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5 Virginia Love Stories

Cole Sydnor and Charisma Jamison kiss
Photo of Cole Sydnor and Charisma Jamison by Louise Keeton

Virginia is for lovers and these couples are no exception. Whether or not Cupid’s bow has hit you, these heartwarming and sometimes tear-jerking stories from real Virginia couples are bound to get you in the Valentine's Day mood. What’s not to love?

Gir and Mary Jo Qureshi

“We have been married for 50 years. It’s very strange how it happened. When we met, I had just come from Pakistan to study hematology and Mary Jo was a nurse at Johnston Willis Hospital. I don’t know how, but it felt like I had always known her, even though we had only just met. I told my mother I had fallen in love but my mother said she had already found someone for me to marry in Pakistan. She told me to forget about Mary Jo. So, I decided to go focus on my studies in England and try to forget about her, but I couldn’t forget. I wrote to her telling her so and Mary Jo told me to, ‘go fly a kite.’ She had moved on! So, I went to where she was staying. When I got there they said that she had gone to Scotland! I asked where in Scotland but no one knew. So, I went to Scotland. I got off the train and I don’t know why but I decided to walk across a bridge. Guess who was there on the bridge? Mary Jo! She was coming towards me! We went back to Virginia together and on the 31st of December in 1967 Mary Jo turned to me and said, ‘let’s get married.’ And we did! I told my mother we were married and she said, ‘I didn’t have to choose a bride for you. God chose for you.’” 

Cole Sydnor and Charisma Jamison

In August of 2011, I dove into the James River and hit my head on a rock beneath the surface of the water - immediately breaking my neck. I have the option to either succumb to my condition or choose to live a full life despite my condition, and I choose to live a full life. Together, Charisma and I choose to enjoy life every day despite the situation. Our positive outlook on life helps us continue to roll with it. One misconception we face is that we’re settling for each other. People will call Charisma an angel or say she has a big heart for being in a relationship with me. We especially dislike this comment because it makes it seem as if one needs to be an angel in order to be with a wheelchair user. I love Charisma’s joyful nature - how she can see beauty in the world everywhere, how she can brighten my day with nothing but a smile and pretty soon I’m going to be able to call her my wife! This is just the beginning of a new phase in our lives. We are very excited for our future together and can’t wait to start wedding planning!

Lucian Restivo and Luke Newsome

One night after imbibing some, I asked Luke how he would feel if I proposed to him during the Artsies - the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award show. He shot it down. But that didn’t stop me because I knew it was the best idea for us. It took ages to plan and get all the right things into place, especially for a moment that was so reliant on the luck of my winning the award for Best Director. After calling all our family members for approval, I had to make sure we looked our best as I assumed there would be lots of pictures and videos. The next step was to leak information to a couple of friends so that without a doubt, we’d have footage to show our family members. The day of the Artsies arrives, and I was a nervous wreck. Then, at the ceremony, it was announced that I had won Best Director for Richmond Triangle Players’ production of The Laramie Project. When I heard my name, I started shaking and blacked out. I had written everything I wanted to say on my phone in a note. I was all set to thank everyone I needed to thank and then move on to my proposal speech, but once I started, the crowd erupted into a wave of sound that there was no getting over. It was tremendous and earth-shattering. For the rest of the night, we were in complete bliss and continue to be. It was a night we’ll never forget.

Jerrold and Marlene Janke

50 years ago, my wife Marlene and I were working at the Bendix Research Lab. There, we were awarded the contract for the lunar rover, and Marlene was chosen to head the department. She was responsible for managing 60 engineers so they could develop the first-ever land rover to go to the moon. The rover had to be capable of carrying two astronauts, a whole ton of moon rocks, and it had to go 40 miles to the destination and 40 miles back. This was the first time anyone had ever attempted to create a land rover under these circumstances, and if you’re going to take the dang thing to the moon, it’s gotta work. There were no second chances. With nothing but a high school education, Marlene managed this large engineering department - which, if you know anything about engineers - they have a lot of pride in their work. They all think their idea is the best idea, so if you have too many of them in one room, they don’t get anything done. But Marlene had a wonderful mind and could manage people. Her boss told me he couldn’t imagine anyone better than Marlene to get the job done. So, under her management, she was able to direct all 60 engineers and got the land rover to the moon 50 years ago. She had a great mind, until the car accident. We were driving together when we hit a deer. The airbag went off and hit her in the head. 30% of her brain function was diminished. Today, she can carry on an intelligent conversation with you to some degree, but the next minute, she will have no idea what we talked about. That is why I want to share her story. Even if she can’t remember her place in history, I want the world to know who is responsible for bringing the land rover to the moon.

Sam Ramos and Janique Johnson

We met on the internet, like the youth do. We were both in non-monogamous relationships and thought we were already living pretty normal lives. Then we met and instantly realized that there was no turning back, no ignoring how the planets aligned at that point of our lives, and no ignoring how we went from never sweating dates, to spilling ice cream on ourselves and spending rainy days breaking down in a Popeye’s. Everything suddenly made sense. 
After only two dates with Janique, I looked over at her in the Lidl parking lot with a lapful of Cookout, and it really clicked that I was with someone who understood me on a molecular level. After that, we changed our whole lives, learned more about ourselves than we ever imagined, and haven’t looked back since. We couldn’t ignore the signs. We can’t imagine waking up to anyone else every morning, and we never plan on it. 


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