Doreen Wirzman and Franklin McGlynn
September 15, 2018, in Philadelphia
They met in 1979 on the U.S. Army base in Goeppingen, Germany, where Doreen worked in public affairs and Franklin oversaw logistics for a combat unit. Doreen's office threw a dinner, Franklin sat at her table, and they stopped talking only when she needed to snap a photograph — her assignment that night.
"When your pictures are ready, could you bring a copy to my office?" Franklin asked when he walked Doreen to her car. It wasn't the photos that interested him. "I was just smitten with her — this funny, charming, beautiful woman," he remembers.
Doreen agreed to deliver. "Without this excuse, I didn't think we'd ever cross paths," she said.
The photo drop led to a dinner date, and a covert operation. Because Doreen was an enlisted private first class and Franklin an officer — a major — any personal relationship between them was, as the people of Goeppingen might have said, verboten. It was also wonderful.
"He was gentlemanly in the old-school way," said Doreen, a native of Landisville, N.J. "And he's attractive as hell."
They tried to keep their growing feelings secret, but about eight months in, the chief of staff called Franklin into his office. People are talking, he said, and this could derail your career.
They were heartsick, but the couple agreed ending things was the only logical choice.
In summer 1980, a few months before Doreen was to move to the Vint Hill Farms Station near Warrenton, Va., they saw each other across the room at a party. The feelings were still there. "We spent the night together. Then we said goodbye," Doreen said.
Later that year, Franklin was assigned to Fort Lee, also in Virginia. They saw each other a few more times but couldn't make it work.
Doreen said many women were swooning over Franklin. "I thought I would always have to be competing, and I was not equipped to deal with that." Also, she was ready to build a life with someone, and did not think Franklin, who was divorced and had a son, would want to settle down again anytime soon.
Franklin wasn't aware of any swooning or Doreen's anxious feelings about him, he said. All he knew was that which had been wonderful no longer worked, and Doreen broke things off.
She transitioned from active duty to the Army Reserve in 1981, leaving the service a few years later as a sergeant. Doreen married in 1987 and worked as a secretary until the birth of her daughter, Sarah.
Franklin remarried in 1981. He retired from the Army as a colonel in 1993, then held upper-management positions for several defense industry contractors.
The two did not speak for 30 years.
Doreen and her then-husband moved to Valparaiso, Ind., where she remained after they separated in 2009. Franklin had fleetingly crossed her mind over the years. After her divorce, thoughts of him began gnawing at her. "I had this feeling that I should find him, that he needed me." She even told Sarah about their long-ago love, all the while telling herself looking for Franklin was a terrible idea.
Then one April night, Doreen had Chinese takeout and cracked open her fortune: "You will take a chance in the near future." It felt like a sign.
She unsuccessfully searched Facebook for Franklin, then remembered his son's name: Trenton. "I think your dad may be someone I was stationed with in Germany," she messaged him.
Trenton gave his dad Doreen's email address.
"She never left my mind, and she never left my heart," said Franklin, who separated from his second wife in 2011. He had wanted to find Doreen but did not know her married name.
Emails led to phone calls and then to a June meeting at the airport in Huntsville, Ala. Franklin, who lived in Byfield, Mass., had a business meeting there, and Doreen was in the region, visiting friends in Atlanta. "When I saw him standing there, it was like time had stood still," Doreen said. "I just fell into his arms."
Over two days in Huntsville, Doreen, who is now 62, and Franklin, now 72, confirmed their chemistry and connection were strong.
"I fell back in love with him in our emails and phone calls" she said. "There was this tenderness in the way that he talked to me, the way that he listened to me. It was everything that I had ever wanted in a relationship but had never had before."
Franklin said his feelings for her were overwhelming, as was the sudden knowledge that with Doreen, he could truly be himself. "It was the most miraculous thing that ever came over me," he said.
In February 2011, Franklin moved to Valparaiso. That May, he was hired by a U.S. firm with a Department of Defense contract that required relocation to the Republic of Georgia. The couple moved to Tbilisi, where they lived for more than five years. Afterward, they wanted to make a home somewhere in the Northeast. A case of dry eye brought Franklin to Wills Eye Hospital, and exploring Philly, they fell for Chestnut Hill, where they bought a home in August 2016.
Franklin and Doreen decided years ago they would eventually marry. Once they were settled in Chestnut Hill, Doreen started emailing him engagement ring photos. One day in June 2018, Franklin said a package was coming and he needed it right away. When it arrived, Doreen delivered it to his home office. Minutes later, he returned to the living room and sat next to her on the sofa.
"It has already been too long, and I don't want to wait another minute," he said, pulling a ring from his pocket. "Will you marry me?"
"Absolutely yes!" Doreen said, throwing her arms around him.
It was so them
The couple wed and celebrated at the Dandelion. Their 18 guests included Doreen's daughter, Sarah, and her boyfriend, Jesse, and Franklin's son, Trenton, and his husband, John. Officiant Sally Weaver began the short ceremony with a reminder that all should silence their phones. "Please excuse me!" said the bride before leaving the altar to find her purse.
When the bride returned, Sally shared a little of the couple's story, led them in their vows, and invited them to say a few words to each other. Franklin was perplexed when Doreen bent down and took off her shoe. She retrieved and read from a tiny rectangle of paper, "You will take a chance in the near future." This fortune cookie message, she told Franklin for the first time, was the sign that gave her the courage to find him. "It is the best thing I ever did," she said.
After that, Franklin had a tough time speaking, but she managed to tell Doreen that the long, separate journeys that had brought them back together were worth every minute.
"We were holding hands and looking right at each other as Doreen was saying her words, and I was about to say mine, and I just felt so warm and happy," Franklin said. "We had been in love and together for so long, and we were making it official, finally, with our friends and family."
The wedding did not feel like a celebration of one moment, Doreen said, but a celebration of all the moments leading up to it and all the moments yet to come. "I looked around the room, and I couldn't have been happier."
The budget crunch
The bargains: On the morning of the wedding, Doreen and her daughter spent $100 on bouquets at Giant and rearranged them into their bouquets and seven vases purchased for 98 cents each. The bride's dress was $29 at Nordstrom Rack.
The splurge: "We went first-class on the menu," Franklin said. "Since we had such a small group, we figured we could bump it up a little bit."
A holiday-season trip to see New York aglow.
Behind the scenes
Officiant: Ceremony written by Elizabeth Frumin and led by Sally Weaver, Weddings with Heart, Narbeth.
Venue: The Dandelion, Philadelphia.
Dress: Designed by Vince Camuto, purchased at Nordstrom Rack, Philadelphia.
Groom's suit: Purchased at Charles Tyrwhitt, King of Prussia.
Flowers: Fireplace mantle spray by Robertson's Flowers & Events, Philadelphia.