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4 Valentine Love Stories

Photos by Steve Bracci

They may be standard elements of romance, but when it comes to marriage success, it takes more than just chemistry. Four area couples share their stories, secrets and sure-fire
observation for making love last.

Heather & Tyson Deal

The Set Up

It would’ve made a great edition of The Bachelor—he was an
attractive and eligible medical student. She was a knockout
brunette with a contagiously enthusiastic personality.

Her Augusta-based cousin’s matchmaking efforts sounded fishy to Heather. “It seemed so hokey—this med student needed a date? The whole concept seemed so absurd,” says Heather,  who was fresh out of college and living in Atlanta at the time. Meanwhile Tyson had his own reservations about the set up.  “I’m sure she thought I was a real nerd to need this much help meeting women.” But persistence (and a little behind the scenes photo swapping) paid off and the two agreed to talk on the phone.

They describe their first conversation, which lasted four hours, as their own version of speed dating. “We had a candid conversation at the very beginning because we were both at a point in our lives where we didn’t want to casually date anymore. If this was going
to be a long distance relationship, we wanted to make sure it was worth it,” says Heather.

It didn’t take long to realize they shared core values and lifetime goals. A couple of weeks later, their first date took place over a whirlwind
weekend in Augusta in the midst of family, friends and fellow med students. Tyson was impressed with her display of grace under pressure. “I found out later that everyone was saying, ‘We’ll know if it’s a good weekend if she’s sitting in church on Sunday morning.’”  And was she ever. “I was front and center,” Heather remembers, laughing. They married at the same church two years later in 1998.

After13 years of marriage, the Deals say personality differences aren’t a problem if a couple agrees on the bigger issues. She’s a worrier; he’s laid back. She’s hands-on, while he’s a delegator. However, both partners bring a healthy respect for what each of them contributes to the mix. They credit their parents with instilling family values that have had a lasting impact on their marriage.

Tyson says he has the best job in the world as an ear, nose and throat doctor, but when he comes home, the role of husband and father comes first. “He knew he wanted to be a surgeon, but he also didn’t want to be married to his career. He’s always made decisions based on what was going to be best for his family. He takes care of other people all day, then he comes home and takes care of us, says Heather.

Meanwhile, when nine-year-old son Judson was born, Heather made a deliberate choice to become a stay-at-home mom and get involved in community efforts, including PTO, the Augusta Symphony Guild and various projects at their church. “She places importance on what I do, but I get paid for it—it’s my job. But as a volunteer, she gives herself freely to others. She is the least selfish person with her time that I know,” Tyson says appreciatively.

Finding time for each other is never a problem because there are eager and willing grandparents in town. While Heather and Tyson enjoy spending time with friends or having an elegant dinner out, date nights are often spent at home enjoying time alone. “A fun night for us is to order take out, drink a nice bottle of wine and watch a movie at home together,” says Tyson. They like to have a trip on the books—anything from a long weekend in Vegas to a more relaxing tropical getaway. But preserving family traditions with their son and parents tops their list of priorities.

It just feels right. “He’s my constant, always my due north. He possesses this pull, this sense of center that makes me feel like  I’m the person I was supposed to be, and like I was just waiting for him to come along.” As for Tyson, “I always knew what I was looking for and she was it.”

Sounds like a line from reality TV, but this a real-life romance  in which matchmaking may have brought these two together,  but a dedication to one another—and to family—keeps the magic alive.

Lucinda & Bob Clark

Two for a Tango

It took her10 years, but Lucinda Clark finally got her husband out on the dance floor. Those first lessons were met with great anxiety by the avid golfer, fencer and otherwise self-assured physician. “I’m an athletic kind of guy, but one of my greatest fears is dancing,” admits Bob Clark. However, time and lots of practice have been great teachers. The same can be said about their love story.

The Clarks’ marriage is the perfect fusion of art and science, where two distinct voices tell the same story, with insightful and humorous commentary along the way. He is the practical one, scientific, factual and with a penchant for remembering dates. She brings a colorful, imaginative flair to situations, where possibilities and dreams lead the way. Their 24-year marriage is a product of chemistry and creativity.

 “I never liked the word ‘balance’ to describe a marriage; that’s passive. I think of it more like a tug of war. Of keeping the flag in the middle. Sometimes you have to let it go one way and sometimes it goes the other way. It’s a more active process,” explains Bob.

