It began with a wave from a shy 17-year-old Tacoma paperboy to a 16-year-old girl working behind the vegetable counter of a small grocer.
“I was delivering the News Tribune to about 60 subscribers and Mary Ann was working in a small store at 12th and K,” Roald Wall said. “Every time I went by that store, I waved …”
Roald still smiles at the recollection today, 72 years later. He remembers that his paper route was No. 212. He remembers asking young Mary Ann Wyse out, walking her to the Pantages and stopping at a candy store.
“We took a bus and then walked to her house, and I got to come inside but her uncle would never leave the room. I caught the last bus home.”
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It was a World War II-era romance that didn’t sail smoothly.
“I went to Lincoln High School and graduated in 1944,” Roald said. “Mary Ann went to Stadium and graduated a year or two later. I proposed and gave her a ring in 1945.”
Mary Ann asked her mother, and her mother was horrified, afraid her daughter was too young to make that kind of decision. She sent her to live in Alaska with her divorced father, whom the young woman barely knew.
“She went to Alaska and I joined the Merchant Marine,” Roald said. “I kept writing to her, and once caught a ship to Alaska. But I couldn’t get to where she was — I couldn’t just leave the ship …
“I talked to her on the telephone and made some demands, and I got the ring I’d given her back in the mail.”
Roald sailed the world for three years. Mary Ann moved to California, lived with a relative and began working for a telephone company.
Roald was single again but couldn’t forget the girl he used to wave to.
“I would write letters and check up on her with friends and family in Tacoma,” he said. “When I got out of the Merchant Marine, I went to a pub with a friend and we sat next to someone who was going to take the test to become a Tacoma fireman. I thought that sounded good, so I took the test and passed.”
In 1948, he became a Tacoma firefighter.
Not long after, he called one of Mary Ann’s aunts in Tacoma — and Mary Ann answered the phone.
Now 21 and gainfully employed, Roald renewed his pursuit. That October, he proposed again.
Mary Ann, living in Los Angeles, accepted and took a job in Tacoma. She wanted to be a June bride.
“We were married on June 5, 1948,” Roald said, his voice cracking at the memory. “Our first apartment was at 34th and McKinley, and cost $40 a month. I didn’t own a car, so after our wedding, my brother had to drive us home.”
They saved their money and bought a house in University Place, where Roald still lives. The couple had two daughters, who stayed nearby and married. Laurie Fudge lives in Lakewood and Suzanne Baur, lives in Enumclaw. Three grandchildren are now in their 20s.
“Dad worked for the fire department for 30 years,” Suzanne said. “When he retired, he was a captain. He and mom traveled.”
The son of an Irish mother and a Norwegian father, Roald visited both their birthplaces and the couple visited Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Spain.
“Everywhere we went, I’d visit a fire station to see how things were done there,” he said.
They both fought and beat breast cancer. Roald is on his third pacemaker.
Late in October 2004, Mary Ann was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and was admitted to Allenmore Hospital. Roald went with her, never left her side.
“Mary Ann woke up, looked at me and said, ‘I want to go home,’” he said, his eyes moistening. “I took her in my arms, told her I loved her and held her as she died.”
That was 10 years ago.
“I tell my daughters I have a lady friend, my dog Sadie,” Roald said.
There is a small table in his home with a photograph of Mary Ann and a clock that always reads 9:18 – the time it was the morning she died.
“I’m lonesome,” he admits. “We were married 55 years.”
This year he turns 89, and his birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. At his request, one daughter will take him to a seafood dinner, another will host him for dessert.
Roald is a packrat, and Suzanne once came upon a stack of love letters written by her parents.
“I started reading but had to stop,” she said. “They were just too personal.”
“I’d like to read those again,” her dad said quietly.
Bet that he will. And believe that he’ll remember nearly every word.