The Crusader Newspaper Group

When Harry met Kay

Beyond the Rhetoric

It was in the city of Detroit where Kay and Harry met. Who would have guessed it? A fun loving and “wild” man from Southern California versus a nice and sweet, pretty girl from the “Heartland” of Indiana. But it happened and the love has been going strong for over 40 years.

Harry had the reputation of being a girl chaser and would work a rotation of five or six women during any designated period. He had two divorces on his resume and an enormous “team” of broken hearts in between. He was a popular guy on the Detroit nightlife scene, while Kay was new to the city working her first corporate job as a sales representative with Colgate Palmolive. Harry acquired his sales skills while with Procter & Gamble, prior to working with the Johnson & Johnson sales division.

One sunny afternoon Harry was traveling through the Detroit Metropolitan Airport with his local sales force on their way to a conference in Dallas. He ran into a friend who suggested he come over to his table where he and his team were having lunch.

Knowing my reputation for chasing the prettiest of ladies he said, “Harry, I want you to meet my new sales rep. I believe you are going to like her.”

There she was, sitting quietly, with that gorgeous smile and rookie demeanor. When I laid my eyes on Kay DeBow, “lightning” struck. She was on her way to a conference in New York City so we exchanged business cards and committed to spending some quality time together upon our return to the Motor City.

I told one of my sales reps that if I ever meet that foxy lady again, I would end up marrying her. He laughed but I meant every word of it from the bottom of my heart. I appreciated it all, her smile, honey colored skin, shapely legs that resembled Wille Mays’ baseball bat, and with hips and a bust line to match. I said to myself if it is meant to happen then Lord, please make it soon.

Two months later we ran into each other in a Farmer Jack’s supermarket. I immediately put this rap on her: This is a tough city with a very rough business environment. However, I sort of run this place. Ask around about me. In fact, I would make a great mentor for a young rookie such as yourself.  If ever you want to probe my mind and pick up some good training “tips” please call my voicemail.

It did not take long! In 20 minutes, I had a message from Kay saying she wanted to start the “training.” The next day we had our first breakfast date which later turned into a lunch and then into an after-hours bar date. The next day I drove her through rural Ontario replete with a cabin restaurant. That evening we reserved accommodations at a fancy hotel and began our super-duper love affair.

Three weeks later we had moved in together and so, the beginning of this 40-year love affair began on its fantastic “voyage.” If you have watched the sitcom “Martin,” notice at the beginning of each show they have a picture of a hotel. That is the “Parkstone” in the English Village neighborhood of the Eastside of Detroit. That is where we first lived. Truly, it was beautiful times.

For our first vacation, I wanted to make it something that would be most memorable. We came up with a trip to Las Vegas and a stay at the MGM Grand Hotel. That visit would become instrumental in showing our love and devotion for each other. Yes, it was that hotel that had one of the largest fire disasters in history and killed 84 people.

I remember it like it was yesterday, that Friday morning when we heard a screaming guest running down the hall shouting, “We are all going to die! You must run for your lives!”

Then we heard a bunch of fire engines surrounding the grounds. I looked out the window and saw a bunch of firemen running. I opened the window and asked what is going on? They said just go back to your room and we are going to put out a fire. “Put out a fire” – quite an understatement.

I casually went to the restroom to brush my teeth and start our day. Immediately, I noticed black smoke billowing from the local vent and it hit me then, THIS IS BIG!  It was time for my Army skills to kick in.

I told Kay to get dressed and be prepared to leave when I returned. I ran down the hallway and saw that all the elevators were shut off and people were bumping into each other as they hurried to exit somehow.

The stairwells were filling up with smoke like a chimney. I made the decision and said to Kay, “We are going out the window.” She replied, “We are on the fifth floor!”  I said yes, but calmly reminded her, “there is a rose garden below, with grass and soft dirt. We go or else we will die.”

I tried to convince the people around us to do the same. They refused. When the legal depositions started coming out we found that those who refused to jump out our window, as we had, all died of smoke inhalation.

We jumped, but it came at a cost. I broke my ankle and five toes. Kay did much worse. She broke two bones in her vertebrae and an ankle. Thanks to that soft grass.

Kay’s rehabilitation took a year and a half including two major surgeries.  I worked through my injuries. My bosses allowed me to work from the home and nurse Kay in the process. The bonding we went through sealed our love forever. Five years later my remarkable lady delivered twin boys and this family hasn’t looked back since.

Harry C. Alford Jr. is the Co-Founder and President of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.  Kay DeBow is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website [email protected]; [email protected].   

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