As Gayle Queen snuggles up to her husband, Danny Queen, she alternates between beaming as he recounts their courtship and wiping away tears of happiness.
It’s clear they still have that newlywed glow.
And for good reason. It’s been just more than two weeks since Gayle walked down the aisle of Ephesus Baptist Church toward Danny, so focused on him that she barely acknowledged the friends and family surrounding.
But perhaps their happiness feels extra sweet because their marriage was decades in the making.
Or as Gayle, 65, will tell you about her wedding to Danny, 68: “I waited 46 years and several months and a few days to be that bride.”
Their love story is the kind you find in epic romance films.
On June 22, 1969, Gayle Radford, Cary’s High’s homecoming queen and head cheerleader, and Danny Queen, the older guy who would walk a mile in the snow to see her, were supposed to have their moment at the very same Ephesus Baptist Church.
Things didn’t go as planned. So how did we end up here, the two former high school sweethearts reunited, finishing each other’s sentences and so in love? It wasn’t a clear path. There were two marriages apiece, and two divorces.
“He was just my first love,” Gayle says. “He’ll be my last one.”
Their first contact in 1966 was fleeting. She had been admiring his car – a 1963 Chevy – as she passed by it every day on her way home from school. When the chance came to talk to him on the phone, all she could muster was, “My name is Gayle. I like your car. Bye.” Click.
She was 16 years old and a junior in high school. Her Cary roots were deep, and she had gone to school with the same friends for years. Danny was 19 and an Army brat. He had moved all over and had just graduated from Cary High when they first met. At the time, he was working at IBM assembling large printers.
Danny, who was pretty shy, was curious about the girl who had hung up on him. Friends eventually set them up on a double date. From then on, they were inseparable. That includes the time it snowed 10 inches and he walked a mile down Cary’s East Chatham Street to her home because his dad wouldn’t let him drive in the snow.
“We spent every available minute together,” says Danny, who had fallen for the beautiful girl with a big heart.
She’s just an outstanding person and has a big heart for everybody. She’s still beautiful.
He escorted her to the homecoming game, when she was named queen, and he tried to make every game where she cheered. They got engaged before he went to Fort Jackson, S.C., to train for the National Guard. She enrolled at Peace College. When he returned six months later, they started planning their wedding.
But as the day grew closer, Danny began having second thoughts. He loved Gayle, but he worried that the young couple needed to have more of their lives in order – namely their finances – before they got married. A weekly salary at IBM was $68 a week at the time, he said.
“I went to her to put it off, to postpone it,” he says. “And it blew up.”
Danny and Gayle don’t disagree on much, but they differ in their versions of when this conversation occurred. She says it happened a week before the wedding. He says it happened two weeks before. Whenever it was, the timing was terrible, Gayle was left devastated and Danny wasn’t too happy, either.
“I truly did not remember everything about all that,” Gayle says.
“She blocked it out,” Danny chimes in.
“All I know was I didn’t get married,” she says with a bit of a sigh. “But I always loved him. Always.”
Over the next 40 or so years, they bumped into each other a total of three times, sometimes decades apart. Danny left IBM after 20 years and owned Research Triangle Office Systems. Gayle, later Gayle Radford Gerald, has worked at law firms and in real estate. She’s a legal assistant at a Raleigh firm now.
They often wondered how the other was doing, not necessarily when they were married to their respective spouses, but in the times between. Neither ever acted on their thoughts. They were just living their lives, and that’s how it was going to be.
That was until Gayle’s niece, Karen Sykes, started cutting Danny’s hair at a Fuquay-Varina salon and occasionally mentioned how Aunt Gayle was doing. Still, even when Sykes told him that her aunt’s second marriage was ending, he didn’t want to interfere. Sykes had something else in mind, though, and unbeknownst to Danny and Gayle, she arranged for them to meet at lunch one day in Raleigh. Gayle wasn’t ready for a new relationship. He told her he just wanted to be her friend.
It was several more months before Gayle’s divorce was final and Danny felt it would be appropriate to ask her to go back to their favorite teen hangout – Amedeo’s Italian Restaurant on Western Boulevard – for a slice of pizza.
That was in November 2013, but it felt like they had been transported back to 1967, when they couldn’t get enough of each other.
“It’s just a spontaneous combustion of love,” Gayle says.
“I had butterflies,” Danny says.
It wasn’t long before Danny and Gayle knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together – enjoying their restored cars, shooting pool and just spending hours talking to each other side by side on lawn chairs when they retired. Shortly before Valentine’s Day this year, Danny took Gayle’s only child, Christopher Tucker, aside.
“You know your mother and I have a connection from the past,” he says. “I want to marry your mother. I want your blessing.”
Tucker gave it, and on Feb. 14, the two brought a restaurant full of diners to their feet as Danny got down on one knee and proposed.
I think in our hearts we knew that we wanted to be together and spend the rest of our lives together.
“The way I looked at it was these last years were going to be the happiest years of our lives,” she says.
“I can’t change the lost years,” Danny told Gayle. “But I promise you, the golden years will be good.”
On Aug. 14, they got their second chance. The wedding and reception showcased moments of their journey back to each other. Gayle’s 10-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa Tucker, wore pearl studs that Danny’s parents had given Gayle back in high school. A table displayed photos from high school and the present, along with the then-and-now wedding invitations. Some of the guests included longtime friends who would have been in the first wedding.
“I don’t show a lot of emotion as far as crying,” Danny says, reflecting on when he saw Gayle enter the chapel. “When I saw her, I could feel tears falling down my cheeks.”
There were many happy tears that day, and plenty of applause.
And when the Rev. Jack Coffey pronounced Danny and Gayle as husband and wife, the guests simply shouted, “Yes!”
Danny and Gayle Queen have a story fit for the big screen. I asked who would play them in the movie version of their lives. Danny almost immediately said Richard Gere. Upon reflection, Gayle said Jane Seymour, citing her role in 1980’s “Somewhere in Time.”