Radio Host Reconnects with High School Sweetheart — and Learns He's a Dad: 'A Breathtaking Moment'

Jim and Vivian Starr first became a couple in 1964 but lost contact after Jim had to move. More than 50 years later, a heartfelt letter led to their incredible reunion

When a handwritten letter arrived at Vivian White Butler's home in Greensboro, North Carolina in September 2020, she was shocked to see the name on the envelope: Jim Spates, a long-lost love she hadn't heard from in 50 years.

"My heart hit the ground," she says. "I couldn't believe it."

Back in 1964, her heart beat for Jim the moment she spotted him outside of Dudley High School in Greensboro.

"We'd all go to the school ground to watch the young men play softball," she tells PEOPLE in this week's Love issue. "One of my friends said, 'Well, who are you looking at?' and I said, 'I don't know, but I want him.'"

Soon she got him, and a two-year courtship ensued.

"We used to sit on the porch," says Vivian, now 71. "He would walk me to school and carry my books. Every time I'd see him, I'd light up like a Christmas tree."

But in May 1966, Jim moved to Paterson, New Jersey to care for his mother, who was suffering from diabetes complications. Vivian was heartbroken.

"He said, 'I'll be back,'" says Vivian. "I waited and I didn't hear from him in a while."

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Jim and Vivian Starr
Jim and Vivian Starr. Andrew Dye, Winston-Salem Journal

In October 1969, Vivian paid him a visit and soon after learned she was pregnant. But she was unable to deliver the news: Jim, pursuing a career in radio broadcasting, had moved to Maryland and the two had lost contact.

"Certain songs I played, I always thought of her," says Jim, 75, who adopted the on-air name Jim Starr.

Vivian gave birth to their daughter, Laresse, in July 1970, and for many years lived with her parents, who helped raised the little girl.

"I used to tell Lareese about him all the time," says Vivian, an EMT trainer who married in 1990 and separated from her husband 15 years later. "Sometimes I would be sitting on the porch and we used to watch the moonlight together. I'd wonder, 'What is he doing?' I never forgot him."

In August 2020, Jim —who had long been separated from his wife, moved back to North Carolina and was considering retirement — was asked by a friend what he planned to do next.

Jim and Vivian Starr
Jim and Vivian Starr. Courtesy Starr Family

He said he wanted to find an old girlfriend. With the friend's help, Jim found Vivian on Facebook and wrote her a letter. It had a heartfelt request: "If I could only see you one more time."

Vivian called and invited him to dinner. When Jim got to the door, "my heart started beating really bad, like I was going to pass out," she says. "I grabbed him and hugged him and kissed him."

The feeling was mutual: "She took my breath away," says Jim.

Two days later, Vivian told Jim that Lareese, now 51 and a mom of two, was his daughter.

"That was a breathtaking moment I'll never forget," he says. "I'm learning the role a father plays in a daughter's life."

The magic that the pair shared as teens was never lost, and on Sept. 18, 2021, they married.

"I never thought it would happen," Vivian says of their union. "This is a blessing."

Vivian learned of another surprise in the process. As it turns out, she had once heard Jim on the radio, but didn't recognize his now-deeper voice and different last name.

"I had no idea," she says, "I was listening to the man I was in love with."

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