This story appeared in the spring 2014 issue of
After a romance that was all love letters and Johnny Mathis, Emilie and Terry spent 50 years apart. Now the Class of ’64 sweethearts are newlyweds at last, and the moonlight is magic again.
It’s been half a century since Emilie Danielson, 71, and Terry Britton, 70, set foot on the Chapman campus, where the couple met as freshmen. Emilie nearly swoons as she enters Argyros Forum; it’s a bit of a step up from the student union of 1964, when she graduated. As we tour the campus, we’re stopped by a cluster of female students — participants in a class scavenger hunt, looking for a romantic story. Would Emilie and Terry be willing to share how they met? Emilie is all smiles.
“It’s funny you would ask,” she says, recounting the reason they are visiting Chapman today.
Terry and Emilie have fallen into a fairytale. After two years of dating in college, they separated over a trivial argument and only communicated through family Christmas cards for the next 50 years. Both graduated and lived separate lives: Emilie taught school and then worked as an executive secretary, raising three children and being widowed twice; Terry prospered as a retail manager and never married.
A simple phone call brought them back together.
Emilie extends a handful of snapshots to the crowd of students, who lean in eagerly. Here’s one of the couple’s 2013 wedding, one of the ﬁrst day they met in 1960. There is a collective sigh: evidently, this is more than the scavenger-hunters had bargained for.
“I saw her and I just went nuts,” Terry recalls of the time they met during a freshman mixer. Emilie reassures him with a look and clasps his hand in hers. We stand in the hot sun for a minute longer while the students take a photo. Another snapshot to add to the collection.
In the shade outside Moulton Hall, I ask if the couple’s shared experience and rekindled love have inﬂuenced any belief in a higher power.
“I think there’s an aspect of divine intervention in there,” Terry says.
“You think?” Emilie interjects.
“Yeah, I do.”
“There’s no doubt about it in my mind,” She clariﬁes. “It’s such a ‘God thing.’”
They also agree on lessons learned from their journey. Terry says, “You don’t have to have immediate gratiﬁcation. It teaches you that if it’s meant to be, it’s worth a wait. Even a half-century wait. To be with the partner you want to have in life, forever…. I had been spoiled by her love. My expectations were a lot higher. I wasn’t going to take second best.”
Emilie chokes up, and I rearrange my papers, feeling the genuine emotion myself.
“We’re such romantics,” she says. Of anyone, she has reason to be. She has kept Terry’s love letters from college. “I tied them all up in a ribbon that had hearts all over it and I could never part with it. I always said they should be published; they are extraordinary. And I’m a writer, so when I say they’re extraordinary, they’re extraordinary.
“Every month on our anniversary, he would leave a Johnny Mathis album on the doorstep with ﬂowers and the most beautiful card. He would always, oh my gosh, how can I?” She gushes and gathers herself. “He was just so unbelievable. I could never get him out of my heart.”
Terry hasn’t lost any romantic inclinations himself, realizing over the phone during that fateful call the reason he’d remained a bachelor and that Emilie was the one to whom he was going to propose after all these years.
“I got advice from one of my good friends,” he recalls, “I said, ‘I have a quandary here: how do I connect with this woman I think I’d like to reconnect with, and ask her to marry me?’ She says, ‘Oh, you should meet her.’”
But Emilie knew over the phone that they were meant to reunite.
“When I heard his voice,” she said.
Terry, echoing back, had made up his mind just as early on: “When I heard hers, it struck a chord in my heart.”
Terry and Emilie exude the aura of newlyweds who can’t quite believe their luck — after all, they have only been married a bit more than a year.
“I think we just kind of add to each other’s stories,” Emilie says. And their fairytale has one more twist. Emilie displays a ring she wears alongside her wedding band. It’s one that had belonged to Terry’s mother, with whom Emilie was also close. The couple had feared the ring was lost, because they couldn’t ﬁnd it in her home after she passed away.
Then, in a half-empty jar of jewelry cleaner that was about to get tossed, there it was.
“I couldn’t even talk. I was speechless,” Emilie says. “His mother would love it that I have this, for she always wanted me to be her daughter-in-law.”
Sometimes it takes a while for the “meant to be’s” in life to snap into place. For Emilie and Terry, there are no concerns about the lapse of time and what might have been. It’s all about the love they are privileged to share in the here and now.
Together, they’re 18 again.