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A Love Story for Valentine's Day

Centreville couple finds romance a second time.

This Valentine's Day will be Geri and Bob Lightburn's first one as a married couple. And while it'll probably be romantic, it's doubtful the newlyweds will get to spend it alone.

THAT'S BECAUSE, although they were just married in November, this Centreville couple already has nine children.

Both had long and happy marriages previously and, when their spouses died in 2002, within two months of each other, neither Bob nor Geri expected to someday find another partner. Geri had five children — including two sets of twins — and Bob had four children, so each planned to concentrate on their families.

But Cupid had other ideas, and now the Lightburns, seven of the children, plus their dog are enjoying life together in an eight-bedroom house in Virginia Run.

"It's fun here," said Bob. "There's always something going on."

Geri, 46, and Bill Morrisette were married 18 years before he died in September 2002 of a brain tumor. Their children are twins Stacy and Patrick, 15, and Westfield High freshmen; Lisa, 14, a Rocky Run eighth-grader; and twins Scott and Kevin, 9, fourth-graders at Virginia Run and Bull Run elementaries, respectively.

Bob, 52, and wife Jeannine were married 25 years before she succumbed to liver disease and a failed transplant in July 2002. Their children are David, 25, married and living in Atlanta; Jessica, 24, who works at the White House social office; Amelia "Ellie," 21, a senior at North Carolina's Elon University; and Cate, 14, a Westfield freshman.

"Jeannine taught CCD to Stacy, Patrick and Cate for two years at their house, so that's how I knew the family," said Geri. "I only met Bob once at a soccer game." Then when the three children were preparing for confirmation in February 2003, the widow and widower met again and got to know each other.

"I thought we'd be friends — a nice, widowed guy in the neighborhood," said Geri. "I had no intentions of dating or looking for a husband. I was too busy taking care of children. We got together a couple times for dinner and lunch, and I thought, 'Hmmm, he's more than just a nice guy.' It was just a natural attraction."

"I THOUGHT we'd just go out and do stuff together and that would be about it," said Bob. Still, he added, "She was attractive and petite and we got along well." Besides that, joked Geri, "He decided he wanted a few more kids."

"Geri's from California, but I married her in spite of it," said Bob. "She likes bizarre things like guacamole and artichokes."

But a few months after they started dating, he had Cate download a CD full of California-themed songs, such as "California Dreaming," "Hotel California," "Are You Going to San Francisco?" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The label was decorated with an avocado and an artichoke and, said Geri, "That sold me on him."

Their first date was at Copeland's in Centreville, right after the Blizzard of 2003. "It had snowed all week and the kids were home," said Geri. "He called on Thursday and said, 'Do you need a night out?' So we went out that Friday, Feb. 21."

Realizing they were becoming serious about each other, they wondered if a marriage would work, considering they had nine children between them. And, said Geri, "His were older so, for him, it was like starting over."

They got engaged on her birthday, last June 16. First, they took a limo to eat at Filomena's in Georgetown. Said Bob: "Then I had the limo take us to the Lincoln Memorial, and I gave her the ring by Lincoln."

"We'd been talking about it for some time, but I didn't think he was ready, yet, so I was surprised," said Geri. "I think our [former] spouses would want us to be happy."

Bob got his masters in history last summer from GMU and works for PricewaterhouseCoopers as a tax specialist. With seven children still at home, Geri's a stay-at-home mom.

"One of Geri's strengths is that she's totally dedicated to her children, does a lot for them and is close to them," said Bob. "I really liked that about her. She really did a good job of raising them."

THE PAST few months have been a whirlwind. They sold their own homes and househunted for a larger place to share. Wanting to stay in the same neighborhood, in the Westfield High boundaries, they closed on their new house and sold their other two on Nov. 22.

First, though, came their Nov. 13 wedding at the St. Mary of Sorrows historic church in Fairfax. "Bob's children did a top-10 list toast of 'Why Our Dad Should Marry Geri,'" said the bride. "My favorite was, 'Because the lady with six kids turned him down.'"

Then came a week-long honeymoon in St. Lucia while relatives looked after the children. In December, they moved into their new house. "It's a lot noisier," remarked Bob. Added Geri: "It's like a big sleepover, so his biggest adjustment was all the kids and ruckus."

Her children's biggest change was having a dog — a friendly, black Lab named Kramer after TV's "Seinfeld" character. "We didn't have a dog, and he jumped on the kids and scared them at first," explained Geri. "So before we got married, Scott and Kevin went to his dog-obedience classes to get used to him. Now he's a great source of entertainment."

Bob now coaches Scott and Kevin's SYA basketball teams and talks sports with the boys. Geri said having extra siblings generated a few initial tensions and competitions but, generally, everyone gets along fine. "This is great for Cate," said Bob. "She loves her younger brothers." Scott likes romping with Kramer, and Kevin says it's "pretty fun having more sisters."

Stacy says Kramer "smells," but she likes having four sisters now. And Lisa calls Bob "nice and funny" and said, "It's very cool being a big family; I've never had older brothers and sisters before." Cate's enjoying being a big sister and "not the baby, anymore" and says, "We all play with the dog and hang out together."

GERI AND BOB took ballroom and swing-dance lessons while dating and plan to take the kids bowling. "We both like to go to movies and out to eat," said Bob. "And we aspire to travel more when the kids are grown."

Most of all, said Geri, "We plan a long, happy, healthy life together — no one's allowed to die on the other one." And Bob's having fun raising young children, once more. "I enjoyed when the kids were growing up, and now I get to have that experience again," he said. "So the next 10 years will be neat."

The best thing, said his wife, is sharing it all together: "I wanted him to be part of my everyday life." Added Bob: "We're very lucky to have found each other."