CLEARWATER — Allie Eager didn't expect to marry after retiring and moving to Florida. Yet at age 81, she recently became a first-time bride.
Her groom had been married before, but she wasn't worried about it. You see, his first marriage had lasted 65 years.
They met at Regency Oaks, a Clearwater retirement community. Before their marriage, both lost people close to them.
When Eager and her friend Ailene Doherty first moved into an apartment there in 2001, they had no family in Florida. Neither did a couple they met, Dudley and Dee Davis.
So the four helped each other as if they were family. They spent Friday nights sharing dinner, cocktails and conversation. When Eager and Doherty needed financial guidance, they turned to Dudley Davis. When Dee took a series of serious falls, Eager and Doherty helped the Davises.
"Dudley lost Dee in August of 2010," said Eager, a retired teacher. "Five months earlier to the day, after a prolonged illness, I lost my lifelong friend Ailene. Since then, Dudley has been the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Davis, who is 88 and a retired lighting engineer for General Electric, added: "Allie has been a wonderful consolation to me. It's remarkable we've found each other. … I'm very lucky."
The two have always been outgoing and active at Regency Oaks. Eager acts as resident photographer. The Davises had started a social group, the Friday Night Chat Room. And he helped found a residents' organization and a veterans group there.
On Feb. 12, Allie Eager and Dudley Davis started a new life together with a wedding at Lakeside Community Chapel.
Eager wore a heather-colored ball gown, Davis a white tuxedo. "We expected 30 and had 75 people," he said.
Before the wedding, they visited his daughters in Illinois and Indiana and her family in Ontario. They didn't tell anyone the whereabouts of their honeymoon, which was in Sarasota. But they talk openly about their next trip in April, sailing aboard the Diamond Princess to China.
Regency Oaks residents Fay and Jerry Sanders were part of that same Friday night group, spending time with Dudley, Dee, Allie and Ailene.
They're happy their friends have a reason to smile again.
"The six of us sat at our table," said Fay, 87. "Dee and I talked fashion. When I moved here, I downsized to 377 pairs of shoes. With Dee, everything she wore matched. We had cocktails. Discussed serious subjects. Laughed. Cried. Helped each other through hard times."
Another love story
The Sanderses understand, because they have their own love story.
A Suncoast Hospice volunteer for the past 32 years, and widow for six, marriage was not on Fay's mind in 1997. She'd gone with about 15 hospice volunteers to a restaurant where Jerry Sanders, happily divorced for 14 years, played piano.
"My professional musician brother once told me that people talking at a table could keep him from entertaining the rest of the audience," said Fay. "So after dinner, I approached the piano player to apologize for our table's chatter. He looked at me dumbfounded."
Jerry, 80, grinned. "I like to say I was awestruck by her beauty."
Fay told him that while he probably figured no one was listening, she'd heard each of the clinkers he'd played.
"When I turned to leave, Jerry said he didn't want the conversation to end," said Fay. "I told him, neither do I. … We married the day after Thanksgiving.
"You hear a funny joke and laugh, but the first thing you want to do is tell someone," she said. "Love at this age is different. It's about sharing. For young people, it's passion. For the middle-aged, it's security. Seniors have been there, done that. It's the best love.
"I'm convinced Dee and Ailene are in heaven saying Allie and Dudley should be together to look after each other."