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‘Within a Week … I Knew He Was Going to Be My Husband’

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 BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY

Special to 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 Barnett Wright bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

LAROYCE AND DONALD MARSH

Live: Hoover

Married: July 26, 1986

Met: On July 27, 1985, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on the marina at Gardner’s Basin. “We met at a party that neither of us wanted to go to,” LaRoyce said. “He went with his brother and I went with a girlfriend of mine. His brother and my girlfriend knew each other from college.”

Donald was intrigued with LaRoyce from the beginning.

“There was a group outside talking on the deck and I walked out saw LaRoyce in a group conversation and I listened to what they were saying, and I thought man, ‘she is pretty intelligent and opinionated.’ And the conversation broke and [the group of friends] introduced LaRoyce and we started talking … then the DJ started playing ‘Rock Me Tonight For Old Times Sake’, by Freddie Jackson, and LaRoyce asked me if I’d like to dance, and I thought ‘man, she’s aggressive, that goes along with all that other stuff I like about her,” Donald laughed. “We danced, and we talked until six in the morning standing on the deck.”

“We exchanged numbers. I exchanged a number, and he gave me about five phone numbers,” LaRoyce laughed. “That was on a Saturday, and he came up on that Monday [to Center City, Philadelphia from Atlantic City, New Jersey] and took me to lunch.

Although the two went to lunch the Monday following their weekend introduction, they don’t consider that to be their first date. Donald had something much more fun in mind.

First date: Wednesday of the same week, Donald took LaRoyce to a Jeffery Osborne and Whitney Houston concert at the Valley Forge Music Fair, in Valley Forge Pennsylvania. LaRoyce’s brother drove her to the music fair and dropped her off so he could check her date out.

“I remember thinking about what Donald was going to have on because he was looking crazy the night we met [on the marina],” LaRoyce laughed. “He had on an Atlanta Hawks basketball jacket, some shorts, and penny loafers [the night they met], and I was thinking what does he have on? I’ve always been into fashion and I looked good…  and to my surprise, he looked very nice. I was happy about that because if he didn’t my brother would have never let me live it down.”

“I felt like I was being checked out a little bit [by her brother]… and I thought LaRoyce looked outstanding.” About his attire the night they met on the marina, Donald said, “I was playing in the United States Basketball League for a team up in North Jersey, and I didn’t plan on going to a party, I was just coming to visit my family and just wore what I had on, and that jacket was [memorabilia from when] I had been drafted to the Atlanta Hawks in 1979.”

All in all, “the date was really good, we had a really great time,” LaRoyce added.

The turn: For LaRoyce, the turn came early and led to a natural progression.

“We went out that Monday for lunch, the concert that Wednesday, and I invited him to my sister’s wedding reception which was that Saturday.  …and I was sitting there [at the reception] talking to my friends and they said, ‘I think he’s going to be your husband’, and I said, ‘I think you’re absolutely right, I think he is going to be my husband,’ and this was just within a week of meeting each other. It was bizarre, but I just knew he was going to be my husband, and I wasn’t one who sat around daydreaming about getting married. But I wasn’t seeing anybody when he and I met, so it wasn’t a conscious decision to be exclusive, it just happened that way,” LaRoyce said.

For Donald, “We had some really good and long conversations between the wedding reception and the next time we saw each other [a few weeks later] and the more we talked the deeper my interest grew,” Donald said. “I invited her up to Lancaster [PA] to visit and we had a really great time and at that point, I could feel that this was something different than the other relationships I had in the past.”

A phone call during a football game confirmed it for Donald. LaRoyce was never into sports and loved sports. However, in 1985 the undefeated Chicago Bears played the Miami Dolphins] Donald told LaRoyce not to call and didn’t want to be interrupted. Five minutes into the game the phone rings. “It’s her and she said, ‘I know you’re watching the game, but I gotta ask you a question– why does that guy keep running back and forth behind those guys because they know where he’s going’ and I just started cracking up,” Donald said, “and I was [moved because] she was trying to get on the same page I was on and I thought that was really special.”

Also, LaRoyce saw something else in Donald that made him stand out. During their first snowy winter, she caught the train from Philadelphia to Lancaster to visit Donald, and when they got to his house she realized she’d dropped one of her gloves exiting the train station, “and he drove back in the snow to look for my glove so that I would have both gloves the next day when I went home,” LaRoyce said.

