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For years of service, a final bow // NO LONGER MARRIED TO WORK

The hesitant couple peeked first through the glass and then through the door to the civil department at the Hernando County Government Center.

"Are you here for a marriage license?" asked Rose Valois, her chin tucked to her chest.

"Yes," responded the man, boyishly.

"Are you old enough?" cracked Valois, who was shuffling papers on her desk.

"Yes," he said and nodded his head.

Valois peered above her glasses and up at the man's thin frame, draped in an oversized T-shirt and jeans. His fiancee stood tucked away behind him.

"They look younger and younger," Valois mumbled. "I've been doing this a long time. Way too long."

Seven years, to be certain.

In that time Valois, who issued marriage licenses and passports for the county, has married almost 1,800 couples. She performed nearly a third of the wedding ceremonies in Hernando County in 1996.

All that after a three-hour crash course on wedding protocol. She recently turned in her book of vows for a rod and reel.

"I'm going fishing," said Valois, 62, who retired Tuesday but not before sharing some tender and some unusual memories of her post.

"It's going to be hard to fill her shoes," said Sharon Rivera, who works with Valois and processes divorce papers. "She marries them; I bury them. I gave her job security."

"Hey, my marriages are holding," Valois fired back from across the room.

It's that kind of bantering that Valois' co-workers and her boss, Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai, said they will miss about her.

"She's a trip. She's a pistol," said Nicolai, who convinced Valois she was perfect for the chapel after spending 2{ years handling traffic tickets for the county.

Valois moved to Brooksville in 1986. Previously, she worked as a secretary at a manufacturing company in Chicago.

"I took the job under duress," she said.

When she wasn't filing paperwork, Valois was marrying people inside a tiny pink wedding chapel with blue indoor-outdoor carpet and a plastic arch wrapped in peach silk roses and greenery.

The chapel is on the second floor of the county government center and only a few feet from Valois' desk. She said most couples use the chapel because it's quick and inexpensive. It costs about $88.50.

Usually, couples dressed casually. Occasionally, their attire is startling. Once, an entire wedding party showed up on Halloween dressed in jet black.

On other occasions, couples have showed up tipsy or wearing work boots coated in mud. Someone once wore a Hardee's uniform and married on a lunch break.

While most of the ceremonies went off without a hitch, Valois said some were heart-wrenching and others downright nasty.

"I got some raunchy ones sometimes," she said.

Like the time a group of men and women came in "all doped up" and were kissing each other. They had to be separated to be married, Valois said.

"I didn't know who was marrying whom," she said. "Some do it as a joke. They don't take it serious. The sad part is, so many don't last."

But some do. Last week, Valois said a couple she married six years ago stopped by for a visit. Others have returned to share their honeymoon and baby pictures.

Valois said the most difficult memories are the ones she will cherish most, like marrying soldiers in times of war and the terminally ill.

"Those are the hard ones," she said. "There are hardly any smiles in the room."

Valois, who is "happily unattached," said she cherished her job because the couples were "fantastic" and usually in good spirits.

"They were either traveling or getting married," Valois said. "After they're here five minutes, we're like family. This is the best job in the house."