A Valentine’s tale of a love meant to be … eventually

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Feb 13, 2019 - 02:56 PM

Photo: Billy and Robin Hooper of Mathews were married in 2017, culminating a romance that began nearly four decades ago.

Billy and Robin Hooper of Mathews were married in 2017, culminating a romance that began nearly four decades ago.

Photo: Billy Hooper, above, and Robin Hooper, below, shortly after they first met at the age of 12. They are around 13 years old in these photos.

Billy Hooper, above, and Robin Hooper, below, shortly after they first met at the age of 12. They are around 13 years old in these photos.

Many of us spend our lives longing to find someone special—that someone who completes us and makes us feel truly loved. Billy and Robin Hooper of Mathews found that someone at the tender age of 12, but it took decades—and a dating app—to finally fulfill their love.

Billy moved to Mathews in 1972, when he was seven years old, and Robin came along four years later. They didn’t know each other because Robin went to private school. But the summer before they were both going into seventh grade, Billy’s youth group at Mathews Baptist Church went on a field trip to Kings Dominion, and a girl in the group, Sherii Garrett, invited Robin to go along.

Billy was a big, shy, klutzy kid who had a mustache by the time he was 13 and couldn’t walk through a room without knocking something over. He grew up with no television, listening to bluegrass on the radio and spending his time with his family and on the water. Robin was a petite equestrienne with a Dorothy Hamill haircut and a self-assured air. She was from a more affluent family that traveled and entertained.

For him, that first meeting was life-changing. It was love at first sight. They rode together in the back of a station wagon, and he couldn’t say a word.

“I got hit by a lightning bolt,” he said.

When they got to Kings Dominion, Billy didn’t have anyone to hang out with, and something about the look on his face made Robin grab his hand and say, “Come on.” The two of them spent the day together, sitting side by side every chance they got, including the ride home. They didn’t see each other again for months, but “I was consumed by this girl,” said Billy.

That summer, Billy’s father gave him an 18-foot skiff and 25 crab pots, and he began working on the water. After July 4, when the price of crabs dropped, he pulled up the skiff and painted the bottom red and the sides white. And, using the red bottom paint, he wrote the name “Miss Robin” on the stern.

But his dad told him he had to have the girl’s permission to use her name on the boat and, since he didn’t know her telephone number or where she lived, he painted over the name with white paint.

“I had that skiff at least five more years,” said Billy, “and you could see ‘Miss Robin’ through every coat of paint.”

Seventh grade is an awkward time for all kids, no less so for Billy and Robin. She now attended public school, but they really didn’t see much of each other, except sometimes to eat lunch together. After school, he went out on the water and hung out with watermen, while she rode her ponies. Her parents were very strict, and he didn’t feel free to call her.

“My mom would’ve listened,” said Robin.

It was during field trips that the two of them would get together, sitting side by side or going off together, Robin tugging Billy’s hand to pull him away from the rest of the group and wander off to a different exhibit.

“She was determined to do the opposite of what they said, and the minute she pulled my hand I was a noodle and followed along,” said Billy. “I was just praying for more opportunities to be around her. I lived for field trips.”

At one point, Billy wrote Robin a note telling her how he felt about her, but some other girls saw him put it in the vent of her locker and stole it, then took it to chorus class and read it out loud to everyone else.

“I sat there red-faced and speechless,” said Billy. “I never wrote another note.”

Robin never knew anything about the incident—and she never knew the depth of his feelings for her. They moved on through middle school and the first year of high school in the same fashion, never saying how they felt. The closest they ever got to expressing their feelings was once while standing in the hall in the ninth grade, when Robin said, “Billy Hooper, I think you really like me,” and all he could bring himself to say was “maybe” before walking away.

“I thought I had made a complete idiot of myself,” said Robin.

In the 10th grade, Robin went away to boarding school and was only home during the summer, so they drifted apart. Robin wasn’t allowed to date, but whenever Billy was out driving, he was always on the lookout for her yellow VW convertible.

All of Billy’s friends knew how he felt about her, and one day one of them told him that Robin was at the Islander swimming pool, so he made a beeline there to see her. But the meeting was a flop. By then Billy was a popular football player, and after being away for two years, Robin was insecure. She had never thought she fit into the Mathews crowd, anyway, so she was hesitant to engage with anyone.

“I didn’t know he ran up there to talk to me,” she said. “He seemed real casual.”

Billy invited her to a beach party, but she thought it would be just another time when she wouldn’t fit in, so she said no. It would be more than three decades before they saw each other again.

