In film, television and popular novels, the romantic landscape is often dominated with first loves. Left unexplored are the "Act II" relationships - or what happened to Elizabeth and Darcy after time passed, illness ensued and one of them died. Soon-to-be newlyweds Tommy Morgan and Donna Maley experienced one of life's cruelest twists of fate, both losing beloved spouses to cancer, before their mutual faith yielded a blessed sequel.
While relating their story and simultaneously making cornbread and soup, the charming couple giggles and banters. "He makes me laugh every single day, belly rolls, about the silliest things," says Maley, 65. "I'm very fortunate she seems to like me," jokes Morgan, 80, before adding, "It thrills me," and giving the floor to his fiancé, though she frequently encourages him to join in. "He doesn't mind I'm a chatterbox." Ah, young love.
Both were happily married to their former spouses at the time they initially met roughly 15 years ago in a Sunday school class at Conyers First United Methodist Church. After a long, arduous battle with cancer, the former Rockdale County fire chief's wife of 56 years, Caroline, passed away last March. Maley's husband, Dick, had succumbed to cancer three years ago. "We both still love our former spouses and always will, and it's ok with us because we understand that. I want to always be sure Caroline is honored, and he feels the same about Dick," she said, "It just works."
Early last summer, the friends, along with a few other widowed class members, organically formed outings for Sunday lunches. As she puts it, "It's not fun going home or to a restaurant by yourself after church." Things shifted from the platonic to more personal when their fellow lunch companions all canceled one day. Maley remembers his shy, cautious approach - "just like a teenager" - to inquire if she would go to lunch with just him.
The meal turned into a four hour conversation when they discovered how much they really had in common, not only their experiences dealing with their spouses' illnesses and deaths, but professionally and personally. Maley's grandfather had served as a Methodist minister in Hazlehurst, Ga., the same church Morgan's son, Mike, had ministered, and she and Mike had been in the same Leadership Rockdale class. They both spent years at the state capitol - she as a director for Emory's Eye Bank and later for C.A.S.A., and he as a lobbyist with Georgia Fire Service - and knew many of the same people.
"What impressed me was he was able to tell his complete story and wanted to hear mine and truly listened, the back and forth, and we truly understood one another." Morgan also gathered "recon," asking what she liked to do in her free time. A joint, favored date is walking Conyers' PATH and trails, one of his many interests is ensuring they develop and connect.
When her mother was hospitalized after a fall, Morgan canceled prior meetings to trek to Northside Hospital every other day to support Maley. The day they brought her mother back to her home in Decatur he asked for her mother's blessing before getting down on one knee in the sunroom. "He proposed right in front of my sweet little mama. It tickled us both," she said, "He's such a Godly and very humble man and always tries to do things the right way."
The blending of families - his two children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild and her four sons and nine grandchildren - has been rather seamless, too. After their March 1 wedding, Maley will move into Morgan's home in the family "compound," where his daughter and son-in-law, Molly and Bart Roberts, and granddaughter and husband all have homes, too. Even the canine members of the family approve. Her springer spaniel and Labrador "adore" Morgan and his "Heinz 57"golden retriever. As the three settle around their feet, Morgan is pleased to be surrounded by "his girls."
Their honeymoon will be in Israel on a joint Holy Land tour, a first for both, with his son's Greensboro UMC group and Daryl Huckaby's party.