Editor’s note: I met Jackie Love on a recruiting trip to Tallahassee, Florida, and the campus of Florida A&M. As The Oregonian’s recruitment director, I made it a priority to go to places where we hadn’t tapped into pools of promising talent. Meeting Jackie and recruiting someone of her character to Portland (along with an equally talented classmate) remains one of my fondest memories from the late ’90s. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Jackie tells her favorite story.
By Jackie Weatherspoon
It was Friday, Jan. 8, 1999. I was 24 and black and single in a city that didn’t seem to hold much promise for me by way of love.
A recent transplant from the South (I had moved here a more than a year before to take a reporting job at The Oregonian,) I had specific notions of what of I was looking for in a man: Tall, dark and handsome. Smart, cute and funny. African American.
I was willing to compromise on some of my requirements (not everyone can be cute AND funny) but I knew I wanted to date a black man. And I was living in Portland, Oregon, and my odds seemed very, very slim.
Not that there weren’t black men around in Portland in the late ’90s. They just didn’t seem interested in me. And that was OK. But it was lonely and I started thinking maybe it was time to move on.
But I had friends. Wonderful women who reported every black male sighting they had in the city. Men were spotted at bakeries and gas stations and at Fred Meyers. Keep hoping, is what they wanted me to know. There is someone out there for you. There is someone here for you. You just haven’t met him, yet.
Turns out, I wasn’t the one who was meant to meet him. That was Jennifer.
All it took for me to find true love was for her to take a quick trip to Hawaii over the Christmas holiday in December 1998. She spotted him across the aisle from her in the rear of an Alaska Airlines flight. He was wearing shorts and sandals (with socks) in December during an ice storm (yes, he was headed to Hawaii, too.)
Intrepid newspaper reporter that she is, she sized him up. He was black (score!), he looked to be about my age (he’s a mere three months older than me) and he was attractive (so very…) and he appeared single (no ring on his finger.) He would be perfect for Jackie, she thought.
She struck up a conversation with him and learned all the important details a girl needs to size up a man for her friend. Where he worked (he was an engineer) and whom he was meeting in Hawaii (his family, phew!), where he went to college (a top-tier engineering school), where he lived (across the river in Vancouver, Washington.)
They parted ways and I know he never expected to hear from her again. He’s friendly and enjoys meeting new people when he travels.
But I was in for a surprise. I came in to work on Friday, Jan. 8, 1999, the last day of my holiday vacation (I was just there to pick something up and had planned to go straight home), and was bombarded by a wave of excitement unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.
I wasn’t in the office when Jennifer returned the previous week after her trip to Hawaii. But she had already shared her news with all of the women on our team. She’d found me a guy.
Before I could even sit down, almost all of my female co-workers rattled off all of the pertinent details about him and in short order had looked him up on Alta Vista (there was no Google back then.) Within a few minutes of coming in, I was staring at his face (a college graduation picture) online and laughing at their excitement. All they needed to do then was confirm that he indeed worked where he said he did. Much to my surprise, my friend called his workplace, requested to speak to him and waited until he answered the phone. Then she hung up.
Yep, he worked there.
I was touched in so many ways. To know my friends cared about my happiness enough to go to such lengths to help me meet a nice guy meant the world to me. It still does.
But how would he be different from the black guys at the bakery or the gas station or at Fred Meyer? How was I ever going to meet him?
As I was about to learn, some things are just meant to be.
Enter Mignon. The mom of a dear friend of mine from college and a mentor, she also had my best interests at heart. I called her when I got home and told her the ridiculous story of my dear friends and their matchmaking escapades.
And then she told me a story.
A high school English teacher, she told me about a former student of hers, who as a young man had cancer. She was there for him and his family and cared a great deal about him. He got better, graduated from high school and went on to college and they lost touch.
I remained silent, not sure what this had to do with me.
He went to the same engineering school at the same university as the young man your friends met, she said. He seems about the same age and they are both African American men. They must know each other.
Find out, she said to me. And she hung up. I stood in my living room wondering what I was supposed to do about that. And then I did what any good journalist would do: I called him at work.
I remember my words coming out in a rush: My name, where I worked, how I knew who he was, that I wasn’t calling for work, telling him about my mentor and her student, asking him if he maybe knew that young man.
He listened and then asked if he could call me back. I gave him my home number and hung up.
He called back 10 minutes later and said he and the young man went to school together. They had graduated together and, yes, he had his information. It was a Friday, so he would have to go home and retrieve it, but he would get it to me by Monday.
I was tickled. I gave him my work phone and email address and said goodbye.
Monday quickly came around and I was back at work and on deadline. He called me at 3:30 p.m. to let me know he had emailed me the information. He seemed to want to talk, but I was on deadline and expecting a call (it was a landline without a second line) and I needed to hang up. I was abrupt and told him thanks and goodbye.
A few hours later, I was trying to figure out what to do. Mignon had given me the perfect opening to get to know this man and I was worried that I might have blown it.
I wrote him an email thanking him for getting back to me so quickly, apologizing for being so rude on the phone and letting him know that I was new to the area, having recently graduated from Florida A&M University. I hoped he understood the significance of my attending a historically black college and university and that he knew I was sending him a subtle hint.
I hit send and I waited.
I waited two days for a reply. When it came, it was short, just one line: Would you like to go out for a drink tomorrow?
He had taken the hint and, it turns out, had been looking for someone like me, too.
The rest (five years of dating, getting married on Feb. 29, 2004, three children and a happy family) is history in the making.
Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Mignon. Thank you, my dear work friends. I thank all of you in my heart every year for putting me on the path to happiness. I could not have gotten here without you.
Jackie Weatherspoon lives in Vancouver, Washington, with her husband and three children. She’s a stay-at-home parent who is trying her hand at being a ‘dance mom, basketball mom and soccer mom’. After more than 17 years in the Northwest, she has finally gotten used to the rain and owns her fair share of fleece items and warm socks.