TAMPA — As the owner of five construction equipment dealerships, Alexander "Sandy" MacKinnon set specific goals to attain success in business, a practice he carried over in times of bereavement.
He suggested Sandra "Sandy" Cross do the same to help cope with her own loss.
Before long, the two "Sandys" realized they shared more than a name; they shared a vision of a future together.
Their connection goes back some 20 years, as Brandon neighbors active in Rotary Club, the chamber of commerce, church and school. They were part of a civic-minded group of young couples who celebrated together in good times and supported each other during family crises.
In 1998, MacKinnon lost his wife of 32 years, his high school sweetheart Ardie, to cancer. "It was a time of re-evaluation," he said, "to get a grasp on my life. If you just get in the car and drive, you're going to end up at the wrong destination."
The transportation analogy is apt, since it was working on Hillsborough County traffic issues that drew MacKinnon to Commissioner Dottie Berger, whom he married in 2001.
Their friends Sandra and Glen Cross supported Dottie's election and her advocacy work for abused and neglected children. As president of Shimberg Cross Co., Glen developed thousands of homes in the communities of Temple Terrace, Town 'N Country, Carrollwood and Fishhawk. Sandra handled sales and marketing for many of the properties.
The friends rallied to her when Glen lost his life in a tragic accident in Banner Elk, N.C., in July 2012. A truck hauling two cars down Beech Mountain lost its brakes. One of the vehicles disengaged, hurtling into Glen's Jeep.
Then, 15 months later, those friends were among many at MacKinnon's side again, when Dottie succumbed to cancer.
Sandra had returned from a wedding in France in time to visit Dottie, her longtime friend, once more. MacKinnon gave her an envelope full of inspirational quotes and some questions he encouraged her to think about.
He texted Sandra weeks later, asking her to lunch, asking if his notes had been helpful.
"I shared some of my difficulties," Sandra said, "and he mainly just listened. Eventually he opened up … Having known and loved each others' spouses, it was a great comfort for both of us."
Late one afternoon, cruising on MacKinnon's boat behind his Davis Islands home, the couple eyed the fleeting sunset and dared to contemplate the future.
"When you're older and you've lost and you find love again, there is such a deep appreciation for every day," Sandra said. "It's unmeasurable."
MacKinnon counted his blessings. "She's pretty and vivacious," he said. "We'd always liked each other, and I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life single.
"Dottie knew that. She gave me a hall pass, if you will. She said, 'You shouldn't be alone, you're not that kind of person.' "
MacKinnon's surprise Christmas Eve proposal on the beach in St. Augustine made the holiday even more joyous. Sandra sparkled like the diamond ring he had designed for her.
"We are both indeed very fortunate," said MacKinnon, reciting one of the sayings he carries around on 3-by-5 cards: "Someone to love again, something to look forward to and someone to share it with.
"We are both sure that Glen and Dottie would bless our marriage and wish us the best."
They chose Jan. 30 to marry at St. John's Episcopal Church in South Tampa for a convenient reason. "We were already booked on a business trip to Puerto Rico the next day," said Sandra, "an instant honeymoon."
Sandra's daughter was her maid of honor; MacKinnon's youngest brother served as best man. His three adult children gave readings; stepdaughter Shannon, Dottie's daughter, was there, as were all but four of their combined 20 grandchildren.
A steel drummer and a magician entertained at the reception at their home. Friends sent a coconut wedding cake from the Peninsula Grill in Charleston, S.C. The newlyweds found beds for 15 house guests staying for the night.
On her wedding day, Sandra awoke at 4 a.m. filled with thoughts of the events of the past few years.
"Tears came and my heart raced as I remembered the tragedies and loss of our loved ones. Suddenly, seemingly from across the room, a sense of calm and peace rushed over and through me.
"I felt it reaffirmed what we already knew, that all is well."
Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.