That flag has moved many times since the couple first met in Philadelphia. He was a first-year medical student, raised in the country, spending time in cornfields and on motorbikes. She was a city girl, a new business owner working with a gallery, who planned to go into medicine but was drawn to the creative arts. He was the first recipient of her new business card. Bob was attracted to this independent, driven woman and the early days of their marriage were filled with good times and burgeoning careers.

Lucinda says her priorities drastically changed when she went into premature labor at 28 weeks with their daughter Jessica. “There was a time when we couldn’t talk about it without crying. When you have a premature child, it shifts everything.” Fourteen months later, son Xavier was born.

With two young children and a husband in his medical residency, Lucinda’s business took a back seat. The flag moved even more when Bob relocated the family to rural North Carolina to open his practice. “There’s this tumbleweed scene in the children’s movie Fievel Goes West, where the wife looks out and says, ‘This is terrible,’ and the husband answers, ‘This is what opportunity looks like!’ That was us,” Bob says, laughing. Lucinda chose their next destination—Augusta.

As with many couples, the Clarks found themselves focused on the children’s activities; Jessica’s interest in fencing spurred Bob to take up the sport and tournament competition. Lucinda did everything from the orientation of teaching the kids something; she took on community involvement, including a stint as the assistant governor of the Martinez-Evans Rotary Club. She incorporated the family into her publishing and licensing business. Bob managed the books and the website, while Jessica and Xavier helped run things in the office.

The years after the kids leave the nest can be shaky for many marriages, but for Lucinda and Bob it’s been a chance to reconnect and rediscover who they really are.

“You have to appreciate the other person’s talent. There’s a reason why you got together,” says Bob. “It’s quick. The children come and then they’re gone. There’s a stigma to being empty nesters, but you get through the struggles and it’s like the early days again. It’s awesome,” adds Lucinda.

The Clarks have come full circle. Time has given their relationship a patina of relaxation, comfort and appreciation. And a lot of amazing trips. Lucinda sums it all up. “We accept one another for who we are. We’re together because we want to be. That’s love. Many issues can come up unless you pause and say, ‘Let’s reset.’ We’ve reset a lot of stuff and now we’re just having fun. We’ve got our groove back!”

Indeed they have. It’s only fitting that the Clarks’ dance of choice is the Argentine tango. They have mastered the moves. The rhythm is right. Full of passion, tension and emotion, but always in an embrace. Nothing could be a better reflection of this couple’s masterful and special love affair.

Jean & Doug Duncan

Years before anyone used online dating to find a love match, Doug Duncan had his own little secret. The human resources executive asked the woman he’d been seeing to take a personality test normally reserved for job candidates. “It’s something new we’re trying at work…just want to see what you think,” he said nonchalantly.

After interpreting the scores—and agreeing it would indeed be a great match—his boss wanted to hire her. But Doug had other plans. This wasn’t standard operating procedure for the Augusta businessman, but then again, Jean wasn’t the standard kind of girl. It was the first—and only—time he used the Predictive Index
on a personal level and the results confirmed what Doug knew all along.

“She was different from any girl I’d ever dated. I tell everyone she’s a cross between Mother Teresa and Lucille Ball. What she was, I was not. And that was the attraction.”

Having complementary personalities may help, but this Martinez couple says teamwork, faith and a sense of humor all play a part in sustaining their marriage of 26 years.

The ethereal blonde from Griffin, Ga., first caught Doug’s eye at an event for young professionals. She was working as a drug rep in Augusta and initially turned down his date request. “My mother was visiting, so I turned him down. Doug said, ‘Bring her along, I’m good with moms.’” A few weeks later came the fateful personality test. They wed in January of 1988, a little over a year after they met. Three years later their son Tripp was born, followed by Charlie and then daughter Molly.

Spend any time with these two and it’s obvious why it works—Doug’s deadpan sense of humor is the perfect foil for his wife’s outgoing personality and funny antics. But underneath is a serious commitment comprised of respect and self-awareness. “Where I see the black and white in life, Jean sees the gray. She’s very objective and an altruist. Who I am is a large reflection of her influence in my life. But just like anybody, we have disagreements,” Doug says.

When those times come, faith fills the gaps. As any couple will tell you, having children affects even the best-matched unions. “It changed our priorities. It helped that we were active in church early and learned to put our relationship first,” says Jean. She credits the many Family Life conferences they’ve attended for helping them find a balance between marriage and parenthood. They also point out praying together every night is a priority.

