family

He was quieter, loved to cook and was known for his breakfasts. She was outgoing, gregarious and a great hostess.

“They were very bonded to one another,” said Cote, Helen’s sister. “They loved to dance and loved playing games. They were big card game people. They loved going to Phoenix and spending winters there. They would golf and go to dinner with Gail, and spend a lot of time with their children and grandchildren.”

Both Russ and Helen had bouts with cancer – she had breast cancer shortly after his prostate cancer – but they stayed active and youthful. At 72, Helen got a tattoo of a musical note and dragonfly on her leg – a reward to herself for making it through.

About 10 years ago, when Russ had to go to Loma Linda, California, for prostate cancer treatment, Helen went with him. They quickly made a new group of friends.

“To this day, they’ve stayed in touch with them,” Cote said. “Some would come visit Old Orchard Beach. They went to visit one of the couples in Tennessee. They exchanged Christmas cards and would talk on the phone. They became best buddies under not ideal circumstances after being with these people for a month.”

Both loved music, and Helen spent years singing and traveling with the Voices in Harmony choir in Saco.


“She was a very caring person and really enjoyed music and being part of it,” said Camille Saucier, the choir director. “She was really interested in everyone in the choir and making everyone feel seen and appreciated and valued, without making a big spectacle of things. She was just a genuine person.”

Saucier said that over the years she and her family also got to know Russ. The couple hosted her family for game nights, introduced them to favorite board games like Apples to Apples, and invited them to come join them in Arizona on a visit to the Grand Canyon.

Russ and Helen Harvie Photo courtesy of Harvie family

“They really were each other’s life force,” Saucier said. “They kept each other going. ‘Let’s go do this. Let’s be part of this.’ They really remained active and involved, and at the center of that is because they were really caring.”

Russ proudly wore a T-shirt his family had made for him as a joke after he lost one of his toes to an infection last summer. The shirt said “Nine-toe Russ” and included a picture of a foot with a missing toe.

In December, Helen fell and broke her hip, and Russ had been taking care of her since her injury. Both were in relatively good health overall, so Russ’s cardiac arrest came as a surprise, his children said. They believe it was all too much for their mother.

The double loss has been difficult, but they’ve taken comfort in knowing their parents died as they lived – together.

“They didn’t miss each other,” Mark Harvie said. “They never had to go through the mourning process for each other. In a way, it’s a blessing for them.”

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