Mary Howard shows off her ring after Joe’s golden engagement. Photo courtesy The Montage.
A dozen roses. A cemetery hill. A 27 year old copy of Montevallo Today.
These three ingredients are essential to a love story paved on the brick streets of Montevallo. As one side celebrates a hard-earned victory on Feb. 13, one local couple will look on the Palmer stage and recall a memory that helped lay the foundation for 25 golden years of marriage.
The first time Joe Howard laid eyes on Mary Reid, she was dancing across the Palmer stage as Slutrina, the Tavern Wench. It was College Night 1987. Joe was supposed to be playing trumpet in the pit orchestra.
“Holy crap!” he thought.
He planned to talk to her at the Victory Party afterwards. She never showed. The eye of Joe’s affection left UM after the semester ended to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Two years later, Mary found a copy of Montevallo Today saved for her on the kitchen counter of her mother’s house in Montevallo.
On the cover was the boy in the pit, now the UM SGA President and a promising accounting major. “I’ve picked out the boy you’re gonna marry,” Mary’s mother proudly declared to her.
Mary had just gotten out of a serious relationship that came to a bad end. She saw Joe’s many impressive accolades as the signs of just another “straight laced boy.” She wasn’t interested.
One night, Mary received a call from her best friend, Meredith Rushing. “You’re never gonna believe who wants your number,” said Rushing. “It’s the SGA president.” Mary later reluctantly agreed to go on a date with Joe.
“You’ll never guess who I just got off the phone with,” Mary later teased to her mother.
“I know. It’s the boy from the magazine,” her mother said confidently.
Despite a burgeoning romance, Joe’s imminent graduation predicted an early end. Their friends affectionately took bets at how long it would take before the relationship unraveled. The more generous said three months. The true doubters said two weeks.
The two managed to beat the odds, despite a distance of over 250 miles. Joe would often leave from his office in Memphis, Tennessee on a Friday only to drive back from Montevallo on a Sunday.
The couple stayed together for two years. Joe even moved into Mary’s parents house for a few months to work in Birmingham and be closer.
At the start of 1991, the couple almost never saw each other. Mary was the female Gold side leader and was committed to earning a coveted victory. Joe, meanwhile, was in the throes of accounting’s “busy season.” Both were subject to agonizingly long nights with little to no reprieve on the weekends.
During these two years, despite their serious romance, Joe never gave Mary a traditional bouquet of a dozen roses. “I told her I would only give a dozen roses to the girl I was gonna marry,” he said.
Their love story took a turn, of all places, on a cemetery hill in Trussville. On the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 15. Joe was attending a funeral.
“In that moment on that hill, I had an epiphany,” he said. “Life is short.”
Joe was set to spend the weekend at Mary’s parents house for College Night. As he drove towards the college town, he decided to take a sudden detour.
He pulled in front of Diamond World in Hoover. “What’s the plan?” he thought. It was the Friday before College Night. Mary wouldn’t have a free moment until the victory announcement on Saturday night. “What if she doesn’t win?,” he thought grimly.
Joe called Rushing to construct a plan with the help of production director Katherine Nevins.
The first part of the plan went without a hitch. The Golds won that night with their production of “A Little Knight Music.”
The side circled up to celebrate the victory on the Palmer stage. “Why is there always a hole in our circle?” Mary asked the production’s director.
“I don’t know. Ask Joe Howard,” Nevins replied with a smile.
Confused, Mary turned to the assistant director. “Why is there always hole in our circle?”
“I don’t know. Ask Joe.”
Joe approached through the open circle to the middle of the stage. He carried a bouquet of red and yellow roses.
“As an actress, I’m thinking ‘Well that’s precious! He’s brought me flowers to commemorate the show,’” she said.
At this point, the couple was surrounded by screaming friends and side members.
“Count the roses,” Joe told Mary.
She didn’t have to count. She already knew.
Joe dropped to his knee. “You’ve made me happy for the last five years of my life. Let me make you happy for the rest of yours,” he said as he pulled out the ring.
25 years later, the Howards have two children, one of whom is in the ensemble of this year’s Gold side production “Dirty Work.” Mary has not missed a single College Night since 1986 and will be in attendance Saturday night along with Joe.
Their son Ryan is ready to make his parents proud. “I want to respect their memory by putting on the best show I can put on to show them it’s the same gold side all those years ago,” said Ryan.