Couple reunited after spending lifetime apart

Published 2:34 pm Saturday, December 15, 2007

He tried to steady an outstretched hand to prove he was calm. But his fingers trembled, his hand betrayed him. Despite his attempts to hide it, Bob McAllister was nervous.

On the opposite end of the church, Marie Shaifer was waiting behind closed doors. She checked her makeup and checked it again and again. She was nervous, too.

A wedding was nothing new to either of them. Both had been married before — this was Bob’s third and Marie’s second. But it was different this time. This marriage was 72 years in the making.

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Bob first met Marie in 1935. He was 18. She was 16. Marie was visiting family in Cleveland, Ohio, and ran into Bob at church. Marie’s twin sister, Alice, had fallen in love with Bob’s cousin and the four of them hung out together throughout that summer.

“I first fell in love with Marie back then,” Bob said. “That’s when the romance began.”

Marie tells a different story.

“We had a lot of fun back then, but I wasn’t in love,” Marie said. “I was only 16, I didn’t know what love was.”

Marie returned to Natchez for the start of school and left Bob in Cleveland.

“I didn’t think much about it when I left Cleveland,” she said. “I didn’t hear from him again, so that was that.”

Bob and Marie went on with their lives separately. Bob married his first wife and went into the ministry. He served on the mission field in 10 different countries and pastored several churches.

Marie stayed in Natchez and married a “fine Christian man.” Her husband died in 1999 after 60 years of marriage.

Bob and Marie never expected to hear from each other again. The years went on and both grew old. After outliving their spouses, they were single again and not looking for romance. Bob had lost his second wife in 2004.

This past March, Bob had heart surgery, and it was that unfortunate event that brought the two back together. Marie’s sister knew about Bob’s operation and convinced her to send him a get well card.

“I got the card and the name rang a bell,” Bob said. “I thought, I remember that sweet Mississippi girl. I can’t believe she’s still alive.

“I got her number from Alice and called her up. I asked her if the flame was still burning.”

Bob and Marie decided to get together for a visit, so Bob flew to Natchez. They spent four days rekindling the decades old flame. A month later, Marie, now 88, flew to Bob’s home in Florida to help him celebrate his 90th birthday.

“When she left Florida, she told me I had to come to her birthday party in Ohio, so I did,” he said.

During the trip to Ohio, the two went for a walk through a flower garden in downtown Cleveland. They stopped to rest at a gazebo and Bob proposed to Marie.

“She made me get down on one knee to ask her,” Bob said jokingly. “She said yes, but at my age, the only problem was getting back up.

This was the fourth time Bob had proposed to Marie in as many months.

“I finally wore her down,” he said. “I guess the fourth time’s the charm.”

With family and friends looking on, Marie walked down the aisle of the First Baptist Church with Bob waiting on her at the alter. They joined arms and Bob sang a song for his new wife. They said their vows and on Thursday night, kissed for the first time as a married couple.

When it all over, the two sat together holding hands. They smiled at each other, both obviously less nervous now.

“My nerves can finally settle now,” Bob said. “We were both shaking so much during the ceremony. It was the weak leaning on the weak for support.”