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    Marriage at last for longtime soul mates


    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000

    You could call it the longest of courtships. Twenty years have passed since former Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade and Carole Watson began dating.

    Last weekend in North Carolina, where the bright reds and golds of autumn are spreading across the countryside, they stood beside Buck Creek in a small patch of sun and exchanged wedding vows.

    It was an idyllic setting in mountains that have become a second home to thousands of Floridians who seek relief from the heat and the work-a-day pace of the city.

    A few dozen people from Florida drove through the rains of Tropical Storm Helene to get to the wedding. Some said they had to see it happen to believe it after all these years.

    Old friends stood on the wooden decks of Creekwood, the Slades' new mountain house, to watch as Shelley and Christopher Green sang All I Ask is You, the love song from Phantom of the Opera. Shelley is Slade's longtime administrative assistant; her husband works for the state.

    Tom Fryer, an old friend who is a minister and writer, pronounced them man and wife.

    Fryer noted that the bride and groom are not beginners in life or love as he conducted the ceremony.

    The bride and groom cried.

    Indeed, there weren't many dry eyes in the place.

    It had been a long time coming. Many of those in the crowd were lifelong friends and family members who have known the couple for many years.

    Slade, 64, has been married and divorced twice. Carole lost two husbands: one in a Vietnam helicopter crash and another in an automobile accident.

    They met in the '70s when Carole was working for a Jacksonville television station and had to interview a state senator named Slade.

    "I thought he was the most arrogant SOB I ever met," she recalled this week. Years later after her husband, Ray Watson, a Jacksonville lawyer, was killed and she had adopted his two children to raise, a friend urged her to go to dinner with Slade.

    "At first I said no, I remember him. But she and he kept calling," she recalled. "We went out to dinner and all of a sudden there was this man who was funny and tender and we've been together ever since."

    Across the years, Carole has been at Slade's side at Republican events throughout Florida and the nation. She watched as he helped build a party that went from sitting on the back benches to controlling the Legislature and the Governor's Mansion.

    Slade has always been a good quote, sometimes too glib for his own good. But to reporters looking for candor in a world that often lacks it, he is a breath of fresh air.

    But now Slade has stepped out of the limelight, completed his time as chairman of the Florida Republican Party and given up on becoming chairman of the national party.

    Carole always wanted a house in the mountains. They both lived in condominiums in Orange Park -- he with an apartment in one end of the building and she in the other. But they spent virtually all of their time together.

    Together they decided to buy a house in the mountains and to build a house on the Intracoastal Waterway in Jacksonville. Somehow marriage seemed appropriate at this juncture in life.

    Slade will continue with Tidewater Consulting Inc., a corporation he and several others put together after he left the GOP. They have a stable of lobbying and campaign clients who look to them for advice.

    And you will no doubt see Slade quoted from time to time in the pages of everybody's newspaper. He's never been without an opinion.

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