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‘People say they’re in love . . . actually you grow in love together’

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Alexis and Robert Lee have been married since June 26,1976. The couple resides in Pelham. (Provided Photo)
BY SYDNEY MELSON
The Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

ALEXIS AND ROBERT LEE 

Live: Pelham, Alabama

Married: June 26, 1976

Met: In Detroit, summer of 1973. “I knew her family, I even knew her mom. I had never met her before, but I was close with her family. Alexis came up to visit her cousin [in Detroit] and that was the first time I saw her,” Robert said. 

“My mother grew up in the same hometown as him,” Alexis added. “I had gone to Detroit to put out feelers for a job for when I graduated college [Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana],” she said. “I remember going to a barbershop to get a haircut, and I needed someone to come pick me up. I called my cousin who I was staying with, but nobody answered. So, I called another cousin who Robert was staying with, and she told me [Robert] was the only person who could come get me,” she said. 

“He brought me back to my cousin’s house and asked me if I was going out that night because I had gotten a haircut,” she said. “I said ‘no’, and he asked me if I wanted to go out with him, so we did. We went to Flaming Embers, which no longer exists, in Detroit. Anyone who can take you out for steak on a first date, that’s a good thing.” 

Robert said Alexis was a breath of fresh air. “At the time, I was really concentrated on working [at Chrysler]. All I was doing was working, going back home and working,” he said. 

First date: First time they met. “After we ate dinner at Flaming Embers, we went to a club called the Olympia, on Grand River in Detroit. That’s no longer there, either. After that night, I left and went back to Birmingham because I had to go back to school to finish, but I gave him the phone number to my dorm room and we called back and forth,” Alexis said. “I think we went to the drive-in [in Detroit] a couple of times after [the first date], too.” 

As they talked, Alexis learned a lot about Robert that she liked. “He was working and staying home, and I was looking for somebody that was going to work hard to take care of me and be a family man. I was the person who wanted to go places, but he didn’t want to stay out all the time or be gone. Even after we got married, he was the kind of person who got perfect attendance at work,” she said. 

The turn: “All of our parents are deceased, but my mother really loved him up until the day she died. Back in the day, your parents had to know about the person [you dated] and their family and everything,” she said. “I remember it was Christmas of ‘73, and Robert came from Detroit.  I happened to be out with somebody else, but I had stopped at my aunt’s house and I called my mom to tell her where I was. My mom told me I had to come home right away because Robert was there,” she laughed. “When I went home, I felt like, this man this is definitely going to be the one. 

Robert said he just knew. “When I first saw her I knew she was the one. We got along really well, and I figured if you could get along really well with somebody for a long period of time, there’s something there,” he said. 

The proposal: Christmas, 1975. “A couple months before that, we had a discussion about what kind of ring I would like. We had never actually talked about getting married, but he asked,” she said. “And I told him I would like something simple, a simple solitaire diamond. And I didn’t think any more about it.”

Alexis was working as a teacher in Evanston, Illinois at the time, and Robert asked her if she was going home to Birmingham for Christmas. “He asked me to come to Detroit, and we would all ride to Birmingham together – he, his brother and his brother’s wife,” she said. “I remember going in this blue suitcase, which he still has 44 years later, and coming out with this little tiny box. He opened the box… he says he asked me to marry him, but I don’t remember that at all, I just remember the ring and him putting it on my finger,” she laughed. 

“I hyperventilated when we were driving down to Alabama, maybe from the excitement of the engagement,” she said. “We later get to my parents’ house and I walked through the door with my left hand out. My mom just started smiling and grinning. We went into the den and Robert asked my dad if he could marry me, and I was like wait, you didn’t even ask me!” 

The wedding: “I went back to Evanston and he went to Detroit, and we planned the wedding with my mom and his parents,” Alexis said. “I grew up in First Baptist Church of Ensley, and the pastor at the time was William Hamilton.” The colors were peach and mint green. 

Most memorable moment for the groom was the wedding. “I was surprised that a lot of people showed up. I had some cousins from Florida that I didn’t know really well, but we sent them an invitation anyway and they came,” he laughed. 

Most memorable moment for the bride was “seeing Robert standing there, and I saw the bridesmaids and the groomsmen. I cried down the aisle and in the lobby with everyone, but it was a beautiful wedding. I got to marry the man that I love,” she said.

They also had a mishap during the reception. “We were outside and everyone was leaving to go to the reception. We had our reception at what was then the Holiday Inn in downtown Birmingham. Everyone was gone except my parents, but we realized that we didn’t have a ride. We had decorated Robert’s car, but it was left at one of my cousins’ house,” Alexis laughed. “No one thought to bring the car.”  The couple honeymooned at Disney World. “Back when it was only $9 to get in,” Alexis joked. 

Alexis and Robert Lee have been married since June 26,1976. The couple resides in Pelham. (Provided Photo)

Words of wisdom: “What works for me may not work for you,” Alexis said. “I hear a lot of people say they’re in love, and you might be in love, but you actually grow in love together. You’re going to have your ups and downs, but you never want to walk away. Sometimes you don’t agree, but you don’t end it all because of it.”

It’s also about being open to parenting, she said. “The new phrase out Is #GirlDad, and I think Robert was the original ‘girl dad.’ He was the hair comber, he took them to school, picked them up from school, taught them to drive, all of that. He’s always been that way,” Alexis said. 

Robert said an important part of marriage is communication. “Be respectful and listen. You have to listen to what they’re saying because you can’t be right all the time.” 

Having good role models is also important, he added. “My father was a good role model for anyone to follow. I have good uncles, too. The way they treated their ladies, that’s how I tried to treat mine,” he said. “They were always nice.”

Happily ever after: Alexis and Robert have two daughters, Jauan, 43, and Jamesa, 37 and two grandsons. 

Alexis, 68, is from Ensley and attended Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana for a degree in music education and a minor in English. She taught music in Illinois, and later began working as an insurance agent, which she retired from in 2011. 

Robert, 75 is from Union Springs. He worked in Chicago and Detroit for a railroad company and later for Chrysler, which he retired from. Alexis and Robert moved to Birmingham in 2011 to take care of their parents, who have since passed.