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Originally published March 30, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified March 31, 2010 at 8:54 AM

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Pasco mayor follows her heart

Pasco Mayor Joyce Olson fell in love with a former high-school classmate and is leaving town and getting married after three decades in public service.

Seattle Times staff reporter

PASCO — Joyce Olson, the mayor of this city of 54,000, is perplexed by the attention.

"I guess I'm dumbfounded. This happens to thousands of people every day," she says about falling in love.

But the rest of them aren't resigning as mayor and moving across the country after a decades-long career that includes stints not only as mayor, but also City Council member, district director for a congressman and Chamber of Commerce president.

And this after a love affair with a former high-school classmate that blossomed after 2,400 e-mails were exchanged, the first one April 10, 2009.

So Olson, 58, is spending her last day as mayor Wednesday.

Next week, she'll leave this place she has called home for 33 years and move to Norfolk, Va., where her future husband, Bill Mathews, works as a schoolteacher.

In these times in which every day seemingly brings another headline about another dreadful news event, there is the story of Joyce and Bill.

The pair started e-mailing each other last year as their high-school class — they both attended Old Saybrook High School, in the Connecticut town by the same name — was preparing for its 40th reunion.

They had been casual friends in school, and both had married, had kids, had seen their marriages break up.

The e-mails began casually, just a way for old schoolmates to catch up with the reunion approaching.

It was in the summer of 2009 that things got serious.

Before that, tentative steps were taken to begin this love affair.

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Other than knowing each other in school, they had talked briefly at their Old Saybrook 20th-year reunion.

Then two more decades had passed.

More than cordial

In telling each other about their lives, Joyce said that for about seven years she had been a flight attendant with a charter airline that flew all over the world.

Bill, 59, remembers writing back, "I want to see the South Pacific before I die."

He thought plenty about Joyce's reply, "If you go, I want to go with you."

It was, Bill says, "Maybe the slightest hint that this was more than a cordial exchange."

So at about e-mail No. 1,000, Bill took a chance. He listed his favorite Beatles tunes and asked Joyce to list hers.

He ended the e-mail with, "P.S. I Love You," the title of the classic song.

But he had not underlined it, as he had the titles of other tunes.

Joyce could take it as a song title. Or as, well, as Bill remembers, "I laid myself bare. I agonized over it. I thought, 'Well, if she no longer accepts e-mails from my address, I'll know I went too far.' "

Joyce got the meaning. The e-mails kept going.

It had been many, many years since there had been romance in her life.

As she had written Bill in one of her first e-mails, "I got divorced in 1995 after 18 years of marriage and 2 children. It was a dreadful experience and I have spent the last 20 years basically working full-time and raising our two children as a single parent."

It meant living her 40s and much of her 50s without a romantic relationship.

Joyce had been on the Pasco City Council, a part-time position, for six years before her divorce. Her term ended the following year, and she worked for 10 years as district director for U.S. Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings in Eastern Washington. She later was executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce before ending full-time work to help her convalescing mother in Florida, bringing her back to Pasco until her health improved.

She was re-elected to the City Council in 2006.

Every two years, the council chooses the mayor in Pasco, which has a city manager running the day-to-day operations, and Joyce now is in her fifth term as mayor.

It ended up that Bill, whose second marriage was breaking up, didn't go to the 40-year reunion that was held the fourth weekend of June 2009.

"Being in the situation I find myself, takes the heart out of one," he e-mailed Joyce, ending with, "It's good to be able to 'talk' to someone, thanks."

The reunion was over, but the e-mails continued, now also with phone calls

At some point, they both knew, they'd have to meet in person.

Joyce is old-fashioned. She told Bill things couldn't go further until his divorce was final.

Bill and his now former wife, Erin Mathews, are on good terms. When the divorce paperwork was finalized, Erin actually hand-delivered it to Bill, who then made a copy and mailed it to Joyce.

When asked about Joyce, the ex-wife says, "I don't think I could have picked a better person myself."

And so it was time to arrange that first meeting. They decided that Joyce would fly out to Norfolk in October.

Joyce stayed at Bill's home, in her own room.

How did the trip go?

Remember, this is a love story. No room for cynics here as you read the next passage.

Returning to Pasco, Joyce e-mailed Bill:

"I know I told you this on the phone last night, but I wanted to share it with you once again. I am still in awe of our first embrace at the airport in Norfolk. It seemed like you were standing there in a shower of light and then this velvet voice whispered in my ear and I had the most overwhelming experience in my life and we hugged each other. It felt like everything else in the world was in a blackout as we experienced our joyful connection."

Their extended families are glad for the couple.

Says Jessica Mathews, Bill's 25-year-old daughter, "Absolutely, definitely, we're very happy. It's an exciting time."

"Favorite bright light"

Bill formally proposed marriage this past Valentine's Day when Joyce flew to Fort Lauderdale to see her mother, and he met her there.

At a restaurant, very nervously, he asked the diners if he could have a little of their time.

"I'd like you all to bear witness to my proposal ... ," he began the short speech, ending by looking at Joyce: "You are my best friend, my lover and my favorite bright light."

The crowd applauded.

On March 5, Joyce put up for sale her four-bedroom, three-bathroom home, with a small swimming pool in the back, sitting on a third of an acre. It sold in two hours for $190,000.

Joyce had expected the home to be on the market for a while. With the sudden sale, there was nothing stopping her from leaving.

On the evening of March 8, at the regular City Council meeting, with a wavering voice as she was about to cry at announcing she was leaving Pasco, she told her fellow council members the news.

Bill is flying into Pasco on Sunday to help pack things and put them in a rental truck.

If they have time before they drive off April 7, they plan to have a small, civil marriage ceremony at a park by the Columbia River. Otherwise, the ceremony will have to wait until they arrive in Norfolk.

That ceremony would be just three days shy of that first e-mail a year ago.

You bet they're acting like kids in love.

Joyce still has the 1969 Old Saybrook Senior High School yearbook, in which Bill wrote to her, using a phrase he repeated in his marriage proposal, and which he believes was a premonition.

It says, "To my favorite bright light."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

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