An Inseparable Couple, Even at the Tragic End

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 4, 2006

Two walnut coffins formed a V in the funeral home's front parlor. Inside one was Timothy Hohner. Inside the other was his wife, Cynthia. At a spot where one corner of each casket nearly kissed were two intertwined hearts made of flowers. One was white, the other red.

Tim and Cindy, both 47, met while in high school, and from that day on they were seldom apart. Cindy grew up in Arlington and Tim in Falls Church. They met at a bowling alley in Ballston. Tim's father was Cindy's bowling coach. Cindy was 18 and Tim a month shy of 18 when they married in 1977.

"Tim and Cindy became one word," Cindy's brother, Roger Pol, said at the funeral. "They were together all the time. They were together night and day."

So many flowers were sent to the Arlington funeral home that there simply wasn't room to display them all. There was an overflow crowd.

A low murmur filled the room as people waited for the service. Faintly at first and then, as the mourners quieted themselves, more clearly, music could be heard. "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd was being piped into the room, continuing for a good while until the Catholic priest began.

"Tim and Cindy were unique," he said. "Even the service is unique. I have never heard Lynyrd Skynyrd played at a funeral before."

Everyone laughed. That's the way the couple's two grown daughters wanted it. "I was told to make people happy and not to make people cry," Pol said when it was his turn to speak.

This story begins in a funeral home, but it is not about death. It is about life and the love two people shared, a love so strong that although their deaths were shocking and unexpected, the fact that they died together comforted those they left behind.

* * *

Last week, a few days after the funeral, Beckie Lee Conroy, the youngest of the Hohners' daughters, was sitting in a big overstuffed chair in her parents' living room. It was her father's chair. That's where Tim sat first thing every night after work while Cindy pulled his boots off. It was a routine that began soon after they married -- he was in construction, and he'd be too sore and tired after work to get his boots off. It continued throughout the marriage.

"As much as it hurts to have lost both my parents together at the same time, they were together, and that's how they always were," Conroy said. "It is just totally fitting that's how it ended. It brings me peace that neither one of them has to be alone without the other, because I don't know how well that would have gone."

They didn't have much when they first got married. They rented a house just off Lee Highway, not far from Tim's parents on Rosemary Lane.

Tim and Cindy bought Tim's parents' house when their youngest daughter was in first grade. Each morning, Tim would drive Cindy to work, and then they'd meet at home for lunch. When Tim was in the garage, Cindy was there with him. When Cindy was gardening, Tim was next to her, helping her plant or do whatever she needed. They went to the racetrack in Manassas on weekends to watch the stock cars run, and every Sunday during football season, friends and family knew where they could find them: watching the Packers. Tim's family roots were in Wisconsin, and he inherited the Packer fan gene.

When Conroy was a teenager, some of her friends would tell her that they were envious of her because her parents were so happy and in love.

"Our family dynamic was just beyond anybody else's family I had seen before," Conroy said. "My friends told me that our house was what they felt was a safe haven for them. If they couldn't talk to their parents about something, they could talk to mine. They said my parents never judged them. They just sat and listened."

Since the time she was a teenager, whenever she or her sister left the house, her father would tell them the same thing: "I love you and be careful." As adults, she and her sister talked to their mom or dad, or both, every day.

Conroy's husband, David, managed to get himself into the family despite being a Redskins fan. They have a son, Ethan, nearly 2, and are expecting another child this summer. Her sister, Jamie Lee Oliver, has a daughter and is also expecting a second child.

Sometimes, Conroy -- who joked that she does not take off her husband's boots after work -- used to tease her mother and father about their relationship.

"Not that they weren't always close," she said, "but they got a lot closer once my sister and I moved out and there was just the two of them. I mean, my dad used to go to the grocery store with her all the time. Everything they would do, they would do together. I used to say, 'Mom, I don't know how you can do that -- it is so old school.' But she said she just enjoyed being with him and he enjoyed being with her."

Pol recalled something his sister said about what she and her husband wanted out of their lives. "She said: 'When I got married, Tim made me a promise. He said he would get us a house, he would get us a garage and he would get us a bike. And it took us 26 years, but we got all three. We got them all.' "

The house and garage came first. Tim and Cindy waited for their motorcycles until their two daughters were grown and out of the house.

"We always knew he wanted one," Conroy said of her father's desire to buy his own motorcycle. "They just got caught up with life and caught up with my sister and me, and finally, when we got married and started our own families, they said, 'Okay, it's time. Let's get our bike.' "

Conroy got married in 2002, the same year that her father finally got his motorcycle, a 2003 Harley-Davidson, 100th anniversary edition Fat Boy. A few months after he got his, Cindy got one, too. Her bike had more chrome, which made her husband a little jealous.

They'd ride on weekends, and they went to Biker Week in Gettysburg, Pa. They drove cross-country with their Fat Boys on a trailer. They biked along the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago. It was a dream trip come true.

Cindy and Tim spent the last moments of the last day of their lives on Tim's motorcycle. They were heading east on Lee Highway, on the way home from a grocery store, when a Lincoln Continental heading west made a left turn in front of them near Meadow View Road, according to police. The motorcycle hit the front of the Lincoln. It was just before 8:30 p.m. May 20. By 10 p.m., both had died.

The driver of the car, Olga Reiss, 78, of Falls Church, was charged with reckless driving. She is scheduled to appear in Fairfax County General District Court on June 26.

Sitting in her father's chair, Conroy talked about her parents. The living room was full of Packers stuff -- banners, pillows, blankets. Her son, fresh up from a nap and battling a cold, waddled around the room where he had once wrestled with his grandfather. Outside, on the front lawn, flowers from the funeral -- wilting in the spring heat -- made up an informal memorial. The red and white intertwined hearts were there.

Conroy said she and her sister are dealing with the deaths by recalling how full a life they lived. "We don't have regrets," she said. "We were such a close family and, yeah, we disagreed on things as we got older, but there was never anything unresolved. . . . I got to tell my parents what wonderful parents they were."

They were aware of the risks of riding a motorcycle, Conroy said. It was something they often talked about. Both had helmets on at the time of the accident.

"I believe in my heart that this tragedy was part of the reason [my father] waited, because he knew that riding motorcycles, it was always a possibility something could happen, and he wanted to make sure that my sister and I were taken care of in case anything did happen," she said.

And she takes comfort in the fact that they died, as they lived, together.

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