Sweethearts & Cheating Hearts In their 70s, Timonium pair have found love for a second time

February 14, 1993|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Warren Tomlinson touches his wife, Alice, on her left forearm as delicately as a painter traces a blossom. This is the spring of their marriage.

They met in April 1990 in a training class for volunteers at the Stella Maris hospice in Timonium. They wanted to help patients in the final stages of terminal illness.

Mrs. Tomlinson's first husband had died at the hospice in July 1987. They'd been married 47 1/2 years.

Mr. Tomlinson's first wife had died at home under the care of the hospice nurses in November 1989. They'd been married 49 1/2 years.

Neither spouse expected to marry again. But seasons passed, and the bleakness of winter melted away.

"You can love again," Mrs. Tomlinson says.

She and her husband sit side-by-side on the couch in their home in Timonium. They have agreed to tell their story, they say, because it might give hope to other people who have lost companions.

Mrs. Tomlinson is 73. Mr. Tomlinson is 77. They were married May 11, 1991, a year after that first training session at Stella Maris.

The volunteers stood up that evening and told something about themselves. Mr. Tomlinson went first.

He'd worked at Glenn L. Martin Co. designing tools used to build bombers during World War II. He retired in 1973 but worked there later as a consultant.

His wife, Mary, had died of cancer five months earlier. They'd gotten married June 22, 1940.

Mrs. Tomlinson, then Alice Plitt, perked up.

Her husband, Bill, had also worked at Glenn L. Martin Co. She had been a registered nurse at Sinai Hospital and an administrator in its school of nursing.

Her husband had died of cancer three years earlier. His last eight days were at the hospice.

And they, too, had gotten married June 22, 1940.

This incredible coincidence remained largely unexplored for several weeks, to Mr. Tomlinson's chagrin.

"After the meetings she'd always be with a group of ladies," he says. "I didn't have nerve enough to ask to take her home."

She made the first move. She invited him to a meeting of Janus, a support group for people who have lost spouses.

"I guess the first meeting Warren came to, he wandered over and sat by me," she says. The group was planning a boat trip on the Chesapeake. Mr. Tomlinson offered to take her. She said she was responsible for four other ladies. He said he'd bring the van. After the boat trip he invited her to see the movie "Avalon" at the Senator Theatre.

"He went ahead and picked up the tickets so I wouldn't have to stand in the cold," she says. "That was very thoughtful." They began seeing each other regularly. After one outing she called her son in Arlington, Va.

"Somehow my mother had become my daughter," says Bill Plitt, 51. "I got the feeling she was sharing with me one of her dating experiences. After three years of depression, here she was on the phone, giggling."

Mr. Tomlinson gave her a narcissus in a dish. "That was warm and tender," Mrs. Tomlinson says.

On Christmas Eve he gave her a necklace. "This means you're very dear to me," he told her.

"There was only one problem that first winter," Mr. Tomlinson says, laughing. "It didn't snow, so I didn't have the excuse to spend the night."

Shortly after Christmas, next to a glowing fireplace in her living room, Mr. Tomlinson proposed. She readily accepted. When he announced their engagement at a Janus meeting, everyone applauded.

"We were so happy for them," says Ann Cotterino, 70, whose husband of 44 years died in 1989. "They were just made for each other -- if you can be the second time around."

They were married at Mrs. Tomlinson's church, Faith Presbyterian on Loch Raven Boulevard, in a simple ceremony attended by 200 people from church, the hospice, the Janus group, and his and her friends and families.

"It was a little tough for the children at first," Mrs. Tomlinson says. "But they were glad, I think, that we'd found somebody and were so happy together. They realized that life must go on."

Bill Plitt says the children, five in all, were glad once they got to know their parent's new companion.

"Frankly, I think my mother got two princes," he says. "And from what I hear about Warren's wife, Mary, she was a queen, too."

Mr. Plitt says his mother and Mr. Tomlinson brought together not only two families, but also two worlds of richly different experiences.

His mother and father liked to dress up and entertain. They had a large circle of friends.

Mr. Tomlinson and his wife wore jeans and didn't entertain much. But they traveled a lot.

So now, Mr. Plitt says, his mother occasionally dresses casually, but when they entertain, Mr. Tomlinson is a splendid host. And they celebrated last St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland.

"They both enriched their lives," Mr. Plitt says.

Mr. Tomlinson moved into his new wife's home, where she had lived since 1975. They plan to move into a retirement community next month. They talk freely about their former mates.

"Both of us were very much in love with our spouses," Mrs. Tomlinson says.

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