It took 62 years, but she finally said yes
In 1945, she declined his proposal. Reunited a lifetime later, her answer changes.
By MELANIE AVE
Published September 28, 2006
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
"I thought I was in love with her for years," says Bob O'Malley, 83, as he shares a kiss with his bride, Kitty Burris O'Malley, 80.
ST. PETERSBURG -- They wear bifocals. Their hair is gray. Their bones sometimes creak.
But around their aging fingers, they wear new shiny gold rings, proof of love’s endurance even in the sunset of life.
Sixty-two years ago, Bob O’Malley proposed to his high school sweetheart, Kitty Lou Scheehle, while on leave from World War II.
Last month, she finally said yes.
Bob and Kitty went to high school together in Martins Ferry, Ohio, a blue collar town of steel mills and coal mines near West Virginia.
He was the boy next door, a Tom Cruise look-alike with a gentleman’s manners. She was a good girl with shoulder-length brown hair.
They went to picnics and dances together but were not allowed go steady under order of her parents.
Two years after graduation, in the spring of 1943, Bob joined the Marines —“the best fighting outfit in the world’’ he says -- fulfilling a childhood desire. Kitty was about to graduate from high school.
For almost a year, Bob encountered more combat in the Pacific than he cares to discuss.
He returned home on leave at the end of 1944 and headed straight for Mount Union College, where Kitty was studying elementary education.
Bob will never forget when he first asked her to marry him.
She doesn’t remember it at all.
“Well, I’ll be darned,’’ he said the other day as they sat in her St. Petersburg living room.
“Well,’’ Kitty said, “I can’t remember.’’
“You said no,’’ he reminded her.
“She didn’t want to get married when the war was going on,’’ Bob said. “She thought maybe I was going to get hurt or killed. That’s what she told me anyway. I remember these things.’’
A few months later, as the war was winding down, Kitty wrote Bob to tell him she was engaged to another man, ex-Marine Bob Burris.
“Dear Bob,’’ he recalled Kitty’s letter saying. “This is a Dear John letter.’’
He said he thought about killing himself.
Bob and Kitty lost touch.
He became a civil engineer and worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation. He married another Martins Ferry girl and they raised four children.
Kitty married Bob Burris as planned. They had three children and moved to St. Petersburg in 1964.
She became a homemaker. He was a teacher and counselor at Dixie Hollins High School.
Fifteen years ago Bob and Kitty ran into each other in Martins Ferry. Kitty told him her married name and how she lived close to Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg.
They talked for five minutes. She didn’t get a chance to tell him that her husband had died from emphysema in 1987 after 42 years of marriage or how she kept herself busy baby-sitting.
Two years ago, Bob’s wife of 58 years died of cancer. He was lonely.
“My dad was waiting to die,’’ said his son, Mark O’Malley, 57, who lives in Atlanta. “I told him you have to have something you’re interested in, otherwise it’s just useless.’’
Bob thought a minute.
“Well, there is this one thing,” his son recalled him saying.
He wanted to find Kitty, the girl he almost married.
Mark O’Malley found Kitty’s number on the Internet. When Kitty and Bob finally talked, she invited him to visit.
When he arrived, “I opened the door and thought ... he’s bald,’’ Kitty said. “And he looked at me and said she’s fat.’’
“I didn’t say that,’’ he corrected her last week.
“You didn’t say it,’’ she said, “but that’s what you said you thought.’’
Fond memories quickly replaced the shock.
“He opened the door,’’ Kitty said, “and that 62 years was just gone.’’
Within days the subject of marriage came up.
Bob said he wanted to wait a month for the two-year anniversary of his wife’s death.
After that day passed, Bob called Kitty from Ohio.He went down on one knee and proposed over the phone.
She said yes.
Their families were surprised but delighted.
“When you’re in your 80s you don’t do a long courtship,’’ said Kitty’s daughter Barbara Goebel, 51, of St. Petersburg. “It’s just the sweetest thing.’’
They signed a prenuptial agreement and planned a simple wedding.
Kitty’s friend Deann Coop, 37, cried when she heard the news.
“It just seems like it was meant to be,’’ she said. “It’s not their generation’s way to not get married and shack up.’’
One week ago today before 50 friends and relatives at Grace Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg, the Rev. Drew Ross, 26, married Bob and Kitty. He told the guests: This wedding has been a long time coming.
Bob, 83, wore a navy suit and Kitty, 80, a $30 aqua suit from the Dillard’s sale rack as they walked down the aisle together.
Bob and Kitty plan to split their time between his house in Ohio and hers in St. Petersburg.
They want to take day trips, eat dinners out and grow even older together.
“I thought about her all my life, to tell you the truth, never got her out of my mind,’’ Bob said. “I just fell in love with the girl.’’
As Kitty escorted a visitor out the door earlier this week, she showed off some red carnations Bob gave her.
Said the new Kitty Burris O’Malley: “We’re going to have a great life together.’’
Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified September 28, 2006, 21:30:01]
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