Of course, prior to the prayer is a sprint to see who gets in the bed first. “She doesn’t like me to get in bed before her, so she’ll take a running jump and have her head covered up with the lights out!“

Games are part of the Duncans’ life. Some of their favorite times are spent with friends at their lake house, playing board games on the porch. They also like to golf together several times a month. Jean took up the game after seeing the positive effect it had on friends’ marriages. “It works for us and we enjoy it. I’m not a great golfer, but I keep up,” she says humbly. Doug is quick to add Jean has had a hole in one—something that has eluded him. His pride in his wife’s accomplishment was disguised as good-natured ribbing in a Facebook post: “I’m in a business meeting and my wife gets a hole in one. What’s wrong with this picture?”

That same spirit of competition benefits their marriage. Out-nice each other. Alternate the lead. Give 100 percent each instead of 50. “I know there’s no perfect. There’s no holy grail for relationships. But Jean is the perfect fit for me. There’s nothing better,” says Doug. Then, not missing a beat, his wife adds, “As long as he has that attitude…”  It’s telling to know Doug saved the original personality assessment completed by Jean in their early days of dating. So all this time later, was it correct? “Totally accurate,” he says. With results like that, who needs eHarmony?

Jennifer & Jeff Drake

Adventurous Hearts

It doesn’t sound romantic. Sparse furniture. No income. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing dreamy about eating off of a cardboard box, yet there’s a smile on Jennifer Drake’s face when she relays the story of the early days of her marriage to husband Jeff. “It was an adventure,” says Jennifer. That description sums up how this Augusta couple has approached their relationship from the beginning and it continues to surprise them along every turn.

The Drake’s love story could be called Oh the Places You’ll Go. Any day now, they are heading to Africa to bring home their new son, David, to join four siblings. It’s been an unpredictable route to building a family for these two self-professed Type A engineering personalities who met at Georgia Tech, where they both played clarinet in the marching band. Jeff was pursuing a civil engineering degree, while Jennifer studied chemical engineering. After Jennifer graduated, the newlyweds headed to Augusta, where she started medical school. “I don’t remember it being stressful. When we were first starting out, we didn’t know any better, we were just learning each other and we were happy to be together,” says Jeff. After moving to Augusta for medical school, then to Cincinnati for a residency and back to Augusta to join a practice, Jennifer acknowledges her husband’s willingness to change jobs to support her career as a pediatrician.

The couple acknowledges their faith in Christ strengthens their marriage and gives them an opportunity to help others. “Jeff is steadfast. He has a servant’s heart. He’ll do anything for anybody, not just his family. It’s the thing I love about him the most,” says Jennifer.

When his engineering job fell victim to the sluggish economy in 2008, Jeff was offered a position as executive director of Christ Community Health Services, Augusta, an organization that provides affordable care to the underserved in the area. It’s a far cry fromcivil engineering, but Jeff feels God placed him where he needs
to be and gave him a supportive partner in life. “She loves meunconditionally, no matter what, and I know I can depend onthat and it’s always there,” he says.

The Drake household is a busy one. The couple has five children: Thomas, 13, Samuel, 10, and Molly, 8, are biological, while Cynthia, 6, and David, 2, are adopted. The idea of adoption had been a childhood dream of Jennifer’s, which she mentioned to Jeff early in their relationship. “I planted the seed when we were dating and it didn’t scare him off, ” she recalls with a smile.

In 2010, the whole family travelled to China to bring home Cynthia, who was two years old at the time. Now they are once again on lock down, awaiting the call that will send them to the other side of the world to pick up their new son David.

Couple time tends to be family time, filled with nature hikes, bike rides and the occasional Georgia Tech football game. In the midst of their busy lives, Jeff sometimes has to surprise his wife and whisk her away before she can ask any questions. She is appreciative of her husband’s spontaneous efforts. “He was my knight in shining armor. Not long ago, he arranged a whole weekend away, found a babysitter and everything. It was really nice.”

Romance is nice, but after 18 years, the Drakes confess  there are many other elements that comprise a healthy marriage—like perseverance, humility and
a willingness to walk together through all of life’s experiences. “We’ve gotten to go to China and now Ethiopia, and it’s all come from a relationship. It’s really been an adventure and we look forward to the next place the Lord leads us,” says Jennifer.

The couple glances at the kitchen and comments on how things will look odd with seven chairs at the dining table. Maybe it’s just those engineering personalities coming out. But maybe there’s room for one more. Regardless, this couple has come a long way from eating off a cardboard box and it’s clear to see that there’s plenty of love to go around.


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