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‘He Said He Loved Me And … Wanted to Spend the Rest of His Life With Me’

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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.

 

AUDRA SMITH AND ANTHONY OLIVER

Live: Pelham

Married: June 7, 1997

Met: Fall 1988 in the courtyard outside of the freshmen dormitory at the University of Virginia. Audra was on the women’s basketball team and Anthony was on the men’s basketball team. Both had significant others at home at the time, but their connection was undeniable.

“…we had a lot in common with basketball and we just hit it off. We were all friends at first [Audra and Anthony and their respective teammates] and we were all talking about school, where we were from, and basketball, but [Anthony] was a really nice guy, and as it turned into the spring semester those high school romances die out, so I was single and we started talking a lot more and spending more one on one time together instead of in the group,” Audra recalled. “One of Anthony’s friends [on his basketball team] came and asked me what I thought of Anthony and if I would go on a date with him and I said ‘yes.’

“That friend actually had a crush on Audra at first, so I told him I would never go out with her because I would never date anybody that one of my friends liked, but then he started liking another girl on the [women’s] basketball team, and I guess he thought [Audra and I] would be good together and asked me if I would take Audra out on a date … and told me that he had it all set up.

First date: Spring 1989, at a movie theater near campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. They saw ‘The Dead Calm’.

“Anthony has always been the perfect gentleman, there was comfort with him. The basketball season was over and since we had been through a season together and knew each other pretty well, there were no butterflies, it was just fun,” Audra said.

“After the date, we went back to our dorm and we sat up all night talking [in the common area inside the dorm]. It was a Friday night and a lot of people were still hanging out, but we stayed the latest. Audra has always had a wild sense of humor, we were laughing and having fun,” Anthony said.

“Anthony and I are opposites, I’m an extreme extrovert, and Anthony is cool, calm, and collected. I’m a firm believer of opposites attract, and I believe that’s why we meshed,” Audra said.

The turn: Fall 1989 when Audra and Anthony returned to college for the new school year. Audra said she and Anthony had stayed in touch during the previous summer through letters and short phone calls, but “I was at home [in Milledgeville, GA, and Anthony had stayed in the D.C area] being the wild child that I am, partying and working trying to save up for a car,” Audra said.

After a long summer, Audra had saved enough to purchase her first car, “a 1989 Hyundai four-speed, with no air conditioner and no radio, and I had a friend that [attended Hampton University and] needed a ride back to school, so we rode back together, but after getting back up to Virginia I was tired and Hampton University was still three hours away and I needed somebody to help me drive. So, I went by Anthony’s place, he was living in the basketball house, and I asked him to help me and he kind of hesitated at first and then he said ‘yes’. After that, it was kind of hit or miss, a date here, a date there, and [then] I came to my senses. Most 19-year-olds weren’t acting the way Anthony was acting, always concerned about me… and I said ‘forget this’, we’re going to make this thing official. In November, right before we [the women’s basketball team] left for a tournament in Hawaii, we made it official,” Audra said.

The proposal: Dec. 27, 1991, at Audra’s on-campus apartment. “Being basketball players, we had to be back on campus the day after Christmas, and we had agreed to exchange gifts when we got back to school. He came to my apartment and we were sitting on my bed talking, and I gave him his gift, and then he started professing his undying love for me. He said that he loved me and really cared about me and told me I was the one that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and pulled the ring box out of his pocket. He didn’t get down on one knee, but he tried to put the ring on me and he hadn’t had it sized so it stopped right at my knuckle,” Audra laughed. “I said ‘yes’.”

Anthony said that he loved Audra very much and “just doing what I was told,” he said. “She told me that I better buy her a ring before we graduate college, and we were seniors so I did,” Anthony laughed.

The wedding: In Milledgeville, GA, at The Chapel of All Faith, officiated by the Rev. Grover Watson [of Pine Ridge Baptist Church, Audra’s home church], and their colors were salmon and black.

Most memorable for the bride was having a panic attack right before walking down the aisle. “I saw the keys to our Ford Explorer and I almost grabbed the keys and left and drove away. I don’t know what happened, but I was downstairs by myself waiting for the coordinator to come down and get me, and it seemed like an eternity [waiting for her], and I thought about leaving… Oh and Anthony’s mother wore all white to my wedding,” Audra laughed, “and a big white hat. As I’m coming down the aisle I looked to the right side, and I saw this big white hat, and I’m like who is this at my wedding in white and as I get closer I see it was Anthony’s mother. But she’s a minister, [the big hats] were typical… I didn’t think she was trying to upstage me, I wasn’t mad.”

Most memorable for the groom was “my best men playing a trick on me, they said they had lost the rings” Anthony said, “and they came in and told me [and started passing the blame], and I was about to send one of them back to the hotel to look for them, but then one of them broke and told me it was a joke.”

They honeymooned in Cancun, Mexico. “On our second night we went out on an excursion, and it was a honeymoon cruise, and there was this band playing and Audra had been drinking tequila shots all day,” Anthon laughed, “and she was dancing and kept moving closer and closer to [the mariachi band] and they started falling off the stage trying to get away from her …  She got so hammered that she passed out, and I had to put her over my shoulder and carry her three blocks back to the hotel.”

 

Audra owns it– “Anybody that knows me knows I was having fun,” she laughed.

Words of wisdom: “Marriage is about always putting your partner first. If you’re married to someone they’re the priority. If you’re always taking care of each other, then your needs are always met,” Anthony said. “My grandmother gave me a piece of advice when I went to college, she told me you want to date someone that you enjoy being around, because as you get older the physical attraction will fade … and that was one thing about Audra that I enjoyed, she was always joking, she was always in a good mood, we could sit around and talk for hours.”

“The secret to success in marriage is compromise. Be able to defer to the other person because each person has their strengths and weaknesses. Anthony is a provider, he’s a financial guy, and I trust him, I don’t worry and question [money], because I always have gas in my car, food in my belly, and a place to live. Be each other’s friend and be able to have those hard conversations, you have to take care of the issues when they happen. Anthony is my best friend, your spouse should be your best friend.

Happily ever after: The Olivers moved to Birmingham in 2004 when Audra accepted the job as head coach of the women’s basketball team at UAB. They have two children, Anthony [Aj] Jr., 24, and Adria, 22.

Audra, 53, is a Milledgeville, Georgia native, and Baldwin High School grad [Milledgeville, GA]. She attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and is Vice President of Play For Kay, with the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, located in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Anthony, 54, is a Faison, North Carolina native, and North Duplin High School [Faison, North Carolina] grad.  He attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and works as an estimator for the fire protection company, Joiner Fire Sprinkler, out of Birmingham.

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