Hal Taft met Marquart Doty in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971 and quickly fell in love — not with Marquart, but with her best friend, Paula, who’d driven across country with her from Connecticut.
Soon they all moved in together, sharing a group house with another couple. The three remained close friends, even after Marquart left to live in Sonoma, and Hal and Paula moved back East to an Annapolis farmhouse. When the couple decided to get married, Marquart attended Hal’s bachelor party and was one of Paula’s bridesmaids.
Marquart later moved to Baltimore and the trio got together at every opportunity. Paula had a baby girl; Marquart met a man she wanted to marry. When she was searching for a wedding dress, Hal let her try on his mother’s gown and stood beside her for pictures. When Marquart and Paula each gave birth to sons a few years later, they named each other as godmother.
But as life and kids and schedules took over, the friends fell out of touch. “You go in different directions,” Marquart says. “That doesn’t mean you don’t love each other.”
Six years ago, Marquart’s husband, Lawrence, died after a three-year struggle with cancer. It took her several years to process her sorrow. When she did, she began planning a move to Colorado, where she could live a simple life in the mountains with her dog.
In 2009, Hal was in mid-conversation with his wife when he saw her eyes roll back. With no warning, she died in front of him. As he made funeral plans, he called Marquart to tell her the news.
She came to the wake and continued to check on him after the funeral, guiding him through the grieving process. “She had enough time under her belt with widowhood that she was able to help me get over some of the things I was just starting to go through,” says Hal, a retired carpenter. “We were just so glad to see each other and be friends with each other still.”
For months they got together regularly, as Marquart’s plans to move to Colorado progressed. Then one day, while sitting on her back deck, she found herself thinking, “Oh my God, [he] is awfully handsome.”
The thought surprised her. She’d never considered dating after her husband’s death. “I was fine. I had gotten comfortable with myself and being a widow. I certainly had no interest in any man,” she says.
When she told Hal how she was feeling, he was equally surprised. “I hadn’t thought about it seriously, but I realized we had a lot of affection,” he says. “One of the nicest things about it is that we had most of our lives in common already.”
It hadn’t quite been a year since his wife’s death. His two children worried he was moving on too quickly; hers were concerned she’d be thrown back into the sadness of widowhood.
“I understand how they felt about it, but what are you going to do?” he says. “At our age you don’t walk away from something that could be important to you.”
They tried to ease their children into the idea even as they sorted it out for themselves. Two years ago Hal invited Marquart to move in with him. She was resistant, but when her house, which had been on the market, finally sold, she knew she had to make a choice: Annapolis or Colorado. She picked Annapolis.
“And it’s been nothing but fun since then,” says Hal, now 60. “We had such an easy time fitting our lives together, because we’re older and you don’t have any of that angst you have when you’re young. And she is a very kind and sweet woman and makes me happy every day.”
In time, their adult children came to support the relationship, and the couple began to make the home their own. They put up pictures from each of their first weddings and placed the old photo of her in his mother’s wedding dress by their bed.
Hal wanted to wed, but Marquart was hesitant. “I believe so strongly in marriage,” she says. “I thought, ‘Well I’ve been married once, how can I marry someone else?’”
Then it sank in that the vow she made was “until death do us part.” And she’d kept that promise.
Marquart, now 62, agreed to marry Hal, and they began to discuss a wedding. They considered eloping, but their kids objected; they finally decided to get married on Valentine’s Day at the courthouse.
As a young hippie, Marquart had wanted to get married in jeans but wound up in a dress for her first wedding. So this time they both wore jeans. He bought them red shoes for the occasion, and she held a small bouquet of red and white roses. They woke at 6 a.m. to be sure that they would be first in line at the Anne Arundel County Courthouse. Seventeen friends and relatives showed up to watch; Hal’s daughter posted news of the nuptials on Facebook before the couple even left the ceremony room.
It felt different, Marquart says, when they walked out on Tuesday morning as man and wife. “It’s really neat,” she says. “I have a husband.”
Mostly they are grateful to have found joy, even after the heaviest sorrow. “The heartache was there anyway,” Hal says. “And we got an unbelievable second chance out of life — which many people don’t get.”
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