Ruth Ann Burnett and Grady Armstrong
November 24, 2017, in Lawnside
Driving home to Blackwood from visiting her mother at Albert Einstein Hospital in Philadelphia, Ruth saw the lights at Mount Zion United Methodist Church, where she had long been a member. She stopped to ask her church family to pray.
As the service ended, the skies opened in a thunderstorm. Ruth, a registered nurse and nurse navigator at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, was not prepared for that kind of weather. "I'm going to have to wait until the rain calms down," she told the Rev. Douglas Goldsbourough.
Hearing her words, Grady ran out the door and through the rain to fetch the umbrella from his truck. "I'm going to help you to get to your car," he told Ruth when he got back inside. "I know you probably don't want to get your hair wet, because I have sisters."
Grady, a professor of physical education at Salisbury University who lived in Salisbury, Md., had joined Mount Zion about three years earlier. Ruth had not previously noticed him — his preferred seat was way in the back. He, however, had noticed her. As far as Grady was concerned, the storm was a God-given opportunity to do something about that.
This man was so kind, so considerate, and so handsome, Ruth thought. "I would really like to do something nice for you," she said that summer night in 2009, "but I would not want your wife to get the wrong idea."
"I don't have a wife," Grady said. "And I see that you're not wearing a ring."
They exchanged phone numbers, and before long, Ruth, who is now 66, invited Grady, now 69, to dinner. That day, he discovered someone had broken into his home. The losses weren't huge, but the matter had to be dealt with. He reluctantly canceled, hoping she'd give him another chance.
Ruth wasn't entirely sure this wasn't an excuse, but she hoped it wasn't. She was reassured when he continued to call, and they lingered in conversation after church events.
Grady, who had been previously married, has one adult daughter, Kelly. Ruth, who also was previously married, is the mother of twins Douglas Jr. and Dana, and Tracey. They were all visiting one Sunday about three weeks later. Douglas was cooking out. "He was very much my keeper at the time, and he told me to get in touch with Grady and see if he could come to my house for dinner," Ruth said.
Grady, who was headed back to Maryland, turned his truck around. He was grilled almost as much as the food but didn't mind at all. "You be nice to her," Dana said as she left. "She's a nice lady."
Knowing Ruth loves the water, Grady arranged sailing trips around Maryland. They participated in church activities together. Every Sunday, he went to her house, bearing the fresh-cut flowers she loves. Sometimes, she would cook; sometimes, they went out.
Their mutual affinity for health and the sciences made conversation interesting, Ruth agreed. It also led Grady to ask her to jointly review a fitness textbook with him, a project that was fun and that gave them a glimpse of each other's professional side.
Everyone at church — not to mention their kids — considered them a couple long before Ruth and Grady used that word.
Once again, weather forced the issue.
In February 2014, about three feet of snow fell on the region. Ruth was alone and snowed in but just fine: she had a warm house, lots of food, and her son's promise he'd be by to shovel her out as soon as he dug himself out.
Grady called. "I'm going to come up and be with you," he said. There was no telling him otherwise. The trip took twice as long as usual, much of it in white-out conditions.
"Actions speak louder than words," Ruth said, and that's when she knew he loved her and admitted to herself that she loved him, too. It took another year for them to say it out loud to each other.
Knowing her dad was thinking about proposing to Ruth, Kelly offered some advice: "Follow your dreams." Grady and Ruth soon began talking about marriage.
In March 2017, they drove to Bernie Robbins in Delaware. "I picked out the setting, and he picked out the stone," Ruth said. Three weeks later, the jeweler gave the finished ring to Grady. He looked at Ruth, put it on her finger, and asked if she'd marry him.
"She said yes, and then she showed everyone the ring on her hand," Grady said. Their next stop? Mount Zion.
It was so them
They wed at the church where it all started; their 160 guests filled the pews and all the overflow chairs, too.
Ruth's daughter Tracey helped her with her makeup. Her grandson Kolton was ring bearer, and there were five flower girls: Her twin granddaughters Carrington and Courtlyn, Grady's granddaughter Kaliah, and two of Grady's grandnieces, Jessenia and Serenity.
Grady's brother Steven was his best man.
Their pastor led a Christian ceremony in which music also played a staring role. "I needed to hear 'Jesus Is Love' [by Lionel Richie] and two choir members, Linda and Gil, did a duet for me," Ruth said. Her grandnephew Justin sang "For You," by Kenny Lattimore.
The always lovely space was made even more beautiful with flowers and candles chosen by Ruth's sister-in-law Carol Lynn. Carol Lynn's work was again evident at the Boathouse at Cooper River, where vases lit with white lights held white and blush roses. It was part of the "Hollywood Romance" vibe Ruth sought.
Ruth and Grady's wedding day was the 58th anniversary of friends Morris and Alice, who had provided much advice to the couple as they prepared to wed. The band and vocalists serenaded Morris and Alice with a special song.
The couple's first dance was to Etta James' "At Last." Then Ruth disappeared for a wardrobe change, reemerging in a full-length black sequined gown that made Grady's jaw drop. "Now it was time to dance," she said.
Ruth looked so beautiful walking down the aisle with her son, Grady said. "Everyone said I was crying." Grady looked good, too, Ruth said. "I'm thinking, 'Boy, he's there, and he's waiting for me!' " At the altar, Grady reached out his hand for hers. "It was like 'Waiting to Exhale,' " Ruth said.
The budget crunch
A bargain: Carol Lynn bought the flowers from a wholesaler, had them delivered in a refrigerated truck, and did all the arrangements – and that wasn't even her only gift to the couple.
The splurge: The couple's plans to hire a DJ went by the wayside once they heard the 747 Dance Band.
The couple, who now live in Blackwood, spent a week at Secrets in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Behind the scenes
Officiant: The Rev. Douglas Goldsborough, Mount Zion United Methodist Church, Lawnside.
Ceremony: Mount Zion United Methodist Church.
Reception: The Boathouse at Cooper River, Pennsauken.
Food: Sensational Host Events & Catering, Maple Shade.
Music: Mitlas Productions, 747 Dance Band, Jenkintown.
Photography: Brittany Harmening Photography, Bordentown.
Flowers: Carol Lynn Armstrong, Carol Lynn Armstrong Florals, Paterson, N.J.
Dress: Designed by Demetrios; purchased at Macy's Bridal, Cherry Hill.
Hair: Karen Loper, Mademoiselle Hair Stylist, Lawnside.
Transportation: Albert's Limousine Service, Mount Laurel.