Marni Beal wheels Lincoln Alexander, the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, into the lounge of the retirement home in Hamilton where he lives. A tall, striking woman, her blond hair in an elegant chignon, she helps him stand from his wheelchair, fully supporting him as he slowly manoeuvres himself to sit in a wingback armchair.
"Don't sit yet," she instructs. He does as he is told, holding onto her tightly, grunting with the effort to stand and sighing heavily as he drops into the seat. "Now sit tall in the saddle," she tells him.
Handsome, slim and dressed in a leather sports jacket and black pants, he is 89 and will turn 90 in January. She will admit to being "sixty-ish." They recently got engaged after dating for a year and a half.
Their children - each has one son, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren - don't "fully understand" the marriage, but "frankly, I don't care what anyone thinks or says," says Mr. Alexander. They will marry this summer - after signing pre-nups "to satisfy his family," she offers - in a quiet ceremony at the house of friends. For their honeymoon, "We'll go home, have a nap and think about it," she says.
Four years ago, the former lawyer and politician who served in Joe Clark's cabinet moved into Atrium Villa. A widower for 12 years, he had suffered a heart attack and could no longer climb the stairs in his Hamilton house. It was after he started using a motorized scooter that he lost the use of his legs.
"I fell in love hook, line and sinker," he says, looking fondly at his fiancée, an advertising representative for the Hamilton Spectator, where she has worked for 15 years. Perched on a chair beside him, she wears all black with over-the-knee suede boots.
"I never thought I'd find anybody. When you've been married 50 years, that's indelible. For the first 10 years, I was pining over my wife. I loved her. I'll never forget her.… But all of a sudden, I started realizing that my life wasn't complete."
The couple met at the suggestion of a mutual friend, who invited them to listen to trombone player Russ Little. "He said, 'I'll bring a friend. She is looking for someone. She's had boyfriends but she's had difficulties.' "
"Did he really say that?" Ms. Beal pipes up, playfully batting his arm. "I didn't need a man in my life!" she exclaims. Divorced 12 years ago after a 23-year marriage, she owns a house in Burlington and a farm north of the city. The couple are currently looking for a home that will accommodate visiting grandchildren and "a team" of caregivers.
An energetic, vibrant woman, she easily brings up some of the negative perception of their union. "There's the age thing, the race thing and the gold-digger thing," she states. "Monetarily, in terms of holdings, we're about equal. The age thing doesn't matter."
"And race is no longer an issue," Mr. Alexander puts in.
He wanted to ask her to marry him soon after they started dating, but hesitated because of the age difference. Their engagement happened because she gave him permission. One night, after a business function, she came to visit him. She wrote a series of notes on pieces of paper, which she held up for him to read. "I didn't want him not to hear me properly," she explains. The first note read: "Go pee." He did. The next one read: "It's time." The third said: "Ask me." And he did.
"Who has a TV-style Leave It To Beaver family?" Ms. Beal asks. "With him, there's a lot of caregiving involved. But when you get over that, there's so much gold," she says, her voice soft with emotion.
Does he mind her being bossy? "I love it," he shoots back, laughing. "That's the secret of a happy marriage. You can be a boss in the outside world, but in the house, she is."
Marriage is solace, he suggests. "It's about coming home to someone in life. Someone to talk to. Someone to hold your hand. Someone to say, 'Don't worry, I love you.' "