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'Wow, what a long engagement that was!'

During a chance second encounter in Baltimore in 1945, Henry Schalizki, 88, and Bob Davis, 89, met and fell in love. More than six decades later, the couple finally legalized their union.

Of course, it wasn't much of a revelation to a theater crowd that had seen them together for years. The speech got a standing ovation, and for months people approached to tell the couple they'd become a source of inspiration.

"I think the reason it was so moving is that there were many in that audience who realized a relationship like ours could exist," Bob says. "There was still hope that they could accumulate enough love between two people to make it last."

And it really has lasted, Henry says. "We're not only friends, we're lovers, we're brothers and, incidentally, along the way, in 1990, I legally adopted Bob."

True story. When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family.

They think a lot about death -- Bob especially. He takes solace in a prediction from a numerologist that they'll die together, but every time Henry comes home late or doesn't pick up the phone, Bob worries something has happened. And plenty has already happened. Henry has suffered colon cancer and a detached retina. He has had a quadruple bypass and a titanium rod inserted into his spine. Bob's had prostate surgery, serious heart trouble and ailments that necessitate a daily rainbow of pills.

Acting as bookends to memoirs of Tony Bennett and Lucille Ball and a dozen other volumes are two urns engraved with Bob and Henry's names. They're made from the same slate as Jackie Kennedy's gravestone, Henry explains. And until they're placed side by side at Arlington National Cemetery, Bob adds, "they're good for holding M&Ms."

These six decades together have gone "like that!" Henry says, snapping his fingers. "It's like life goes. My advice to anybody is, 'For God's sakes, enjoy your life.' "

When gay marriage became legal in the District, Henry set his sights on a wedding. Bob wanted no part of it. "We're accepted as two human beings, always as a couple. I said, 'I don't see any reason for it,' " he recalls. "Besides that, Vera Wang will never make a gown for me to wear."

Henry reminded Bob of the reaction to the Helen Hayes Awards speech. Their shared life is the contribution they've made to the gay rights movement, he argued, and marriage solidifies that. "We've been an example," he says.

So on June 20, at 5 p.m., the white-haired men walked out onto the balcony of the presidential suite of the J.W. Marriott and faced each other under an arch of billowing silk and saffron-colored flowers. Sixty-two years -- to the hour -- after they got together in that Baltimore bar, Bob and Henry were wed. (The adoption had been nullified several weeks before.)

Their 60 guests, including Councilman Jim Graham and Helen Hayes Awards Chairman Victor Shargai, gathered around a grand piano as local actor Will Gartshore sang show tunes during cocktail hour.

Later, as the sun lit the sky over Washington in pinks and purples, their maid of honor, Linda Levy Grossman, Helen Hayes Awards president and chief executive, stood to toast the couple. "They have never, ever, ever needed a label for their love," she said. "They are simply the air that each other breathes."


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