The love story began 68 years ago, when Fred Paul and Florence Harvey first found each other.
The couple met as teenagers in Wandsworth, a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador province, Canada. They spent every moment they could together, taking walks after church, stealing kisses in between classes, and attending concerts.
Every night during the two years they were together, Paul would flicker his porch light before going to bed. It was his way of telling Harvey, who lived across the bay, good night and that he loved her.
“She was my first love. My first girlfriend and my first true love,” Paul, now 84, told CNN.
But when Paul turned 18, and Harvey was 15, the two went their separate ways. Paul moved to Toronto for work. A year later, when he came back to look for her, Harvey had moved to another town.
Eventually, they both married other people and started families.
But in 2017, Harvey found herself single again after her husband Len died of cancer. The couple, who were happily married for 57 years, had five children together.
Two years later, Paul’s wife of nearly 60 years, Helen, also died after suffering from multiple health issues, including dementia. They had two children together.
It was the shared grief over losing their spouses that brought them back together.
Rekindling an old flame
When Harvey heard that Paul’s wife passed away, she called to reassure him that things would slowly get better.
During that first conversation, which occurred a day after Valentine’s Day, they spoke about their separate lives, their children and grandchildren and celebrated each other’s happy memories.
“I never thought it would go past that,” Harvey, 81, told CNN. “But we went from talking once a week, to twice, to three times, to every day for hours. We had really reconnected even though we hadn’t seen each other in all those years. I knew this was it.”
Months later on his birthday in July, Harvey surprised Paul by coming to Toronto where they were finally reunited.
“When I found out she was in town and was coming to me, it was 10:30 at night. I ran out of bed and got dressed and wrote ‘Welcome Florence’ in chalk on the driveway and when she arrived, I walked to the car, gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and I held her hand and I knew right away that she had taken my heart,” Paul said.
Just three days after reuniting, the couple were ready to get married. Their families questioned why they moved so fast, but Paul and Harvey had no doubts they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Paul was also one month away from starting treatment for stomach cancer, but Harvey was committed to being by his side throughout the good and the bad, no matter what that meant.
A ‘most profound’ wedding ceremony
On August 8, Paul and Harvey exchanged vows in front of family and close friends at Norval United Church in Georgetown, Ontario. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they kept the guest list small.
“You were the first young man to walk me home in my teens,” Harvey told Paul during the ceremony. “I guess you’ll be the last man to walk me home.”
Their marriage was officiated by the church’s lead minister, Paul Ivany, who conducted more than 500 wedding ceremonies in his career, but said this one was “the most moving, most profound service” he had ever been a part of.
“They both had been married for years and had created families and memories and wonderful lives. They both had truly fulfilled their vows to their first spouse ‘In sickness and in health. In joy and in sorrow. To love and to cherish. As long as we both shall live’,” Ivany told CNN.
“And now, with all the wisdom they had gathered up in life, through all of life’s joys and sorrows, life’s ups and downs, they were ready to say those vows again. Not, with the naive emotionalism of young love but out of the depths of lived experience. They were willing to say those vows again. And mean them, again. It was so powerful.”
After exchanging vows, Paul brought out his accordion and sang a Ricky Skaggs song, “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could,” to his bride.
“There were tears in the eyes of all gathered. You couldn’t help but feel you were watching a real, live miracle, that you were witness to an unimaginable love story,” Ivany said.
Now, Harvey said excitedly, the couple plans to retrace the first chapters of their story by visiting the childhood town where they met and fell in love all those years ago.