They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But for Jim and Toni Leahey, a big dose of laughter is what does the trick.
Wedding Vows Renewal Ceremony
» When: 10 a.m. Mass, Sunday
The Niu Valley couple consider humor a key ingredient in their marriage of 45 years. In a world where divorce is commonplace, the Leaheys are a good example of how to hold things together over the years.
"We always settle things quickly and we don’t let things fester. We don’t take ourselves too seriously," said Toni Leahey, 66, a retired schoolteacher.
"We always have arguments but we talk things through. The fight is always settled before we go to sleep. We end up giggling in bed," said her husband, a beloved sportscaster known as the voice of University of Hawaii athletics.
Jim Leahey, 68, admits he was smitten with Toni long before they actually met as freshmen outside biology class at what was then known as Chaminade College. "Everything begins with sexual attraction. In the biology lab, I’d been trying to peek down her dress for weeks," he chuckled. "I never saw anything. She always wore just the right things."
At first she wondered, "Who is this guy?" "He was a real character," she recalled.
A five-year courtship ensued before they were married Feb. 19, 1966. "I keep track of the number of years we’ve been married by counting the Super Bowls," said Jim, who graduated from the University of San Francisco the same year he was wed.
Last year the couple participated in the annual wedding vows renewal ceremony held in the Mystical Rose Oratory chapel at Chaminade University. They won’t be able to attend this year since Toni recently underwent knee replacement surgery. The annual event was established to welcome alumni, family and friends back to the Kaimuki campus since many couples, like the Leaheys, were college sweethearts. The free ceremony is now open to the public.
The two said they never tire of each other’s company and have endured periods of separation throughout their relationship. "I was in the Vietnam War, so we were separated for some time," said Jim. "There were always letters to write and something to come home to. … It was almost poetic."
And as a sportscaster, Leahey’s job oftentimes had him traveling over the years. "He’d be off on sports trips, and I’d be home with the kids," his wife said. "I was happy when he came home, but I had a life. I’d go shopping with my girls. We didn’t need to worry about making dinner for Papa. I developed my own life. I was not clingy or needy."
Like any couple, the Leaheys had their share of discord. Toni Leahey recalls several arguments where she packed up and left. "I’d pack up our kids, the cats and the kitty litter and go to my mom’s house. She would feed us and tell me that everything would be all right, and I’d end up back home," she said.
Over the years they learned to make any argument a "fair fight" and not to drag old issues into the fray. "We focused on the problems we had at the moment," Toni said.
"Both of our parents are really good role models. They had good, stable relationships," she said. "We were war babies. Our parents had us before our dads headed off to war. They went through a lot but always worked through things."
She feels many couples nowadays throw in the towel way too soon instead of working things out. "We definitely get on each other’s nerves. It’s never easy. So when things get hard, they want to move on," she said.
In addition to preserving the marriage, there’s a sense of achievement from resolving problems on the home front, she said. "It’s really worth it. We gained a sense of resiliency over the years. … We bounced back from our problems," Toni Leahey said. "After a while we realized it was a growth issue. Sometimes we don’t grow at the same rate as the other. Looking back, I really appreciate that we stuck together no matter what happened."
With three grown children and a granddaughter, the couple have more time to spend together, attending water exercise classes and participating in a church group.
"We like to sit and have breakfast and read the paper. We really enjoy each other’s company," Jim Leahey said. "We never run out of things to discuss. We can talk politics, sports, family, children … the list goes on and on. There’s always something and that keeps things interesting."
The pair definitely took their "in sickness and in health" vows seriously, especially when Leahey battled leukemia in 1997. "She was with me all the way," he said. "Now she had just had two knee replacements. And now I can be there for her."