To celebrate Valentine’s Day, La Jolla Light asked seven La Jolla couples — some you may recognize, some you may not — for the scoop on how they met. Prepare to be as surprised and charmed as we were by the stories about who approached whom, what they saw in each other and how they still manage to keep seeing it.
If this doesn’t make you want to re-watch “When Harry Met Sally,” nothing will.
Mary and Walter Munk
When Walter Munk is asked how he first met the former Mary Coakley, chair of Friends of La Jolla Shores, he says it was by working on the waves at La Jolla Shores in the 1940s. “That’s how we met in spirit,” the 100-year-old Scripps Institution of Oceanography legend says.
But how they met in the flesh is a much better story. They had vaguely known each other from work events, business dinners and La Jolla Rec Center meetings — “La Jolla is a very small place,” he says — when both were invited to Carol Dupont’s for dinner in 2009.
“She paid no attention,” he says, laughing. But he did. After his beloved wife Judy died just before their 53rd wedding anniversary in April 2006, Walter expected nothing more out of life romantically. But there Mary suddenly was.
The morning after the dinner, Walter phoned Mary to invite her to address a postdoc networking dinner at his house atop La Jolla Shores Drive. But when Mary walked in, he was working at his desk in shorts and holey socks.
“He gave me the wrong date,” she says. He laughs and corrects her: “You came a day early.”
Walter insisted that Mary stay and split the dinner that his housekeeper had made. Even though she recalls that “it seemed strange,” she agreed. They got to know each other some more. And she returned the next night for dinner on the correct date.
“I hadn’t dated for 28 years,” she says. “I raised my four children and was working on projects in Kellogg Park and those were my interests. But because I had taken care of my mother before she died, I had also taken care of her friends. And Walter was mentioning that he couldn’t drive at night anymore.”
Like she had done for her mother’s friends, Mary sat down with Walter every week to go through his calendar, offering to drive him to any events he wanted to attend that she was available for.
One night, about three months into this platonic routine, Mary and Walter shared a glass of wine — on the same sofa on which they’re seated now — when he leaned over and kissed her. She was shocked.
“Why I didn’t smack him, to this day, I will never know,” she says. “And I think about it often — how different both of our lives would have been if I had smacked him, which would have been my normal instinct.
“But it was so wonderful.”
Barbara Bry and Neil Senturia
On Oct. 7, 1993, real-estate developer Neil Senturia walked into some awards event at One America Plaza whose name he can’t recall.
“Later, I wrote a book with a bunch of rules for entrepreneurship, and No. 3 was that you go to all the meetings and events, particularly the ones you are sure are a total waste of time,” he says.
He walked up to the second floor and the first person he saw was Barbara Bry, who was representing UC San Diego.
“Neil and I knew each other enough to say hello to,” Bry says. “Our kids had actually gone to summer camp together at the Children’s School. As it turned out, our marriages had both ended in January 1993.”
Bry told Senturia her criteria for her next husband: Someone who is short, who is Jewish, who can cook and who lives half a mile from her house in Muirlands.
“So immediately, I realized that there is a pretty limited pool for this, and I’m in it,” Senturia says. “And when I got to the car later, I also realized that I broke one of my cardinal rules of professional room-working, which is to spend only 4-5 minutes with each person and leave before dinner is served.
“I didn’t talk to anyone else the entire time,” he says.
When Senturia got home, he phoned his mother. “I say, ‘I think I’ve met somebody who’s going to be too good for me,’” he says.
Before even listening to Neil describe Barbara, his mom replied: “You’re right.”
Stan and Phyllis Minick
Community activists Phyllis and Stan Minick owe their 75 happy years together to sandlot baseball; in particular, a ballgame in Palm Springs, where they were both on high-school spring break in 1945. He was watching it with some friends, she drove by with a girlfriend.
“I had a brand new car, which was my 16th birthday present,” recalls Phyllis, who is 89 to Stan’s 88. “We were two girls in a car and we saw a field full of guys, so we stopped. There were a whole bunch of fellas and us two girls, so we just smiled a lot.”
Stan recalls asking Phyllis: “What are you smiling about?” They chatted. She went to Beverly Hills High, he to Fairfax, which were only a half hour apart in traffic — at least in traffic back then!
What he didn’t ask was for her telephone number, and she was crestfallen. “But somebody else did,” Phyllis recalls, “and that somebody else called me, and I said, ‘Could you ask Stan Minick to call me?’”
