Harry van Loveren scuba dives, races motorcycles and jumps out of airplanes — when he's not performing brain surgery, that is.
The 56-year-old neurosurgeon's credo: "Life is tenuous. Live like there's no tomorrow."
His thrill factor soared two years ago when Jeffrie Hood swept him off his feet. Together they found the ultimate adrenalin rush: love.
Van Loveren zoomed from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon on his Harley-Davidson in May 2007. Newly single, the chairman of the University of South Florida's department of neurosurgery heard about Hood on the ride.
"My friends said she met all my criteria ... independent, adventurous, attractive, intelligent," he recalled, "because I'm shallow … and get bored easily."
All that, and still he declined to meet the Realtor from Ponte Vedra Beach. He didn't mask his annoyance when Hood was among the guests invited to a party to see a video of the trip.
"I ignored her all evening,'' he said, recalling his petulance that night. "Not a word, no eye contact. We ate at separate tables."
She was shocked when, as he headed out the door, he stopped to ask for her phone number.
Hood, now 44, grew up in Atlanta and started her career in commercial real estate at 20. She has worked for Trammell-Crow in Tampa and CB Commercial in Washington, D.C. She also owned a brokerage firm in Jacksonville Beach. Over two decades she negotiated leases for retailers such as Circuit City, Kohl's, Office Depot, CarMax and Dick's Sporting Goods.
Their first date was dinner in Ponte Vedra. The second, a weekend in South Carolina at her friend's wedding, "counts as six dates,'' van Loveren joked. Dancing to Georgia on my Mind, now "their song," they hoped the music would never end.
Within two months of their meeting, Hood had moved to Tampa, working real estate deals from van Loveren's house. He called her his "voice of reason" as they merged interests. She learned to hold him tight when she rode on the back of his motorcycle. He grew content to read, cook and relax at home.
On Christmas Eve 2008, two of Van Loveren's three adult children joined them for dinner in their garden. The siblings left on cue, and he brought out three boxes.
The first held a compass, circa 1880, inscribed with Robert Frost's poem The Road Less Traveled. A crystal ball glistened in the second box. A 3-carat diamond ring shimmered in the third. His proposal went like this:
"Come with me on the road less traveled. We can't see what's ahead and uncertainty is certain. Be my wife, and I promise I will never break your heart."
The couple planned to marry in Italy, but that didn't feel right after van Loveren's father died in March. Then in June while ripping out floors in their new bayfront home off S West Shore Boulevard, an idea evolved. As they planned a July 3 housewarming party, they decided to surprise their guests and make it their actual wedding.
"A few guests were suspicious," said van Loveren, who changed from blue jeans to a tuxedo just before sunset. Hood reappeared in a long white dress. Judge Greg Holder, a motorcycle buddy, officiated. Another friend handed down the late Harry van Loveren Sr.'s sword to Harry van Loveren III, the groom's son and best man. A neurosurgeon colleague lit fireworks in the back yard.
Mrs. van Loveren has agreed to join part of a motorcycle ride from Chicago to California in the spring. But her feet stay firmly on the ground at Pasco County's Skydive City.
"I never asked him to stop and I never will," Hood said, "But he did trade in his Mustang Shelby GT500. And he has stopped threatening to buy a trailer and live in the drop zone."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.