We first met in Santa Monica, California in 1992. I was a long time resident of the bustling beach community just west of Los Angeles and was president of my family printing business when Rita moved to town. She had been transferred from Atlanta, Georgia by her company that operated shopping malls. She was the new general manager of Santa Monica Place, the city’s regional shopping mall. ( I called her “The Mayor of the Mall”) She immediately joined the local chamber of commerce and the local rotary club. It is here that we met for the first time as I was already a member of both, but, it was strictly business! Rita was a go getter and quickly became known in the community for her sharp mind, energetic style. (I liked her beautiful smile). It wasn’t too long before community leaders were looking to Rita to get involved and the following year she was asked to be the President of our local Chamber of Commerce, where I happened to be on the board.
Then it happened. January 17th, 1994 4:30 am. The Northridge earthquake struck with a magnitude of 6.7. It rocked Los Angeles hard, including our sleepy beach town. We are thankful it happened at 4:30 am instead of 9:30 am as many lives would have been lost. My business was nearly destroyed as walls came tumbling down in the 7 story brick building we occupied on Wilshire blvd. Rita’s mall was hit hard too as glass windows blew out and pipes burst and flooded the mall. Businesses and homes were damaged all around. We all shifted into crisis mode. It took months to stabilize things. I had to relocate my business from its home of 20 years. The community came together with great leadership from Rita and others and eventually life returned to normal in Santa Monica. We both attended many “Grand Re-Openings”, and several community events, but it was one Rotary club dinner party that changed our lives. You see, Rita and I were two of the very few single people in our Rotary club. So this particular night we showed up and we just happened to be seated together at a table of ten. We had a nice dinner with lots of small talk and then the music started. When all the couples at our table got up to dance Rita and I were left alone at the table. So, being the gentleman I am, I awkwardly asked her if she would like to dance. To my great delight she said yes! Well folks, that few minutes on the dance floor was magic. Both our hearts were pounding, and they have been pounding ever since.
We have had so many wonderful adventures together over the past 24 years, and we will be sharing some of those adventures with you here in our blog over the coming weeks and months. One of those adventures was a trip more than 10 years ago to Bosnia-Herzegovina where the inspiration for our book Stalin’s Priests was cemented.