A happy ending, after all


July 26, 1998|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kris Patterson and John "Woody" Woodson are the couple their friends all thought were destined to be together from the first. But things didn't work out exactly as those friends expected.

After four years of dating and a brief stint at living together, Kris and Woody broke up. That was more than seven years ago. The breakup wasn't particularly amicable - making things even more difficult for their wide circle of friends. The couple have been responsible for two marriages and numerous friendships since they met over spring break more than a decade ago when he was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy and she was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia.

To their credit, Kris and Woody quickly moved past any lingering animosity. They kept in touch over the years, calling one another every few months and catching up at weddings and other events.

Even those who love him say Woody is a curmudgeon who wears the title proudly. But underneath the hard shell and lightning-quick wisecracks lie a soft center, a kind heart and a unique charm.

"Woody's the kind of guy that can walk into a bar and not know anyone and by the end of the night, people are inviting him to their wedding," says longtime friend El Keller with a laugh. "That really happened."

Kris, on the other hand, is a determined optimist, a strong woman who knows her own mind to an extent that amazes her friends. Currently a third-grade teacher in the Baltimore City public school system, she abruptly left a prestigious position in funds development to earn her teaching degree after reading newspaper stories about low test scores and poor learning conditions in the city.

"She said, 'It's just horrible what's happening at those schools. I think I can help,' " El recalls.

Kris and Woody's marriage at the Naval Academy chapel on July 18 - attended by her parents, Sally Patterson and Stephen

Patterson, both of Lancaster, Pa.; his mother, Erma Woodson of Long Island, N.Y., and 135 guests - was quite an improvement over the last time the couple were in a wedding together.

Five years ago, they stood as maid of honor and best man for El and her husband, Jim Keller, who is Woody's longtime buddy. By then both Kris and Woody were seriously involved with other people.

It was really kind of poignant, El says, for their friends to see the couple who everyone believed belonged together walk arm in arm down the church aisle - but not as husband and wife. Kris and Woody worked hard to hide their own discomfort with the situation, but by the time they had to join in the traditional wedding-party dance, "it was obvious they didn't want to be there," El says.

Even then, whether Kris and Woody admitted it, "there was something happening" between them, El says. "It was always in the air. You could just tell."

In the spring of 1997, Kris and Woody met on a whim when Kris' previous job took her to Washington on business. Woody was out of the Navy by then and working in the capital as a project manager for 3D International. Within six weeks, they were back together. Although Kris, now 30, was cautious, Woody, now 32, threw everything he had into winning her heart for keeps. "The breakup was all my fault," Woody says - a point on which all of their friends, even the men, agree. (The men, however, point to his commitment to the Navy as an explanation.)

At Kris and Woody's wedding reception at the Naval Academy's Hubbard Hall, their friends were as proud and happy as the couple's parents. They traded favorite memories, shared their hopes for Kris and Woody's future and generally just beamed as they watched the couple together.

Bridesmaid Kathy Reeve summed up the mood best. "Can't think of anything better than the permanent union of 2 'friend circle' originals," Reeve wrote on the mat of a commemorative photo collage the couple plan to have framed. "You've kept the core intact."

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