“I let her go and stay in the house and I went back by myself and I found it,” he said.

The proposal:  Jan. 2, 1986, at Donald’s apartment in Lancaster after spending New Year’s Eve (which is also LaRoyce’s birthday), and New Year’s Day with her family in Lawnside, New Jersey.

“I knew at that point I was ready to propose. I had bought the ring and had been driving around Lancaster with it in my car for two weeks… and [on New Year’s Day] we were at her parent’s house and I was watching the game with her dad and her brother, and I sat up and said [to her father] ‘I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time with LaRoyce, and you know how I feel about her and I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about me. And she’s coming back to Lancaster with me tomorrow and I want to ask her to marry me, but I wanted to ask you first,’” Donald said. “And he said, ‘you’re right son, I have noticed you guys have been spending a lot of time together and you can never pick anyone for your daughter, but if I could, there’s no one I’d rather see her with than you.’”

Donald proposed the next day at his house over turkey sandwiches.

“… we were sitting down and eating and she got up and went in the kitchen to get something and I went in the closet and was trying to get the ring box out of my coat pocket and my hand kept getting stuck …  and I walked over to her and asked her if she would marry me, and I had never seen anybody laugh that long and that hard in my entire life,” Donald said. “… she eventually said ‘yes’.”

“He had been acting weird for a couple of days … and the dinner that he made that night consisted of soup and turkey sandwiches, and that meal does not put you in the mind of a romantic proposal,” LaRoyce said. “And I laughed so hard because it had all kicked in and I realized what had been going on… and I was looking at these turkey sandwiches and it just made me laugh.

The wedding: At LaRoyce’s mother’s church, Grace Temple Baptist Church in Lawnside, New Jersey, officiated by its pastor, the late Reverend Theodore Edmunds, and their colors were pale pink and white.

Most memorable for the bride was “getting ready to walk down the aisle and my dad turned to me and said, ‘you ready baby?’ and I was like I am. I remember that so vividly, my dad looking at me, and then walking me out to my husband,” LaRoyce said.

Most memorable for the groom was how vividly he remembers waiting for his bride at the altar. “I was standing at the front of the church with the bridal party waiting for the bride’s entrance. When the doors opened and I saw LaRoyce standing there with her dad, I thought wow, ‘she looks so beautiful! I am lucky and blessed that in a few minutes, she will be my wife,’” Donald said.

They honeymooned in Los Angeles, California, and turned LaRoyce’s work trip into a mini honeymoon. “I was the director of the Legal Fund for all the unionized construction workers in Philadelphia, and there was a business conference that I had to go to, and he tagged along with me,” LaRoyce said.

Words of wisdom: “It has to be a partnership; that’s a huge piece of marriage in my opinion. We both have to be in it and committed completely to the marriage itself and to each other. You don’t want either of you to lose yourself, but by the same token, you do want to be connected. I’ve been really blessed because my job as a basketball coach has taken me to a lot of places, and LaRoyce and I have lived apart for a number of different stops that I’ve had, but there’s an amazing level of trust, and being in it for each other has sustained us in those times that there’s distance between us because of my job as a college basketball coach,” Donald said.

“Marriage is about being able to look at the big picture, for yourself, individually, and for your family. With Donald’s job, it’s not about what’s going on in the moment, it’s about what’s best for us and our family in the long run. You have to be able to see the big picture, or you’ll get stuck on what’s going on that day and at the moment [of difficulty],” LaRoyce said.

Happily ever after: The Marshs moved to Birmingham from Miami, Florida in 2006 when Donald joined the University of Alabama at Birmingham [UAB] men’s basketball coaching staff. They have two adult children, son Tyler, who’s an assistant coach for the Women’s National Basketball Association [WNBA] with the Las Vegas Aces, and daughter Sydnee, a fashion stylist in New York, who has appeared on Project Runway, and styled Mary J. Blige for the 2023 Met Gala, and celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B. for previous Met Galas. They also have one grandchild.

LaRoyce, 64, is a West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native, and Girls High School [North Philadelphia] grad. She attended Rutgers University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business and owns a vintage and contemporary clothing consignment store in Woodlawn.

Donald, 67, is a North Carolina native, by way of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and graduated from Atlantic City High School. He attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education, and Texas Southern University where he obtained a master’s degree in health and human performance. Donald works as a college basketball coach at the University of Detroit Mercy.

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