Love: Pat Pierson & Jack Lees

Father James McAndrew of Old St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia gives a marriage blessing for Jack Lees and Pat Pierson as groomsman Joseph Lees and bridesmaid Mim Galvin look on.
Father James McAndrew of Old St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia gives a marriage blessing for Jack Lees and Pat Pierson as groomsman Joseph Lees and bridesmaid Mim Galvin look on. (J. William Citino III)

September 27, 2013, in Philadelphia

Posted: December 26, 2013

Hello there

There was that woman again, showing off the goodies in the Casani Candy Co. booth at the Philadelphia National Candy, Gift and Gourmet Show.

Casani owner Jack Lee's assistant had watched her show after show. "She comes in and writes everything down, but Jack, I never see any orders from her," she told her boss one day in 1981.

"We'll have to look into this," Jack said.

At the next show, there was Pat again. "Can I ask what you're doing?" asked Jack.

"I'm showing my customers some of the lines that I carry," Pat said. A candy broker born and based in New England, Pat regularly made the trip to the Philadelphia shows, but saw no need to cart samples of every possible sweet thing with her. Not when Casani had such a huge display.

Jack didn't care - not after he realized that Pat's customers were only in cities where he didn't do any business.

From then on, they chatted at industry events, and sometimes called each other with business tips. Sometime in the late 1980s, "She made a connection for me with a jelly bean manufacturer that proved very profitable," Jack said. "I figured I owe her a meal, anyhow."

They had dinner between two shows in Chicago, and the friendship between Jack, who is now 84, and Pat, now 75, deepened.

Soon afterward, Pat's company transferred her to Philadelphia, the halfway point between her accounts.

The more time they spent together, the sweeter they grew on each other. But it would be two decades before they allowed themselves to be more than friends. Pat was divorced; Jack's wife, Beatrice, lived in a nursing home and had been unable to care for herself for years.

"We both understood what was going on, but never pushed," for more than friendship, Jack said. Their Catholic faith and personal belief systems made anything else impossible.

"If younger people today could understand, friendship is the most important thing," said Pat.

Jack lived in Juniata and Pat in a Pier 5 condo on the Delaware River. After he lost the vision in his left eye and most of the peripheral sight in the right one, his doctors told him not to drive anymore. So each night and on weekends, Pat drove Jack to Bea's nursing home in Somerton. She would read or go shopping while Jack visited Bea, who sometimes recognized him, and then drop Jack off in Juniata before heading home.

Shortly after Bea died in 2002, Jack and Pat became a couple.

"He's warm, sincere, friendly, honest, happy," said Pat.

"I love her sincere warmth and caring," said Jack. "And she spoils me to death. It's just absolutely unbelievable."

They were already in love, and before long, Jack moved into Pat's condo, where they still live. "You could say it's been happily ever after," he said.

How does forever sound?

Jack and Pat knew they had a lifelong commitment, but a Catholic wedding required an annulment of her previous marriage, and that seemed a daunting process, Pat said.

Then in March 2013, the two were in the receiving line at the funeral of Jack's cousin's husband. "Jackie, who is this?" cousin Helen asked. "This is my wife, Pat," said Jack.

He had never used that word to describe Pat out loud before, Jack said. It felt and sounded absolutely right.

He thought about it all day, and the next day, too. He thought about the uncertainty of life, and about June 2012, when Pat, now fully recovered, had a stroke. He was so afraid of losing her.

That night at the kitchen table, Jack stood up next to Pat. "What would you think if we decided to get married?" he asked.

"To whom?" asked Pat.

"You're the only one in the room, so I'm thinking I'm asking you if you would like to get married."

"After all of these years?" Pat asked. "Of course I would."

"That's settled," Jack said.

Pat asked him to promise one thing: Don't tell anyone. When the annulment came through, they'd marry quietly, then invite everyone over for a party and surprise announcement.

That - and keeping it to one Manhattan at dinner - is the only promise to Pat that Jack's ever broken. Within days, he had told their kids and grandkids, neighbors, coworkers at Casani's and other candy biz colleagues, and just about anyone else they saw.

It was so them

The couple were wed before nearly 200 guests at Old St. Joe's in Old City. Pat's twin sons, Gary and Greg, walked her down the aisle. Jack's son Joseph was best man, Pat's friend Mim was matron of honor.

Casani customers Joe and Paul, owners of the Fudge Kitchen, presented each guest with a box of fudge.

Other friends hired a limo. Someone took a crayon to the Just Married sign. "Finally Married," it said.

The couple got appetizers from Wegmans, plus a few trays of hot food, beer, and wine.

As long as they have lived at Pier 5, Jack and Pat have fed their neighbors. Dinner invitations are frequent, and they let it be known that "our refrigerator is a mini supermarket, if anybody needs or wants anything," Pat said.

All of that goodwill - and good food - came back to them on their wedding day. Neighbors brought trays of salmon, salads, peppers and sausage, lasagna, shrimp, and crab.

The party stretched from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., and at the end, "not a speck of food was left," Pat said.

The next day, Pat's son Greg and his wife, Steph, hosted a second reception at their home in Neshanic Station, N.J.

From food to the limo to Pat's mint-green wedding dress - also a gift from a neighbor - "everybody did something to make the day what it was," said Jack. "We were blessed by their contributions and their love," Pat said.

Awestruck

During his speech, best man Joseph spoke of his gratitude for having Jack as his father, his love for Jack and Pat, and the happiness he and everyone had that the two were married. Jack cried.

At the Day II reception, Pat's son Greg thanked Jack for all he had done for Pat and her family, and welcomed the Pier 5 neighbors as the couple's "adjunct family," saying he understood why even Pat's stroke was not enough to make her move away.

The getaway

Pat is mostly retired, but Jack never takes time off. Yet in the 3 1/2 weeks after the wedding, he spent only three days at the candy company. The couple traveled and visited friends in Ocean Grove, N.J.; Cape Cod, Tampa, and Fort Lauderdale.


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