When the lights are out, just as Kay and Bob Hickman are drifting off to sleep every night, he sometimes serenades her with a song. He recently chose one he remembered from 1945: Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovely Mine.
“I love it,” says Kay. “I feel like we’re still on our honeymoon.”
Tunes from the 1940s and earlier come to mind easily for Kay and Bob because they were youngsters during the earlier-to-mid 20th century. Kay, 73, slyly expresses that Bob is “not too far ahead.” While they may be past their prime by the world’s standards, this just-over-two-years married couple is out to prove that age is just a number when it comes to romance.
Kay, formerly Kay Jones McClanahan, and Bob met in 2015 at a Carolina Jazz Society event. He asked for her number; she gave it. Their first date a few weeks later was at a Maundy Thursday service at First Baptist Church in Columbia; then they went to listen to jazz together at Pearl’s in the Vista.
On their second date, he told her, “I’m in love with you and want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I would like to marry you in three weeks.”
She did not answer him immediately but says, “Meeting him was magical, like we’d been struck by lightning.” She responded with a confident “yes” soon after.
Bob says that he called his daughter and told her he was in love and was going to get married. And she asked, “Dad, isn’t it a bit sudden?” Bob says, “I told her, ‘You know how old I am. I don’t have time to mess around!’”
The couple married four months after their first date in a large, formal August wedding among 500 guests at First Baptist Church of Columbia. Instead of gifts, they asked guests to donate to Project Next for the renovation of the former YMCA building on Sumter Street as the church’s new student center. Kay and Bob enjoyed both a jovial reception and his jazz band’s performance. After the reception, there was a post-reception party with the combined family members, and then the couple departed for a three-week honeymoon.
“It was wonderful,” says Kay. “It’s still wonderful. Every day. It’s just as exciting being married to Bob as it was when I was young and in love. There’s the same passion, love, life, and closeness!”
Adds Bob, “So many people believe that when you’re older, you lose interest in love and romance, but that’s not true. People think that older people just want to have companionship. That’s not true either. Yes, companionship is part of it, and …”
“… companionship is part of the attraction,” continues Kay. “But there’s certainly more. Talking, cuddling, dreaming, and hoping. We’re completely dedicated to one another.”
Kay affirms that both she and Bob had successful, happy, wonderful, long marriages prior to meeting each other. His wife, Ann, passed eight years ago, while her husband, Bill, passed 10 years ago. He was married for 50-plus years; she more than 30 years. She has a biological child with Bill plus two stepchildren from his previous marriage, as well as four grandchildren and a great grandchild. Bob had three children with his late wife and now has four grandchildren.
Together they have a blended family that they enjoy and cherish. In fact, each late spouse is honored in photographs at the Lower Richland-area farm that Kay kept after losing Bill. Plus, Kay and Bob share how they not only miss their former long-time spouses, but talk about memories involving them.
“It just brings us closer,” says Kay. “In fact, I feel like I know Ann as a friend. Each kind of experience you had, you bring it to the table when you’re starting a new experience. We don’t have the advantage of starting out fresh like we did in our 20s and evolving together. We’re trying to catch up, and we do that by talking a lot.”
To demonstrate the joining of their shared lives and experiences, they had their former wedding bands melted down together and then made into new wedding rings.
Kay believes that meeting Bob when she did was a “God wink.” She explains that in the 1960s, she watched him every evening at 7 p.m. when he was the WIS TV news anchor and news director. The paths of Bob, the journalist/news secretary for S.C. Gov. Robert McNair, and Kay, the forensic chemist and first female SLED agent, crossed at different times for different reasons, but they never officially met. After losing spouses, they both dated others for several years. Their fateful meeting happened exactly at the right time in the right place, says Kay. “It was like I was meeting an old friend.”
Both are music aficionados. He learned to play the saxophone and clarinet and has been in different bands over the years, including his current “The Patriots” band that honors veterans. She has been a long-time vocalist and during college sang briefly with the Tony Torre Orchestra. “We both got hooked on jazz years ago,” she says, “But we love listening to all kinds of music,” adds Bob, “swing, country, bluegrass. I knew she was the one because of the shared interest in music. We both sing in the choir at church and love to go to musical events and to dance.”
At their wedding reception, Bob surprised Kay by singing Embraceable You. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” she says, with Bob quipping, “Yeah, husbands told me they didn’t want to go home after the wedding because their wives would ask why they never sang a song to them like that!”
Bob says that too often he sees couples out at dinner not looking at each other or talking. Always getting to know and understand each other keeps a relationship from getting stale, he asserts.
“I recognized when I met her that she’s smarter than I am, and I love that,” he says. “And someone told me once that since she was a SLED agent, she probably needs to be the one to go downstairs in the middle of the night if there is ever any noise. She’s intelligent, interested in so many different things, and of course, very good looking.”
For Kay, she was so attracted to his musical talent. “He’s a great conversationalist and is brilliant. He just epitomizes the things I enjoy.”
On their honeymoon, the couple attended Cowboy Church while in Missouri. Kay had donated some horses (she and Bill raised race horses and warm bloods as a side business) to the Cowboy Church in North Carolina. The minister invited them on the stage and the band played Orange Blossom Special, and Kay immediately began clogging. “She clogged all over that stage,” says Bob, proudly.
The Hickmans say they will not stop enjoying life to its fullest and are just so happy they can do so together. They still have a 30-year-old race horse (a grandson of Secretariat) that they like to spoil, even though Kay no longer rides. They do, however, bike, fish, exercise, and enjoy wildlife. They view herds of deer on their farm, including a rare albino deer. And daily, Bob reads parts of the paper to Kay, and they catch up on current affairs.
“I wasn’t looking for a husband, and he wasn’t looking for a wife,” says Kay, “but we found each other when we weren’t expecting it, and it’s such a blessing.”
“Since we’ve been together, people ask me why I have this smile on my face,” adds Bob with a grin.