40 years with a great wife I don’t deserve but love & cherish

Amy Thompson on a trip on Amtrak's Acela to New York City in 2001:
Amy in a newspaper clipping of a play she starred in during our time in Illinois (Yes, her last name was Davis before we married)

Four decades ago, on Dec. 15, 1979, Amy and I stood before the Rev. Lawrence Jackman in Alton, Illinois, to take the vows to become man and wife.

We had become a dating couple more than a year before after meeting to become cast members of a charity melodrama for Alton Little Theater’s summer fundraiser. I was cast as the villain (naturally) and director Birdine Groshong brought in Amy, who had been the resident heroine on the melodramas on The Goldrenrod Showboat on the St. Louis Riverfront, as the professional cast member to anchor the show.

At the first gathering of the cast, Amy told me that we had met, briefly, at a party of students of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, she studied drama and I showed up as the date of girl she recalled was “fast and loose” and not invited.

“I figured she was the type of woman you hung around with,” she later told me. “I decided I didn’t want anything to do with you.”

She also didn’t like my review of one of the plays she appeared in at SIUE. Another strike against me.

She was 26. I was 31. I was divorced and she was working to get out of a bad marriage. She was also downright gorgeous, had a great sense of humor and a sharp mind that attracted me. As rehearsals began, I tried to go out with her. She rejected my advances.

I kept trying, she kept rejecting, until she had car trouble one night and needed a ride home. On the way, I suggested we stop at a local bar for a drink. Afterward, we were in my Triumph TR-6 sports car making out like teenagers. She blamed in the White Russians served to her by the bartender. I felt it was great luck. By the time the melodrama ended, we were dating.

Still, she had doubts. I had a reputation as a ladies man who thought a long relationship was a three-day weekend. I worked hard as a reporter, photographer, and columnist for The Telegraph newspaper and partied even harder. I enjoyed the company of women. This was the “swinging 70s” when widespread use of the birth control pill gave single women the chance to enjoy sexual relationships without fears of pregnancy.

Amy’s mother warned her about dating me. She had heard the rumors about my philandering.

She was also a free spirit and, after a bad marriage, had no intention of getting “tied down” in another relationship with a problem man. We both swore we would “not marry again.”

After a few months of dating, she was about to tell me to “take a hike” when a conversation over lunch turned into a serious discussion about our feelings toward each other and ended with an agreement to get married, which we did a few months later in the home of Rev. Jackman, the minister of the Presbyterian Church where I served as an officer, with his wife and kids as witnesses.

Afterward, we took Larry and Sandy, his wife, to dinner at a nice restaurant in Westport Plaza near St. Louis and near the hotel where we would spend our first evening as man and wife.

During that dinner, Amy asked why the marriage ceremony didn’t include the pronouncement that “I pronounce you man and wife.”

Larry was shocked: “Oh, my God, did I forget that?” He took our hands as he said, “by the laws invested in me, I pronounced you man and wife” just as the waiter brought the appetizers. He asked: “Is this like getting married by the captain of a ship?”

Later, in the following year, Amy and I  took the Panama Limited train from Chicago to New Orleans for a proper honeymoon in the Big Easy.

Amy on a camel ride in Israel in 1983.

Two years after marrying, we left Alton for Washington, DC, where I became a Capitol Hill staffer and she worked on various dramatic events, including with Al Pacino on a Lincoln Center Tribute to Lee  Strasberg in New York. She stuck with me during my drinking days until she helped me face my problems and take my first step towards sobriety with Alcoholics Anonymous on the same day I walked away from politics and returned to journalism. On this wedding anniversary, I celebrate 25 years, six months and nine days sober.

She will be the first to say living with me has not been easy. I had serious anger problems early in our marriage. It took the first 20 years together for me to gain control over my emotions and my ego. She is the barometer who keeps me in check now.

But our good times have outweighed the bad ones. We’ve traveled the world together. She rode camels in Isreal, toured the old city of Jerusalem. She fell in love with Rome. We spent a colorful New Year’s Eve in London, gambled in casinos in the Caribbean, got stuck in a four-wheel-drive near the highest peak on the island of Lanai in Hawaii during a heavy storm and had to hike several miles back to our hotel.

We’ve known good friends like Adrian Cronauer, the real armed services DJ portrayed in “Good Morning Vietnam,” had dinner with Gov. John Connolly, who was shot in the limo when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and listened as he, after a few too many bourbons, said he didn’t believe a word of the Warren Report that declared Lee Harney Oswald the sole assassin.

Amy met actor Paul Newman, who stayed in the same hotel as us during a trip to the pole weekend of the Indy 500, and actors Sam Sheppard and Julia Roberts, who stayed in our hotel New Orleans during the filming of a movie. As a long-time fan of St. Louis Cardinal baseball, she met and talked with Roger Marris, who initially broke Babe Ruth’s home run record and other baseball players at a reception in Washington. Maris, she later told me, also pinched her butt.

When we got married in 1979, most of our friends bet it wouldn’t last a year. They had a pool.

We doubt anyone won it.

Happy anniversary to my friend, my lover and my wife. Without you, I would not still be alive and I look forward to spending the rest of our lives together.

In Rome in 1987.

 

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