Her name was Francesca Harris. Her favorite tennis player was Pete Sampras. She had played tennis in Murano, Italy, with her late husband, Peter. And when asked about her best skill, she said, “I’m a good net player; I’m steady.”
Al Tripodi, a retired physician, was playing tennis on a fall day two years ago at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center when he saw Harris, who had a career as a reading specialist and lived off and on for seven years in Venice, being interviewed for the “Player of the Week” feature in the Longboat Observer.
He knew Harris as an acquaintance. But there was one thing that stood out about her, both while she was being interviewed and in the article that ran in the paper Nov. 6, 2008.
“Her smile, her smile,” he said. “No question, it was her smile.”
Tripodi needed a date for a Christmas party for Senior Friendship Centers, where he volunteers, so he decided to give Harris a call.
At first, when she got the call, she thought it was her dentist on the line. (He, too, had called her after the article ran, noting how good her pearly whites looked in the photo.) Tripodi told her that he noticed that her name was Francesca. He had some Francescas in his family. She said that her real name was Frances, also known as Fran, but that after years of living in Italy, she often goes by Francesca.
They had a few things in common: Both are widowed and have sons — two for Harris, three for Tripodi — along with grandchildren. And both hail from the state of New York. At first, Harris wasn’t interested in accompanying Tripodi to the party. But, finally, after some convincing from her friends, she agreed to join him. (For the record, Harris didn’t want to do the interview in the first place, but her friend, Sandra Ceshker, convinced her to do it at the last minute.)
On their first date, they went to the party, which took place at Saks Fifth Avenue, then they headed to Euphemia Haye. The next day, Tripodi sent Harris a bouquet of flowers and a note that said, “Thanks for a nice evening.” On their second date, they headed to Harry’s Continental Kitchens. And the rest is history.
They’ve been a couple for the past two-and-a-half years. They like to watch sunsets and take bicycle rides together and, of course, there’s always tennis. (He says she is the better player, but she says he is the better tennis player.)
“She’s much more social than I am,” Tripodi said. “She cooks, and I don’t. She’s very ebullient and she’s very up. She smiles a lot, and she’s quite intelligent.”
“He has a good sense of humor,” Harris said. “He’s friendly, and there’s nothing phony about him. We can talk about Dante or we can talk about our silly things and still have a good time.”
On Thanksgiving, during a dinner the couple hosted with dozens of their friends and family members, Tripodi made their relationship “semi-official.” He stood up and made a speech.
“Everyone, witness my commitment to this cute little girl from London and Venice and Buffalo and Longboat Key,” he said.
Then, he presented her with a gold diamond ring.
Tripodi jokes that now, after two-and-a-half months, he still hasn’t gotten an answer from Harris. She says that her answer is a definitive “yes,” although she doesn’t like to use the word “committed.” (She thinks it sounds like she’s talking about a mental hospital.)
“Who knows,” Harris said. “Maybe someday we’ll get married, but, for now, we’re happy the way things are.”
On Friday, Feb. 11, Tripodi will join Harris in London, and the couple will celebrate their first Valentine’s Day in the same city.
Harris said that she likes the fact that Tripodi lets her be who she is. She is more spontaneous, while he tends to be a planner. Much of their relationship has been a surprise to Harris — everything from the initial phone call to the ring.
But Tripodi said that he isn’t surprised by the fact that one phone call led to a long-term relationship.
“I had a plan right from the beginning,” he said. “I saw what I wanted, and I went out to get it.”
HIS & HERS
Favorite travel destination
HIS: Breakfast. He likes the frittata at Café Americano.
HERS: Breakfast. She is partial to the croissants at C’est La Vie, in downtown Sarasota.
Favorite date destination
HIS: Harry’s Continental Kitchens
HERS: The Haye Loft at Euphemia Haye
Contact Robin Hartill at email@example.com