Jo Watts was born and raised in upstate New York, in the town of Catskill. Her husband was from Chatham, 20 miles away. But their paths didn't cross until they were adults — in, of all places, Alaska.
"I used to cheer at basketball games at his high school," said Jo. "But we never met until we were both stationed in Alaska in 1975."
The Clifton couple, Jo, 54, and Bill, 53, have now been married 26 years; daughter Tori is 25, and son Adam, 22. But when they first met, Jo was 26 and in the Air Force, and Bill was 25 and in the Army. She was an air-operations specialist for the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, and he was a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We'd both been married before," said Jo. "And the night I went out to celebrate my divorce, we met — at the Gold Rush Saloon in downtown Anchorage." Bill overheard her telling someone where she was born, so he struck up a conversation with her. Said Jo: "His sister lived in my hometown."
There was also another remarkable coincidence. One of Bill's jobs in Alaska was repairing the runway at Shemya. Jo's father — who'd also been in the Army Corps of Engineers — had built that very runway during World War II. "Everything was sort of meant to be," said Jo.
Bill was smitten, right away. Describing her as "absolutely sweet," he noted that her hair was "all the way down to her waist."
The two began dating and had a great time. "Alaska was a young person's paradise," said Bill. "We went snowmobiling, ice skating on lakes, skiing and out to dinner," added Jo.
Bill was working then on a small, boat harbor in the Aleutian Islands, nearly 700 miles from Anchorage and, when fall ended, he had to return. "The next year, I was only in [Anchorage] for one weekend a month," he said. "But Jo was extremely loyal."
Jo was in the service seven years; Bill made it a career, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, after 22 years. "When it was time for us to leave Alaska, I was getting out and he was going to Fort Belvoir," said Jo. "We didn't want to leave each other, so we decided to get married."
First, though, Jo finished college in New York, but visited Bill in Virginia. Said Jo: "We left Alaska in July of 1977, and he proposed in December of that year, in front of the National Christmas Tree."
During Bill's career, the Wattses lived in Europe, New York, Texas, Virginia, Iowa and Kansas. He and two partners now own a government-consulting company called NDRAA.
Now that their children are grown, they enjoy taking out their Sea Ray cabin cruiser on the Potomac, visiting wineries, going to dinner and relaxing at home. And Bill says they work at their marriage.
"We consciously spend a lot of time together," he said. "And I don't let outside activities or my job get in the way of our enjoying each other." Jo says respect and love are the most important things in a marriage. And Valentine's Day often includes candlelight, flowers and dinner in front of the fireplace.
"I recently visited my mom in New York and, when I came home, Bill greeted me with a dozen red roses," she said. "He said he missed me so much, he just couldn't wait for Valentine's Day. There are not too many people like my husband — and every year it gets better."