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Eight years of (e)harmony

Newport Beach couple will celebrate online-initiated bliss on a float at the Rose Parade.

December 31, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Walter Smith, 83, and his wife, Barbara, 83, who met on eHarmony's online dating service, will be riding on a brand new eHarmony float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena as the "Golden Years Couple."
Walter Smith, 83, and his wife, Barbara, 83, who met on… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

There's one strict rule in the Smith household — no fewer than 12 hugs a day.

And Walter and Barbara are only too happy to adhere to this self-imposed dictum.

The couple, both 83, rarely leave their cheerful Newport Beach home without their hands linked. And it's been that way — right down to keeping their arms tightly wound around each other at church — since their first encounter eight years ago on dating website eHarmony.

"I was very active — I still am — but I had to come home to an empty house," said Barbara, whose husband succumbed to Alzheimer's disease in 2000. "I had to climb into an empty bed. And I didn't like that."

For Walter's part, the "wonderful woman" to whom he was married died of breast cancer in 2001.

Although they dated other people before meeting, the pair found that, for one reason or another, those relationships fizzled out. So in the spirit of moving on, they created eHarmony accounts at virtually the same time.

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Barbara recalled being impressed by the organization's founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren. As a clinical psychologist and Christian theologian, Warren expressed concern about the national divorce rate and wanted to provide a program that could lead to lasting and meaningful marriages.

Walter received 48 matches, which he winnowed down to five and then two — that is, until he came across Barbara, who shares a name with his first wife.

"At first, the thing that shocked me to no end was my deceased wife's name," he remarked. "I thought I was in a trance. I got up from the computer, went downstairs, outside and around the house. I walked up and down the street and finally went back and reread it. When I saw she was a retired policewoman, I thought, 'Whooo-ey!'"

Walter, a financial adviser, and Barbara began communicating via eHarmony's mandated questions, but soon that wasn't enough. Their first conversation lasted four hours and was followed quickly by a coffee date.

"Twenty-five years of police work had taught me to read people well, and I knew he was authentic," said Barbara, who cased the selected venue a day before their meeting and located emergency escape routes.

"He came across that room with that big smile and that hand outstretched and I thought, 'Wow, this is one big, damn good-looking man.'"

His simultaneous reaction: "That's my woman."

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