But Robin was always in the back of Billy’s mind. In 1987, while he was in the Navy and living in New York, he told a friend how he felt about Robin, and that friend convinced him to track her down and talk to her. That very day he drove from New York back home to Mathews. The next morning, he was thinking about how he would approach her when he opened up a copy of the Gazette-Journal and saw her wedding announcement.

“It sounded like a fairy tale,” said Billy. “I thought, ‘she’s getting the best—more than a nuclear machinist in the Navy can give her.’”

Over the next 25+ years, the two led their separate lives. Billy married, had children, finished his stint in the Navy, and went to work in the corporate world for the German company Bosch. He traveled all over the world representing the company. Robin worked for Oracle and Microsoft, and her jobs involved traveling, as well.

Once when he was home, Billy saw Robin at a gas station in Fredericksburg. “I watched her from less than 10 feet away,” he said, “and I drove away.”

The two have compared passport records and have discovered that, as they traveled around the world, they were often in the same places. Once they were in Detroit at the same time, and they were both often in Germany, once a village away from each other on the same day. They were sometimes in the same airport within a day of each other, and they were on the Great Wall of China in Beijing within 24 hours of each other.

“I guarantee we were on the same airplane more than once,” said Robin. “But he was in business, and I was in coach.”

Unknown to each other, Robin got divorced in 2010, and Billy got divorced a year later. They tried dating, but neither of them had much luck.

“I was sick of it,” said Robin. “I found dating to be like a job.”

“I didn’t want to be alone,” said Billy. “But I was okay if I was.”

Something made each of them decide to go on Match.com, a dating website. Billy joined in 2015 and figured he would look for one month before giving it up.

“There are thousands of people on there,” he said. “I was looking at hundreds of photos, but I kept coming back to this one lady from Williamsburg with a picture of herself on a boat. It never occurred to me that it was Robin.”

Thirty years had changed both of them, and when Billy finally decided to write to Robin, she didn’t recognize his pictures either. But she was instantly interested. She had been getting 30 emails a day from the men on Match.com, but none really interested her. Billy, who called himself William, stood out.

“I thought, ‘this man can write,’” said Robin. “He’s educated. He’s someone I can relate to.”

They began to write regularly and discovered they had a lot in common, from being single parents to traveling abroad to a shared love of boats and being on the water.

“I knew I had to have somebody in my life who liked boats,” said Billy. “And she said she made a really good first mate.”

Billy was by that time living on his boat in Virginia Beach, and Robin had Williamsburg as her address on her Match.com page. Robin was on a business trip to Japan, and she found that Billy, who had been in Asia on and off for 25 years, had some good advice to offer her about dealing with the cultural differences. She followed his advice and ended up securing a large contract.

While flying home, Robin wrote Billy, and the two decided they were ready to meet. That Friday she was home in Mathews when he texted her and told her he’d like to meet on Sunday. He wanted to know where she was, and the exchange that followed was a revelation.

“I’m in a little town not far from Williamsburg,” said Robin, “but you’ve probably never heard of it.”

“Try me,” said Billy.

“Mathews,” said Robin, to which Billy replied, “MATHEWS! My mother lives on Gwynn’s Island, and I’m there every month. I graduated from school there.”

“What year?” said Robin, and his answer made them both realize they must know each other. They began frantically going through each other’s profiles, looking for clues. The realization struck Billy first.

“Well, I only went to school with two Robins,” wrote Billy, “and one has passed away. The other one was smoking hot, and I’ve been in love with her my whole life. You must be Robin Eley … You would’ve known me as Billy Hooper.”

The texting was suddenly over as Billy called Robin and they launched into an hour-and-a-half-long conversation.

“We were both giddy and laughing,” said Robin.

They hung up and made a beeline for the Yorktown Pub, where they’d decided to meet. The years fell away as soon as they saw each other. “I took one look, and I was done,” said Billy. “I thought she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.” He decided he wasn’t going to waste any more time.

“I never felt like I measured up to her,” he said, “and when you think someone deserves the very best, you never think you’re what she deserves. But I decided I was going to tell her exactly what I thought of her and what’s been on my mind all these years.”

“I remembered how much I cared for him,” said Robin. “But I had no idea he’d spent his whole life loving me. I was dumbfounded. I told him I’d spent all my life wanting what he had for me.”

That night they both deleted their Match.com profiles. They were finished looking.

“We closed down every bar,” said Billy, “and we went out every night after that.” That weekend, they moved his boat to her parents’ dock, and it’s been there ever since.

“When we got together, it felt like we’d never been apart,” said Robin. “My only regret is that it’s not true.”

The two were married on Aug. 26, 2017. They live next door to her parents in Mathews.