By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
In 1988, Susan Pantzer Hyre had recently moved from the Midwest to the D.C. area to work in politics.
That summer, her co-worker from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kathy, asked Susan to join a group that was going to Wolf Trap to see singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading, and to be the date of a guy named Phil, a fellow tenant at her beach house.
“I had met Phil,” Susan said. “I was being set up but it wasn’t totally blind.”
Susan said ‘yes’ and was set to go when Phil suddenly had to leave town when a close friend became seriously ill. Kathy asked Frank Hyre, another tenant at the beach house, if he would go with Susan instead.
“I was a stand-in blind date,” Frank said. “I was a stand-in for a very good friend in my beach house.”
Frank said he felt no pressure with the date.
“A friend called me and said, ‘Would you like to go to Wolf Trap tomorrow night and meet this girl? All you have to do is show up. You don’t have to fall in love or get married. We just need someone to fill in,’” he said.
“I thought he was going to be like some 330-pound icky guy,” Susan said.
“Who could darn his own socks,” Frank added.
“Exactly. So, I didn’t really care what I wore or anything,” Susan recalled. “I’ll never forget. And he had on ironed blue jeans and a pink button down shirt. It was pretty amazing. I was like, ‘Oh, he’s not bad looking.’”
“Damned by faint praise, thank you,” Frank laughed.
“We sat on the lawn [at Wolf Trap],” Susan said.
“She remembers everything. I remember few things,” Frank said.
Despite turning out better than expected, the date did not immediately result in romance.
“I don’t think you even kissed me good night,” Susan said.
“No, I don’t think so either,” Frank said.
“Because you weren’t even really the date. You were the fake date. I feel like you might have said, ‘I’ll call you.’ I was sort of seeing someone else. And [Frank] was on a roll of [attending] weddings. Our date was in August and you did not come back from all these wedding weekends until middle October,” Susan said.
“I think we went out once before I went away,” Frank said.
“He sent me flowers on my birthday,” Susan recalled. “A friend said, ‘Frank Hyre! How did you get a date with him?’ I said it was a blind date; I didn’t do anything.’”
“I was in politics,” Susan said. “I look at us as a mixed marriage: political and real world.”
Frank, who was born in West Virginia and raised in Roanoke, Virginia, moved to the D.C. area to work for Riggs National Bank after graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1978. Beach houses like the one he joined at Rehoboth helped bring mostly young people from the political and business worlds together.
“People that you wouldn’t meet during the week here because they traveled in different planes, the political world or the real estate world or the banking world. [But there] everyone is just in flip flops and a bathing suit and a t-shirt at the beach,” he said.
Susan and Frank started dating in mid-October after Frank returned from his fall of attending weddings. They were engaged by the following October, in 1989.
“I think she gave me ‘The Talk’ on the beach the next summer,” Frank said.
Ironically, the beach they were at was Cape Cod, and their vacation companions were Phil and his girlfriend.
“To this day, Susie’s brothers still call me Phil,” Frank said. “I was at the first dinner [with Susan’s family at their home] and her father turns to me and says, ‘So, Phil, how many kids are in your family?’ Conversation came to a grinding halt. He had gotten his boys mixed up. So I still get Phil stuff from the brothers. And Susie goes up to Phil afterwards and says, ‘You could have been The One.’”
The funny thing was, Susan had never dated anyone named Phil — not the one from the beach house or anywhere else.
“It was ironic out of the hat,” Susan said. “[Beach house] Phil’s probably glad, five kids later [for us]. He only has two kids.”
For the proposal, Frank took Susan back to Wolf Trap, even though there was no performance there that night.
“I think we were at an artists’ thing out in Middleburg,” Frank said. “I sort of made a detour on the way home. I’m sure she wondered why we were going there. I mean it was pitch black and I drove to the front gate [for the proposal].”
They were married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Old Town. Susan, who lived in Del Ray, was already attending the church. Frank was raised in the United Methodist church, but
agreed to become Episcopalian.
They went through a confirmation class together and joined the church before being married there on May 12, 1990 by the Rev. Maria Eddy, a former St. Paul’s priest.
“We’re still there today,” Susan said. “All five kids were baptized there. All five kids went to preschool there. Hopefully, somebody will get married there.”
About those five kids…
“We were the birth control for all of Alexandria,” Susan laughed.
The Hyres had three children, two boys and a girl. Susan, who came from a family with six children, wanted one more child to even it out at four. Frank, who came from a family with three children, thought they already had the perfect number.
“I said, ‘Let’s have one more.’ He said, ‘No more kids.’ Then I got pregnant. I thought I had cancer because I was so sick. I thought there was either something wrong with the baby or I was sick. I was high risk off-the-charts because I was 41. We wound up at Georgetown,” she said.
They were in for a big surprise when they went in for the sonogram.
“You [jokingly] said, ‘There’s only one in there, right?’ And the intern who looked at the screen first said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And then they showed the picture with the two lines,” Susan said. “I didn’t see it, but Frank could process it.”
“It’s as close as I’ve ever come to fainting,” Frank said. “I almost crumpled and went down in a heap.”
“I was so relieved because I knew I wasn’t dying,” Susan said. “And then we became birth control for all of Alexandria. Anyone else who wanted to have a fourth child or a third child, they said, ‘Look at what happened to the Hyres.’” “Don’t go for it,” Frank laughed.
When the twin boys, Davis and Hews, were born, their sons Flin and Jack were seven and
six years old, respectively, and their daughter, Mimi, was two.
“I don’t remember any of it [when the twins were newborns],” Susan said.
“I don’t know how we did it,” Frank recalled. “If it weren’t for Charlene [Lugar, the wife of Sen. Dick Lugar and a close family friend]. … She would show up and do the graveyard shift. She’d show up at 10 and she’d run the place overnight.”
“Dick [Sen. Lugar] would have to get himself up and out the door. It was probably worse for him,” Susan said.
“She came for months. We wouldn’t have made it [without her],” Frank said.
Another friend organized every-other-night dinners for the Hyres.
“The care and outpouring of assistance was phenomenal,” Frank said.
“The coolest thing about this is that we’re still good friends with a lot of the people who put us together,” Susan added.
The group even held a beach house reunion two years ago.
“It helps,” Frank agreed. “They’re now lifelong friends. … We’ve got great friends from the onset of our arrivals here that remain really good friends.”
“St. Paul’s too, really,” Susan said. “Our kids went to preschool together. We still stay involved in each other’s life events. We’re lucky.”
“If you’re fortunate enough to make good friends or have good friends, then they serve you all the way through. In good times and bad,” Frank said. “When you get to the end what do you have? The rest of it is irrelevant.”