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Love Story: Musical tastes, faith traditions couldn't keep them apart

Rhonda saw Tom Donovan's three-piece suit and clean-cut

Rhonda saw Tom Donovan's three-piece suit and clean-cut look, and never pictured him as her husband. The Ridge couple celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary in May. Credit: Donovan family

Rhonda Donovan of Ridge recalls the day she met her future husband, Tom.

Clearly, he was not my type. Tom Donovan was way too clean cut, what with his three-piece, dusty-green pinstripe suit and his hair cut just long enough not to be called a crew cut. We were introduced in 1969, on the very first day of my very first full-time job at St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co., in Manhattan. I was Rhonda Farber back then. Tom looked up at me through his pile of papers, and his face turned beet red from the top of his forehead right down to his starched white collar.

He was a ’50s kind of a guy — and at the tail end of the ’60s, no less. He bore no discernible resemblance to the hirsute, hard-rock-loving kind of guys who attracted my attention at age 19. So I married him.

Not right away, of course. I spent the next four years trying to fix him up with my girlfriends, because, after all, he was kind of cute. He was 21 and lived in the Bronx. I was from Plainview.

We would socialize with a group of friends from the office. Sometimes, we would double-date; he with other girls, me with other guys. It did not occur to me for quite some time that maybe we were supposed to be together. Ever the gentleman, he always claims to have fallen for me at first sight. Stupid, he’s not.

Our friendship limped along for years as we grudgingly suffered each other’s musical predilections. He was more than a little country, while I was a whole lot rock and roll. Johnny Cash regularly battled The Rolling Stones for airtime on my father’s hi-fi stereo — until we finally gave up and settled on The Platters. And the die was cast. We began dating.

When we decided to marry, we consulted a priest and a rabbi. If you want to know the success ratio of your impending interfaith marriage, take my advice: Don’t consult a priest or a rabbi. I was told that Jewish law dictates that children follow the maternal line; Tom was told that as a Catholic he had an obligation to sign a contract agreeing to bring up our children in the church. As a non-Catholic, I was not required to abide by the agreement. I did not sign and, therefore, it was not a valid contract without both signatures.

On May 26, 1974, our wedding at the Huntington Town House was officiated by a rabbi, and a priest was there to bless the union. Tom and I have never fought about religion. I panicked a little about which way to go with our two daughters. That is, until I remembered that I was never instructed in my own religion and that Tom, though a believer, is not a churchgoer. It all worked out.

In December 2012, we both retired from Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Tom is a member of the Huntington Men’s Chorus, and I am involved with the Leisure Glen community theater club in Ridge and am writing a book.

In May, we celebrated our 44th anniversary with our older daughter and son-in-law (it was their 20th anniversary), our younger daughter, our four handsome grandsons and some friends at Desmond’s Pub and Restaurant at East Wind in Wading River.

— With Virginia Dunleavy

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