This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 18, 2013.
When Joan Talbert started dating David Lyon, people described her as giddy. She giggled a lot, they said. Lyon’s friends compared them to teenagers in love. They held hands and read one another’s e-mails over and over. They took photos together and saved ticket stubs and concert programs from their dates. They drank champagne and kissed in the rain.
Talbert was 59, and Lyon was 63.
In the winter of 2005, Lyon, who is the founding president emeritus of the Public Policy Institute of California, asked friends if they knew anyone they could introduce him to. He wasn’t looking for a date – just someone he could go to dinner with. Someone who would understand how he was feeling. His wife had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and had declined to the point that he had placed her in a care facility.
“I was in the middle of a tunnel, and I couldn’t see a light at the end,” he recalls.
Lyon’s friends did have someone in mind. Talbert, a senior research scholar in Stanford’s School of Education, lost her husband in 1997. But when they said they’d like to introduce her to Lyon at a dinner party, she wasn’t sure.
“I immediately Googled him,” Talbert says. She discovered a friend had worked with Lyon at the Rand Corp., so she approached her to get the scoop. “She said he was wonderful,” Talbert remembers. “So I accepted the dinner invitation.”
That night, the two bonded over their shared experiences, but their busy work and travel schedules prevented them from seeing each other again for a month. When they did, Talbert, a member of the Stanford Jazz Workshop’s board of directors, took Lyon to a small, in-home jazz concert.
Talbert’s love of jazz started when her son, Ryan Talbert Snow, began playing trombone in the high school band. Today, he plays in the funk-soul band Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Talbert discovered Lyon was also a jazz fan. He used to play jazz clarinet in high school, but he hadn’t picked up the instrument in years.
More time passed before the pair was able to see each other again, but they traded lots of e-mails – and they both saved every one. At their third meeting, Talbert learned Lyon had written an autobiography. She asked him for a copy and read the whole thing on a flight home from Montreal.
“That’s when I fell in love,” she said. “I was already inclined in that direction, but that’s how I really got to know David.”
She shared her feelings – and her positive, academic critique of the book – in a long card, and she was happy to learn Lyon felt the same way. In fact, he said his feelings began the first night they had dinner. “Joan was my light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Of course, theirs was a difficult situation. Lyon was still married, and although the wife he knew was gone mentally, he was committed to taking care of her. “Joan was really great,” he said. “She stood by me.”
So did his friends and co-workers. As he began to develop feelings for Talbert, he sought advice from people he respected. They assured him he was doing the right thing. His friends and hers encouraged them to enjoy life as a couple.
For the next seven years, the pair went to jazz shows, spent holidays with each other’s families and traveled. They kept mementos and even created a book commemorating the first 100 days of their relationship.
In 2006, they launched a jazz concert series at Talbert’s home called Live at the Living Room. That same year, they traveled to Paris and London together, and on that trip Lyon told Talbert he wanted to retire to spend more time with her. In 2011, after a 51-year-hiatus, Talbert inspired Lyon to pick up the clarinet again.
In April 2012, Lyon’s wife died. A few months later, while on a trip to New York, Lyon told Talbert, “I think it’s time to go to Tiffany’s.” They walked hand in hand to the iconic jewelry store, and Lyon asked the doorman where the engagement rings were located.
“Fourth floor,” the guard said with a big smile.
At ages 68 and 72, Talbert and Lyon said their vows this summer in front of about 40 close friends and family. More than 100 others then joined the celebration at the Stanford Faculty Club, which was transformed into Le Club Jazz for the evening. Red curtains covered all the windows, and black leather chairs surrounded mirrored tables topped with red flowers, small lamps and matchbox favors. A grand piano, a bass and drums surrounded the dance floor. Diane Elcan, director of catering at the Faculty Club, called it “the biggest transformation we’ve ever done for a wedding.”
A professional jazz combo headlined at Le Club Jazz, and for one special hour, many of the guests picked up instruments and joined in, including Talbert’s son, and even Lyon himself.
And at each table, guests found copies of a scrapbook Talbert and Lyon created called “Prelude to a Wedding.”
“Most couples don’t have a library this big after 20 years together,” Lyon said.
Talbert added, “We just want to savor every minute.”