When Judith Nedrow first met Christine Riddiough she felt as if she had encountered royalty.
Nedrow, who was working at the Chicago outpost of the National Organization for Women in 1982, had been an avid reader of Riddiough’s opinion columns. When the writer showed up at the NOW office, Nedrow was immediately enamored of her — and more than a little jealous of her girlfriend.
But as the women worked together, they became friends. And when Riddiough’s relationship ended that fall, Nedrow invited her to come over for homemade turkey soup.
Growing up a Catholic girl in Wisconsin during the 1950s, Nedrow didn’t realize she was gay, but she was certain she didn’t want the married life depicted on shows like “Father Knows Best.” “I knew there had to be something else out there,” she says. By the time she met Riddiough, at age 37, she knew she was attracted to women, but had never had a relationship with one.
Nedrow grew certain there was something real between them. Their political philosophies were almost identical, they never lacked for conversation and they each had two cats.
Funding had run out for Riddiough’s Chicago-based advocacy position, so when she was offered a job at NOW headquarters in Washington, she took it.
The women weren’t sure of their blooming romance, but a month later Nedrow hopped on a plane to visit Riddiough in the District. They took turns traveling to see each other every six weeks. Finally Nedrow decided to move, a decision that ran counter to her normal instinct as a homebody who thrives on routine.
“I don’t change. Every fiber of my body was not for change. But this was not change,” she recalls. “I loved her and I wanted to be with her.”
Riddiough was equally enthralled. She had been in several long relationships before, but none ever worked out as she hoped. Nedrow was attractive and engaging and her chattiness made up for Riddiough’s quiet reserve. So their cats would just have to learn to get along, or at least coexist.
They both worked for NOW until Nedrow took a job editing scientific journals. Her salary often carried them while Riddiough held positions at nonprofit organizations that couldn’t afford to pay much.
In the late 1980s they helped lead the effort to get the District of Columbia to recognize domestic partnerships. The measure passed, but Nedrow and Riddiough never bothered to register as domestic partners themselves.
The life they shared was as meaningful without a piece of paper as it would’ve been with one. “It’s always been real,” says Nedrow. “It’s totally been real for us.”
In March, Nedrow was diagnosed with breast cancer. She snapped into action, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments without even taking a week off of work. Riddiough, meanwhile, felt helpless and frightened.
By fall the scans were coming up clear. But when they went to see their lawyer, she urged them to consider marriage so that medical and benefits issues would be clear.
Riddiough grinned widely at the suggestion, a reaction that surprised Nedrow. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, have I kept you from this for all these years?’ ” recalls Nedrow.
For weeks they went back and forth on the idea, but Nedrow could see how excited it made Riddiough. They decided it should happen on Dec. 21, 29 years to the day of Nedrow’s arrival in Washington.
They didn’t realize that was the date some believed the ancient Mayans had predicted would be the end of the world. Upon further research, they found that the winter solstice was also thought to be a day of transformation, and even after a 30-year romance, that’s what this would be.
“It’s sort of like this is a chance to celebrate our relationship after all this time,” says Riddiough, now 66. “She’s the most wonderful woman in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Ooh, well, I think you are, so there you have it,” responds Nedrow, 67. The wedding, she adds, allowed them a chance to “end the year on a positive note.”
So late on the morning of the 21st, they stood before a fireplace at Tabard Inn near Dupont Circle and clasped hands to exchange vows. On a table nearby were framed pictures of their cats.
Before 11 guests, they pledged to devote themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. “With this ring, I marry you,” they said to one another. “Thank you for filling my heart with love.”
They kissed at the end of the ceremony as their guests clapped. “Ooh!” Nedrow said after the ceremony. “That was fun!”