He took her out for an ice-cream cone in Palm Springs. “An ice-cream cone was a big date in those days,” Stan explains.
The secret to a lasting marriage? According to Phyllis, it’s “having fun.” According to Stan, it’s “luck.”
Francois and Diana Goedhuys
Things first got cooking for the co-owners of Girard Gourmet in 1978. Francois, newly divorced, enrolled his five-year-old son in a small private school in Houston, where he lived and owned a bakery. Diana was the school’s owner.
“He would bring Jeff to school every day and we’d flirt over the schoolyard fence,” she recalls. He called her “the ticket-taker on the deli counter of my heart.”
This went on for three years until he finally asked her out, to a French restaurant on West Gray Street. They continued dating, long distance, after she sold the school and moved to Washington, D.C. and he arrived in La Jolla to found Girard Gourmet.
“But I had these great jobs that kept me traveling to these education conferences,” Diana says. “Three or four a year were in San Diego, so they didn’t know they were underwriting the cost of a long-distance relationship.”
Francois only proposed, Diana suspects, because he needed help in the restaurant. “Well, I needed help everywhere,” he says.
Karen and Chris Meyer
One weekend in 1959, college senior Chris Meyer and a bunch of his friends planned a drive from Boston down to New York City, “to possibly get in trouble,” he says over lunch with his bride at Waters Fine Food & Catering.
Fate intervened in the form of a snowstorm. One of the guys said: “My girlfriend’s in a dormitory over at Radcliffe, why don’t we pick up some girls there instead?”
Karen, a sophomore, was not impressed at all. “He was slightly lubricated,” she recalls. “They were all lubricated.”
So how did Chris, now an attorney, turn it around for himself in Karen’s mind? “You know, I’ve always wondered about that,” he says.
Turns out, so has she. “I don’t really know, to be honest,” Karen says. “He did call and asked if we could go out again, and I can’t, to this day, tell you why I did it because he, and his group as a whole, were not terribly impressive.”
“I can see that,” Chris agrees.
The Meyers are coming up on their 57th wedding anniversary.
Lynn Lansing and Tim Norris
In 1982, La Jolla residents Tim and Lynn were cubicle neighbors at Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo. He worked as an engineer, she a financial analyst. Her girlfriend had a crush on his roommate, so she asked Lynn and Tim to accompany them to Tequila Willie’s, then a hotspot in Manhattan Beach.
“We were the buffers,” Tim says over lunch at Harry’s Coffee Shop.
Just friends at that point, Tim and Lynn ended up shutting down the bar on this and many future nights together.
“She was really friendly and easy to talk to,” he says.
“We both liked to travel and do the same things,” she adds.
They’ve been married 31 years, outlasting Hughes Aircraft, Tequila Willie’s in Manhattan Beach, and the other couple.
“They never saw each other again after that first night,” Lynn recalls.
Pierce and Petra Kavanagh
Pierce and Petra Kavanagh
For Misfit Pictures gallery co-owners Pierce and Petra Kavanagh, lightning struck three times on April Fool’s Day 2008.
Strike 1: Pierce and his work buddies step off the southbound Coaster by Petco Park to attend the season-opening Padres/Houston Astros game. He spots Petra walking off the same train, two cars ahead. “She has a full-on mohawk,” Pierce recalls. “I go, ‘Woah, she’s insane!’”
They make eye contact and start walking toward each other. “I’m thinking, ‘He’s cute,’ ” she says. (He adds: “I was better-looking back then.”)
But Pierce is trying to wrangle his friends, who are off in every direction on a crowded platform. When he looks back up, Petra is gone. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, I would have really liked to have talked to that girl,’” he says.
Strike 2: The Padres win their game. (OK, so maybe this doesn’t qualify as a full-on lightning strike. But their record was 63-99 that year.)
Strike 3: Pierce and Petra spot each other again, before the return Coaster home.
“I was trying find a an Irish pub called the Field, which I couldn’t find, but I found another one called Dublin Square,” she recalls. “Just as I get there, Pierce and his friends are sitting sitting down. I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s that guy! What do I do, what do I do?’ ”
Pierce picks up the story: “The waitress brings over four Guinnesses and goes, ‘That gal right over there just bought you these beers.’ I look over and it’s ... Mohawk! I couldn’t believe it. I freaked out and started screaming, ‘I was looking for you!’ ”
Both saved their Padres ticket stubs.