Two seats to re­mem­ber theatre’s tale of ro­mance

70-year love be­gan in aisles

Scottish Daily Mail - - Life - By Mag­gie Ritchie Con­tact­cid­i­an­cono@ayr­gai­

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

Mo­men­tous visit: Joyce Gif­ford

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