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Sitting together on a sofa in their 1923 Lakeland home, Bill and Pat Leggett’s arms intertwine, much like their sentences, their memories, and their lives — both the good times and the hardships.
The Leggetts – he is 76 and she is 81 — are celebrating their 25th Valentine’s Day as a married couple, finding each other later in life after they had learned in first marriages what they didn’t want and wouldn’t tolerate in a relationship.
He distinctly remembers the first time he saw her.
“I met her at a corporate meeting one time where she was presenting,” said Leggett, who has worked in the military and then as a chief information officer for several companies. “I worked for the same company … I thought she was a driven individual that had an amazing grasp on business.”
And what did she think of him?
“I didn’t notice him — I was presenting,” she said, noting that her attention was focused on the decision-makers in the room.
“I was just somebody in the audience,” said Bill.
But he eventually became more than that – her boss, to be precise. When he found out her position was being eliminated in the company — Digital Equipment Corp. — he hired her in his department.
“I had no idea of dating or anything at the time, none. That developed later on. And then I had to fire her,” he joked, noting that it was three years after she began working for him.
What he actually did was have her transferred to a different part of the company, which didn’t make her happy until he explained a little later why.
His close friend – eventually in on the plan — hired her.
“She can start on Monday,” Bill remembered him saying after hearing that Bill wanted to ask her out.
“He traded me,” she joked.
“For future draft picks,” he chuckled.
And so the couple – both single parents of two sons each — began going out.
In their early dating life, she invited him to her home for a themed dinner party, which she often hosted for friends. It was Italian night and his first invitation and he asked her what she liked most about hosting the dinners for their friends. She said she enjoyed shopping for and preparing the dinner, along with the camaraderie of friends. Then he asked her what she liked least and she said cleaning up the next day.
“Sure enough, everybody’s having a great time, a wonderful time. And then when it comes time to clear the table, everybody kind of migrates to the living room. But I don’t — I migrate to the kitchen,” he recalled. “And I grab ahold of one person, and I said, ‘Do me a favor. Would you get the dishes off the table and bring them in? I’ll start washing.’ And they did and then they grab somebody and said ‘Get the silverware; we need to wash the silverware.’ And then another person said, ‘Come on in the kitchen.’ Pretty soon, we got everybody in the kitchen area and I’m handing out dish towels to dry the dishes. So we get everything done. … When everybody left that night, the house was clean. She had all of the fun of her evening that she liked so much and she didn’t have to wake up to a dirty house in the morning. And then somebody said, ‘Why’d you do that?’ and I said, ‘There’s a method in my madness.’”
The two, who were living in Texas at the time, had a two-year courtship before Bill decided it was time to make things official. Following another dinner party, he popped the question in the kitchen. While her answer wasn’t what he wanted, his patience paid off in the end.
“She said, ‘I’m not saying no, but I need to work this out. Can you give me some time?’” he remembered. “I said, ‘I’ll give you all the time you need.’”
“It wasn’t my first failed marriage that I was worried about … I thought, you know, maybe I’m just not capable of making good decisions,” she said. “I needed more time than most people would need because I didn’t want another divorce.”
And so the courtship continued for another two years so she could be sure of him. In the end, he won her over.
“I think just the realization that he was genuine, not just saying things to make me happy,” she said. “That was important to me.”
She finally said yes during a jazz lunch at a New Orleans restaurant. They had run into some friends in line as they were waiting to be seated and Bill asked if they wanted to join them.
“No, you wouldn’t want to do that,” Pat told the confused couple.
As they listened to the music, she said, “I’m saying yes.”
And he replied, “To what? She wanted to know if I was still serious and the proposal was still on the table. And she said, ‘I’m saying yes.’ And I went, ‘Oh great!’”
Then he scribbled on a napkin an invitation to their friends to come join the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Leggett for a toast, much to their friends’ delight — particularly the wife.
“You could hear her squeal all the way around the whole restaurant,” Bill said, noting that the singer and pianist stopped because her excitement was so loud. But then she announced to the restaurant what was happening and the Leggetts received a round of applause.
On July 4, 1997, that same couple crashed the Leggetts’ wedding at a Presbyterian church in Flower Mound, Texas. But they brought a case of wine, so no one minded. The ceremony took place in the small chapel, not the large sanctuary.
Through the years, they have had their share of laughter – one of their key ingredients to make things work.
“We’re best friends — still best friends — who love each other deeply, more and more all the time,” Bill said. “And I live with three basic rules: She’s always right. I’m always responsible. And if we get in an argument, I get the last word – ‘I’m sorry, dear. I will try not to do that again.’ And I believe in those rules basically because, in the grand scheme of things, really what would we argue about?”
But there have also been the trials and tribulations of life. They have each wrestled with cancer. He had throat cancer and had to have part of his tongue removed. She had breast cancer. The chemotherapy and radiation left her with memory issues. And they are currently dealing with the remodeling of their home, backyard recreation room, upstairs apartment, and art studio — both Bill and Pat belong to the Lakeland Art Alliance.
“We talk everything out. We get lots of data input,” Bill said. “We’re both kind of data-driven people, too. And we share. Her opinion is very valuable and I think mine is somewhat valuable … My dad used to have a saying: Never go to bed mad and angry at one another. If you have to sit up all night long and talk, sit up all night long and talk, but don’t go to bed angry. Because in the big scheme of things, what are you arguing about? Things will work out if you’re together. They do. So that’s what we do. Do things get under our skin from time to time? Not with each other, I don’t think.”
“Well, occasionally,” she gently corrected him, saying that sometimes he assumes what he thinks she would decide on a topic.
He said they both also have a strong belief in God and the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination as part of their theological upbringing.
“God’s got a plan for us. We just have to figure out what it is sometimes,” he said.
They know that the timing for their relationship was just right because she wouldn’t have looked twice at him when he was in his 20s. That’s because he was conducting military intelligence in the Middle East and donned Arab garb, had a full-length beard, dark tan and, at 6’7, weighed 300 pounds. He jokes that he’s the guy people would cross a street to avoid walking past.
In 2009, the Leggetts made the cross-country trip and their final move to Lakeland, where Pat’s mother had lived for many years. Pat is a graduate of Auburndale High School.
Pat and their daughter-in-law Kimberly found their 1923 home – which was built out in the country back then – in the Edenholme neighborhood off of Beacon Road. They closed in December 2009 on the derelict property, with a previous investor tearing out load-bearing walls. But Pat could see its potential and they did a full remodel before moving in.
They wound up next door to one of Pat’s mother’s longtime friends, who has become a delightful companion to them.
According to divorce.com, the United States has the sixth highest divorce rate in the world, with 40% to 50% of married couples filing to end their first marriages. Usually, second or third marriages in the United States have a higher divorce rate: 60% of second marriages and about 73% of third marriages end in divorce.
With so many couples calling it quits, many people in their 20s and 30s don’t have a good example of what a successful marriage looks like. So what advice would they give?
“When somebody tells you that being married is a 50-50 relationship, I say no, it’s not. It’s 100-100. If you’re not 100% into it, then it’s not going to work,” Bill said. “I mean, 50-50 means that you’re only halfway into this. There used to be a saying in the Navy that says, ‘God, country, and the fleet.’ It’s just how you rank your priorities. ‘God, family, country, and so on.’ Put the family in there –- it’s very important and just keep that in balance.”
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