He had been married 30 years. She had been married 50. His wife died of cancer. Her husband died from a stroke.
Both had been happily married and both mourned the loss of their dearly beloved. As impossible as it seems to find your soulmate even once, Phil Wooten and Mary Manery found each other and found true love again.
The couple married in July 2012, making new memories together as they traveled to exotic places, foreign lands and historic sights that gave their second marriage a romantic imprint all its own. To celebrate their love, Phil recently had a huge pond made in the back of their Cleveland home in the shape of a heart. It can easily be seen out their windows. Phil told his wife, “Every day when you get up, I want you to know how much I love you.”
By the look in her eyes, it is apparent that Mary knows. She remembers every detail about how they met, how they dated, how many times he called and how attracted they instantly were to each other. She was happy to share her story.
“In the spring of 2012, a gentleman was painting my house,” Mary recalled. “He asked me out, but I told him, ‘I’m way too old for you.’ He said, ‘Well, please meet my foster dad.’”
After several conversations, Mary agreed to allow Phil to call her. A week passed before Phil called. The two hit if off immediately.
“He was super nice and very interesting,” Mary said. “He called me several times every day for a couple of weeks. Then he finally said, “Well, when are we going to get to meet?’ I said, ‘That’s up to you.’”
The date was set. They met at J. Alexander’s Restaurant at Hamilton Place Mall. They talked and talked. Nothing seemed forced. There was something comfortable, very familiar about each other. Neither wanted it to end, so Phil drove Mary around Chattanooga, showing her places of interest. Afterward, they went back to the restaurant that same evening and had dinner together. They talked until the restaurant closed. Then they sat in the car and talked until midnight.
“After we sat there talking, I knew immediately that I was deeply in love,” Mary admits. “I knew this was the man for me. It was crazy. He was so nice, so wonderful, so very thoughtful.”
“I knew right away,” Phil added. “I said this is the one I have been looking for. She was just perfect.”
Phil called her five to six times every day. He took her to dinner every day after their first meeting. Three months later, Phil asked the question.
Mary recalled exactly how he proposed and proceeded to mimic her husband: “I know this is fast, but will you marry me?’ I said, ‘I was afraid you weren’t going to ask. Yes, I will!’ He said, ‘I mean right away, like yesterday.’”
In July 2012, they went before a justice of the peace in Trenton, Ga., and got married. Then Phil told Mary he wanted a preacher to marry them. So the couple drove to Gatlinburg to repeat their wedding vows in a small chapel on Sept. 26, 2012.
The newlyweds went on a honeymoon vacation to Europe in October, and on a Mediterranean cruise for an entire month. While they were in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, they repeated their vows for a third time, making them feel ever closer. Making new memories together, the Wootens toured London, England, Paris, France and Switzerland, and even visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Then they took a Mediterranean cruise back-to-back and visited the pyramids in Egypt, several biblical sites in Israel and then on to Greece.
Together they walked the Garden of Gethsemane, touching the olive trees, visiting the area where David slayed Goliath and walking the same path Jesus Christ reportedly walked up Golgotha hill.
“This was the trip of a lifetime,” Mary said.
Both had made plans to travel with their first spouses but said they never did. This time it would be different.
“We hurried because we knew we had lost our spouses before we could go, so it was beautiful to have this opportunity the second time around and get to take that trip of a lifetime,” Phil explained.
The honeymoon vacation was everything they could ever ask for. Mary saw in her husband a man who was romantic and spontaneous — a man who knew how to surprise her. A little over a month later, in December 2012, Mary asked Phil if it snowed would he take her to the mountains. At 10 p.m. that night, Phil told her to pack her bags, explaining, “I’m taking you to the snow.”
Suddenly, the two were on their way to Breckenridge, Colo., where they went snowmobiling, rode a dogsled for the first time and visited the Continental Divide and Pikes Peak, Colorado’s most famous mountain.
“We were in 20 feet of snow at 14,000 feet,” he said.
“It was very romantic. He’s a romantic. We both are,” Mary said, laughing.
More than that, this mature couple is able to communicate candidly about their feelings, their loss, their past and present love in a way experts say is healthy and supportive of a relationship that is able to thrive.
“We talk about our spouses all the time,” Phil said. “I know she had 50 years of a good marriage. I knew what that was like. I had 30 years invested in true love. She did too. And that’s what she and I have now.”
Both had gladly cared for their ailing spouses up to their death — he for some three years, she for 7 1/2. Both had raised one child each, a daughter, and their daughters had both married. Both understood what the words “sacrifice” and “loss” truly meant, and now both took the chance to find a way out of their unwanted loneliness into a new life together.
“Once you’ve lost your spouse — you have no idea how hard that is on you,” Mary said. “Your whole life is turned upside down. Even though I have many friends and go out with them, I was not content. You think — ‘I can’t stand to stay in this house,’ so you go out of town. But you’re still not content. You’re not content shopping or doing anything else, because part of you is missing. I was so lonely and so devastated.”
“After I lost the love of my life I spent five years just going downhill,” Phil confessed. “You don’t know where to turn. You go out with people and don’t know how to act. You think, “This is it. All I can do is die. Then when we met each other our hearts became active again. We found love again.”
Mary admitted, “I prayed every night, ‘Lord, please, send me someone. I am so lonely and I cannot bear this void in my life. I know without a shadow of a doubt that God sent Phil to me. Now it’s wonderful. I cannot stress enough that when your spouse dies, it feels like your world has come to an end. It’s a frightening place to be. You think your life will never be the same. Then God blessed me with someone as wonderful as Phil. Now the whole world is brighter every day.
“Phil and I learned a lot during those years of grief, watching someone we love slowly slipping away. We learned to appreciate the simple things in life and never take each other for granted. Every day we tell each other — five or six times a day — how much we love and appreciate the other. Life is very short, and we want to spend the rest of our life together being happy and enjoying our family. We have two wonderful daughters and two son-in-laws and one grandson. We are thankful that God put us together and we give Him the praise.”
The couple said their open and honest communication, working and making new memories together as well as their willingness to express appreciation for each other have been key to their success so far in their second time around.
“We do everything together,” Mary said. “If he’s in the garden, we work in the garden together. We watch movies together. We like to travel together.”
Phil agreed, saying, “We have so much in common. Everything fit just like a hand in a glove. We were just a perfect match.”
Not only do they believe it, but Phil and Mary have a heart-shaped pond in their backyard to prove it.