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It Took Clark Secor 61 Years to Propose to Christina Gordon; Then She Played Hard to Get

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It was, in most respects, a typical courtship. On Sundays Clark Secor picked up Christina Gordon in his 1975 Dodge. They would go for a drive through the residential Scarborough section of Toronto. They might stop for a steak dinner at the Queen’s Plate or, Christina being mindful of her date’s relatively limited means, return to Clark’s bungalow for a TV dinner and glass of beer.

On one such day last fall, he popped the question. “She was so startled,” Secor recalls, “she said no. ‘If you’re not going to marry me,’ I said, ‘I’m going to find someone else.’ ”

Before carrying through with his threat, however, Secor proposed again the following Sunday. “Why not make him a little happy?” thought Christina. And besides, “Who can he get who’s as nice as I am?” She said yes. They picked up a marriage license on Monday and were pronounced man and wife the next day.

Lest this sound like impetuous youth rushing into romantic folly, consider the fact that the newlyweds had known each other for 61 years. The groom was 90, the bride 76.

Both lifelong residents of Toronto, the Secors met in 1918 when Chris was the high school girl next door. Clark was in his late 20s. After dropping out of high school he had gone to work for his father’s livery company. That same year he married another neighborhood girl, Lizzie Baird. He fathered two children and spent many years as a traveling salesman, peddling everything from candy to auto supplies. In 1947 he became a tune-up specialist for a Chrysler dealer and retired after 14 years. He has remained active in civic affairs, giving frequent lectures on local history. (Scarborough, now part of Toronto but formerly a separate township, was once crisscrossed with Indian trails.) Secor was hailed as “Mr. Scarborough” by community officials at his 90th birthday last August. “I’ve been busy every minute since 1961,” declares the lively nonagenarian, whose father lived to 101. “The last 20 years have been most gratifying.”

Until 1955 Clark and Lizzie lived in the same neighborhood as Christina. She was a tennis champion in her youth, and went on to become a master in duplicate bridge, a successful career woman and a world traveler (twice around the world by freighter in 1977, for example). She dropped out of high school, trained as a secretary and began working for a lawyer. Eventually she rose to manage the debt collections department of a distinguished Toronto law firm for more than 40 years.

Chris lived with her parents and when they died took up residence in a Salvation Army lodge for senior citizens. She met “a charming gentleman” there and married for the first time in 1971 at the age of 68. But 19 days later her new husband died of a heart attack. “I never really had much experience with married life,” Chris now says matter-of-factly. “Every girl has romances but I don’t tell Clark about them. I don’t think he’s interested.”

Secor’s first wife died in 1971, too. After 53 years of marriage, he found “this being alone is no darn good. I wanted to get married but I wasn’t playing the field or anything.” There was one widow, whom he gallantly refers to only as “Mrs. H.,” whom Clark took out shopping and driving, but she didn’t seem interested in a more permanent arrangement.

He had stayed in touch with Chris and post-Mrs. H. started asking her to accompany him on Sunday drives and short trips (“Never overnight,” she points out). Their courtship was “something I’m proud of,” Secor tells his wife. “I never once touched you except to take your arm when I was helping you or pointing something out. I hate those men who are always pawing women.” Indeed, Secor’s attentions were so discreet that Chris marvels, “I never dreamed it would come to marriage.”

During their two-day engagement, Secor went to the Scarborough Civic Center to get the marriage license. When Clark tried to pay the $20 fee, the clerk demurred, “No, no, Mr. Secor. We wouldn’t take that from you. This one is on the house.” The ceremony, on October 30, was held at the house of a longtime friend and minister; a retired dentist and his wife acted as witnesses. After a five-day honeymoon at Clark’s secluded cottage on Leonard Lake, the newlyweds returned to a reception thrown by 22 friends, who all chipped in to buy a silver bowl which now sits on top of the Secors’ television set. To their great amusement, they were also given a birth registration form—just in case.

For the new Mrs. Secor, it was wrenching to leave the security of the Salvation Army lodge and move in to Clark’s five-room house, but she is not one to complain. “You couldn’t find a nicer man,” she says. “He would give you the shirt off his back.” (“I hope you don’t admire anything in this house,” she told a recent visitor, while glancing around the living room, which is tidy but crowded with memorabilia, “because he would give it to you and it might belong to me.”)

The Secors lead a frugal existence. Clark receives a small government pension. “I have the house,” he says, “but Chris has the cash.” When he jokingly attempts to claim he married her for her savings, she gently hushes him. There seems to be enough in the coffers for a cruise—Clark’s first—down the Saguenay River in Quebec next month.

Secor became accustomed to frozen dinners during his bachelor days, but Chris, though she had never really kept house before, has enlarged the menu. “I have a good IQ,” she says. “Don’t you think anybody with a brain and Nellie Pattinson’s Canadian cookbook can cook?” The Secors are contented stay-at-homes, entertaining and visiting only once in a while. (Mostly they see Clark’s son Watson, 61, an oil company foreman in Sarnia, Ontario, and his daughter June, 57, a nurse at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.) “We don’t need anybody else,” smiles Chris. “We have each other.”

Since the wedding, mutual respect has deepened into genuine affection. “I really love him now,” says Chris. “It’s a marriage in every sense of the word. It’s wonderful to be in the arms of somebody who really loves you.”