Scottish Daily Mail

Two seats to remember theatre’s tale of romance

70-year love began in aisles

- By Maggie Ritchie Contact Mirella.arcidianco­no@ayrgaiety.co.uk

WHEN an audacious American airman on leave in Ayr put his feet on the seat in front of him to attract the attention of a pretty usherette, a wartime romance was born.

Sergeant Leonard Rodriquez went on to marry Mary Tinling Preece and they raised four children in the US.

Now, more than 70 years later, two of them are to travel to the Scottish seaside town to dedicate two seats to their parents in the theatre where they first met.

Joyce Gifford, who lives in Cumberland, Rhode Island, said: ‘I’ve known my parents’ love story since I can remember. It became a family legend that my mother loved to tell.’

Her father was with the US Army Airborne Division when his plane crashed in England, with no fatalities.

Mrs Gifford, 57, a vet and mother of two, added: ‘Dad and his buddies were on leave in Ayr and went to the Gaiety Theatre, where my mum was an usherette. He had his feet up on the seat in front of him and my mum asked him take them off.

‘He told us that she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen and she said he was a dashing American soldier.

‘He kept putting his feet up when she walked away to make her come back. Eventually he said he would only stop if she agreed to go out with him. He was a scoundrel.’ Sergeant Rodriquez, an ItalianAme­rican from Brooklyn, New York, and his sweetheart, then 28 and 23, were married in Ayr a year later, in 1945.

At the end of the war, Mary travelled to New York on a war bride ship with their nine-month-old son, Brian, who was meeting his father for the first time.

The couple settled in New York and had three more children. Len worked for the postal service and Mary worked at Macy’s department store.

‘They were in love their whole lives until my dad died in 1985,’ said Mrs Gifford, whose mother passed away three years ago.

Later this month, Mrs Gifford and her sister Margaret will return to their mother’s home town to dedicate the seats and later attend a family party.

‘Mum and dad would have been thrilled to know that their story is now part of the history of the Gaiety,’ Mrs Gifford said.

The Gaiety Heritage Project wants others to share their memories about the theatre, which was built in 1902 and remained open during the Second World War.

‘Many people link key events in their lives to their experience­s at the theatre,’ said co-ordinator Mirella Arcidiacon­o.

 ??  ?? Date: Sgt Rodriquez and usherette Mary Tinling Preece
Date: Sgt Rodriquez and usherette Mary Tinling Preece
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 ??  ?? Momentous visit: Joyce Gifford
Momentous visit: Joyce Gifford

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