The writer of love letters

After four decades of publishing a Valentine's Day letter to his wife, a widower is looking toward the future and dreaming of the past - and lots of folks are saying, "Now that was a great love story!"

Published February 11, 2007

"Always, Ed"; Feb. 13, 2005; links.tampabay.com

THE STORY: Ed Barber loved his wife, Judy, for more than four decades, from the moment he saw her walking back from majorette practice at Hialeah High School. Every year since 1972, Ed wrote Judy a Valentine's Day letter and published it in the University of Florida's student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, where he worked his way from managing editor to general manager. Students always looked for the Ed and Judy message - proof, they said, that true love exists. Now, nearly a year after Judy's heart stopped, Ed struggled to write her his annual letter. He wanted to put his love into words, but his heart was broken.

FROM THE STORY: "When I die, I don't care what may be carved on my tombstone. Or what is said over me. Or even how I am remembered. Except. Except I hope someone of those gathered may turn to another and softly whisper something like, 'You know . . . Judy and Ed. Now that was a great love story!' " (Ed's letter to Judy, 1993)

THE REST OF THE STORY: Ed, 67, has spent the past several months recovering from life-threatening health problems, including a kidney removal and a heart attack and slight stroke that left him in a coma for more than a month last spring. After rehabilitation, he regained speech and movement on his right side. He has short-term memory loss and lost some vision in his right eye; his strength isn't totally back. But his spirit isn't broken.

"I'm pretty much the same as I was before, minus the kidney," he says.

WHAT'S NEXT: Valentine's Day is almost here, and Ed has written his Judy a letter.

Joys are murmured memories now,

Of years ago and just yesterday.

The letters are harder to write now. "They were easy to write when she was alive," he says, "because she was there, and she was my inspiration. Now I have to refer to the past and my grief."

Ed retired in January from the Alligator, where he worked for more than 40 years. He called his time at the newspaper "marvelous, exciting and enriching." But as he neared 70, he said, it was time to get away from the "daily crises and circus."

He hopes to regain more strength and to be "a more productive person in my personal and professional life," visiting his children and grandchildren and enjoying his free time.

"I'll never get over the loss of Judy," he said. "But I am functioning better than I was before."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times staff writer