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From This Day: Safe harbor, a year later

Editor's note: A year ago From This Day debuted in Floridian. Today we revisit the first couple whose wedding was featured.

POMPANO BEACH

Calum and Lisa Benson Woolner haven't left the country for a year, but they're not complaining.

Other than Calum's occasional Bahamas runs on an employer's super yacht, and a few trips to St. Petersburg to see Lisa's parents, the couple is content to stay put, reveling in being on the same continent.

"Watching TV with my best friend at the end of a long day is wonderful," said Lisa. "And cooking for two is more fun than for one."

Just knowing Calum can travel as he pleases, pleases her.

On May 29, 2011, the Woolners' tale of love overcoming bureaucracy launched a new feature, From This Day . . ., in the Tampa Bay Times, then called the St. Petersburg Times.

Nearly every Sunday since, newlyweds have shared details of the romantic route — usually bumpy, often detoured — that led to their walk down the aisle.

Exhibit No. 1: the immigration nightmare that halted Lisa and Calum's wedding and kept them apart for 16 months.

On the first anniversary of the series, we wondered what revelations married life held for them.

"Well," said Lisa, "I thought I married a British gentleman, but it turns out I married an American redneck."

She laughs, clicking through a mental checklist.

Giant Dodge truck? Check.

Three dogs? Check.

Shooting practice at the gun range? Check.

"He's as American as any guy I know,'' Lisa said. "Having a man around again took some getting used to."

The pair rent a home in Pompano Beach, south of the Palm Beach residence where Calum tends a 112-foot yacht and Boynton Beach, where Lisa is a therapist in an inpatient substance abuse facility. Both turned 30 in December.

It didn't take much for Calum to get his wife to share his new interests. She joins him at the dog park, mountain biking, shooting at the range, "learning not to shake like a leaf," she said.

The two first met in Australia, aboard the Sorcha in March 2007. Ship's mate Calum took note when Lisa arrived as a nanny with friends of his boss, the yacht's owner.

Imagine their shock — and delight — six months later, when they bumped into each other outside the Independent bar in downtown St. Petersburg.

The British sailor fell for the Florida lass as he continued his shipboard work in her home port. She pursued a second degree in social work at the University of South Florida. They became a trio when they adopted a Victorian bulldog puppy, Thatcher.

"Little did we know he would become my lifesaver and sleep next to me every night when Calum was kept away," said Lisa.

Two more puppies have since joined their family: Ronin, an Old English bulldog, and Poppy, an English bulldog.

Calum proposed on a January 2009 ski trip, and wedding plans moved full speed ahead. The date, March 13, 2010, would be exactly three years to the day after their meeting on the Sorcha.

That symmetry meant nothing to a Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport customs agent trying to do his job for Homeland Security.

His questioning of Calum's visa upon their return from a trip to London and Paris in July 2009 marked the start of a year-and-a-half separation. After a night in the Dallas jail, Calum was flown to Manchester, England.

Salting the injury of being denied entry, the agent added a five-year ban when Calum argued that private yacht personnel and cruise industry crew were to be treated differently by immigration. His fiancee had no choice but to return alone to St. Petersburg.

The wedding was off; immigration lawyers were on. Daily Skype calls sufficed for hugs. Advised that a marriage certificate might expedite a green card, the couple met in St. Lucia to marry Sept. 10, 2009.

A week later they flew in opposite directions, Calum to work in ports in southern Europe and the Seychelles, Lisa to finish a second bachelor's degree and begin a master's at USF. Not until October 2010 did the U.S. Embassy approve Calum's green card.

Love and patience won out. Mr. and Mrs. Woolner renewed their vows last year at the Vinoy Renaissance Resort.

Suitcases are stowed for now, but passports are up to date and dogsitting friends at the ready.

Amy Scherzer can be reached at ascherzer@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3332.

From This Day: Safe harbor, a year later 05/26/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 26, 2012 5:30am]
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