After 28 years of dating, what made two high school teachers finally tie the knot? "It was time," she says.
By AMY SCHERZER
Published February 13, 2004
[Special to the Times]
After 28 years of dating, Barbara Simpson and Frank Perez finally married Oct. 11, 2002 in Acadia National Park, Maine. The bride and groom wore matching plaid flannel shirts and blue jeans. Story
CULBREATH BAYOU - Barbara Simpson and Frank Perez are the ultimate high school sweethearts.
When they met in 1974, she was a teacher at Plant High School for nearly a decade and he was a new substitute.
"She tripped over my legs at a meeting of the history department," said Perez, a lanky 6-foot-3 graduate of the University of South Florida.
The couple had their first date on Nov. 10, 1974, at the Columbia restaurant in Ybor City.
For the next 25 years, they were a twosome in every way but matrimonially.
They taught American history in adjoining classrooms 106 and 107. After the bell rang, they played tennis together and traveled throughout the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.
Neither rushed to change the status quo.
"I was very happy with our situation," said Simpson, a West Palm Beach native, who graduated Florida State University.
"I had the best of worlds, a wonderful boyfriend and companion and my independence. I had my career. My life was full the way it was."
Some of their married friends saw the advantages of unwedded bliss.
"Why ruin a good thing?" asked Simpson's tennis, bridge and water aerobics partners.
Said Perez's buddies, "What's the rush?"
"In many ways, it felt like we were married," he said. "We just didn't live together."
Neither of them wanted to have children, so that was never an issue.
"We had 150 kids each of our own," said Simpson, multiplying five classes of 30 students.
Neither had been married before, so no ex-spouses were involved.
So what took so long?
He never asked, and she never pushed.
"Little did I know what I was missing," said Simpson, 62.
* * *
It was no secret they were dating when Perez took a full-time job teaching history at Plant in January 1977.
"He'd pop in my room and I'd say, "There's Mr. Wonderful,"' Simpson said. "Every spring, students started rumors that we were getting married."
Both teachers devoted many hours to extra-curricular activities. Simpson sponsored the yearbook staff from 1983 to 1999, and Perez was the senior class sponsor from 1990 to 2000. They co-sponsored the Kiwanettes service club for about five years.
Simpson coached the girls' tennis and cross country teams for several years. Perez coached boys' tennis from 1978 to 1988.
In the early 1970s, Simpson taught the first philosophy class in Hillsborough County.
Perez, 55, chaired the social studies department from 1995 until last year. He remembers former principal Vince Sussman asking him during the job interview if he had a problem supervising Simpson. Had they been spouses, school board policy would have prohibited him from getting the promotion.
It was "definitely a deterrent to getting married," Perez said. "One of us would have had to leave Plant."
In May 1999, after 35 years in the classroom, Simpson retired. For the first time in 25 years, Mr. Wonderful was on his own.
"That first semester without her was horrible," said Perez. "(Plant was) not the same place after she left. It was lonely."
Still, he didn't rush with a proposal. He continued to live with his father, Frank Perez Sr., in the Culbreath Bayou home where he had grown up.
Things changed when his father died in 2001, and he bought the house from his father's estate. Finally, the timing seemed right.
"I don't recall the circumstances, it just evolved," he said.
At her New Suburb Beautiful condo, the professor got on his knee and asked his favorite teacher to marry him.
Was she surprised?
"It was time," she said.
* * *
They married Oct. 11, 2002, on a crisp, Indian summer afternoon on a cobblestone beach in Acadia National Park, Maine. The bride and groom wore matching plaid flannel shirts and blue jeans. Witnesses were their landlord and lobsterman - friends they'd made during 20 years of visiting Maine.
Back at school the following week, a student in Mr. Perez's fourth-period honors class noticed his wedding ring. By the end of the day, the whole school knew.
Marriage was a bigger adjustment than the newlyweds imagined even after 28 years together.
"It was a huge step for both of us," said Simpson.
"I hadn't had a roommate since college," said Perez, who retired Dec. 19 after nearly 30 years at Plant.
At times, they felt their pets - six birds and six cats - were settling in faster.
"We had some strong discussions," she said. "Once, Frank said our cats are getting along better than we are."
After a multidecade courtship, what could the newlyweds possibly learn about each other?
"She's more fastidious than I thought," he said.
"He is even messier than I thought," she said. "And I've never been happier in my life."
- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or email@example.com