On top of living 400 miles apart, William Bell and Omega Brown had one fundamental difference that should have been enough to keep them from meeting and falling in love:
William, who lost his wife in 1995, always believed he was destined to re-marry. Omega, on the other hand, had long ago given up on ever being in a relationship again; since divorcing her husband in 1998, the mother of four grown children hadn’t been on a single date, hadn’t spoken on the phone with another potential suitor, hadn’t even so much as looked at a man with any sort of romantic interest.
Yet there were signs that William and Omega might be a good match despite these opposing views on love, and the most obvious indication was that they had been under each other’s spells before.
It was practically a lifetime ago – 1955, to be exact – when the two were set up by a professor at the old Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, where William (fresh out of the Army) was pursuing a degree in vocational and industrial studies and Omega (fresh out of high school) was working as a nanny for that professor’s family.
The young couple’s relationship burned hot and bright for a time, but cooled and dimmed after he graduated from the school now known as N.C. A&T State and moved to Maryland, to work at the shipyard in Sparrows Point. Eventually, they fell out of touch, and into long relationships with their respective spouses.
Kids were born. Kids were raised. Kids became adults and went off to live their own lives, and had kids of their own. From age 62, when she and her husband separated, Omega tried to find peace without a man in her life. At age 65, when his wife died of a stroke, William prayed he’d find another woman with whom to share his.
And then one day in February 2016, after 56 years apart, William and Omega found something they weren’t even necessarily looking for: each other.
The search for William Bell
It was the hopeless romantics in their respective families (and a little bit of backroom dealing) that helped reunite the young lovers in their older years.
Here’s how the story goes:
Two winters ago, Omega Brown was at home in Charlotte when she learned of the death of Warner Bell, and she immediately remembered him as the brother of a handsome young man named William, whom she used to date when she was a teenager.
In fact, back then, Omega and William had introduced Warner to Omega’s late sister, Laverne Brown, and briefly, the two brothers were each dating one of the sisters at the same time.
Struck by the sudden feeling of nostalgia, Omega mentioned all of this to her daughter, Cyndi Kersey, who hadn’t ever heard about this old boyfriend of her mom’s.
Cyndi was instantly curious, having never seen or even imagined her mother with anyone other than her dad.
It was something about the way Omega said his name: “William Bell...” Since her divorce, Omega had lived with Cyndi and her son-in-law, Gary, and not once did Omega display romantic feelings for any man. But there was something about this one: William Bell...
So Cyndi decided to try to find out what had become of him. A quick Google search unearthed Warner Bell’s obituary, and a quick scan of the obituary revealed that William was alive – and apparently unmarried.
The match game was officially afoot.
‘Just like Christmastime’
Cyndi shared these developments with her cousin, Phyllis Royster, who was even more eager to try to arrange a reunion.
Phyllis called the funeral home listed in the obituary – Johnson & Sons of Reidsville – and someone there gave them a phone number for William’s youngest brother, Jacey Bell, a minister who had presided over Warner’s funeral.
When Phyllis spoke with Jacey, he understood completely where she wanted to go with this: “It’s never too late for love,” Phyllis recalls Jacey telling her.
Jacey called William, who had been living in Hyattsville, Md., for decades. William’s heart practically melted upon hearing Omega’s name.
She had been one of the great loves of his life. Omega didn’t know it, but years after they broke up, William was visiting family in North Carolina when he decided to slip quietly into the back of her Gibsonville church – Brown’s Chapel Missionary Baptist – to catch a glimpse of her while she was ushering. She was married at the time, he was not yet; Omega never knew he’d been here.
On top of that, all the years he was married, William had kept a framed photo of a young Omega locked away in his safe. She’d signed the top: “Love always.”
Jacey told William to call Phyllis. When he did, Phyllis told William about how they’d never seen Omega talk about another man the way she talked about him.
Two days before Valentine’s Day in 2016, William dialed 10 numbers, waited as the phone rang, then heard a voice he hadn’t heard in more than half a century.
“That was just like Christmastime,” William says, “where the lights lit up in her heart and mine.”
‘It was meant to be’
The next day, they talked on the phone four times. The day after that, it might have been five.
They reminisced about their carefree younger years. They caught each other up on their families, their kids, their grandkids and loved ones lost. Parents. Spouses. Brothers and sisters.
He told her about his career working in the government printing office in D.C., and his second career with the Board of Education in Prince George’s County, Md.; she told him about the residential cleaning business she’d owned, and the work she did as a caterer in Charlotte.
Omega told him about the pain of her divorce, and the void she had felt in the years since. William told her about the prayer he prayed after his wife died.
He also made her a promise: “When I see you, I don’t care who’s in your presence, I’m gonna kiss you right on your mouth.”
When he arrived at Charlotte Douglas airport for their official reunion, on Easter weekend in 2016, he made good on his word – although it took a minute.
“He came down the escalator,” Omega recalls, “and Cyndi and Phyllis were standing there. I went over to walk beside him... and he didn’t even see me. He walked straight to them.”
“Never seen her (Cyndi) before, but she was looking just like her mother did,” William recalls.
He asked where Omega was.
“I’m standing right next to you!” she said.
He turned, and planted that kiss.
“It was great. It was great. It was great,” Omega keeps repeating, first blushing, and then getting overcome with emotion. “It didn’t seem like we had been apart that long. It was like – it seemed like we were – I don’t know, it just seemed like it was meant to be.”
‘Never too late for love’
William will turn 88 in November. Omega will be 82 in February.
There’s a small part of them that wishes they’d looked each other up sooner.
“I think it’s a shame,” Omega says, “we didn’t know this 15 or 16 years ago – that he didn’t have a wife and I was divorced. ... If we had ... I’m sure we would have been together.”
But they also see it as an amazing blessing that they did find each other again at all. And so do their families.
“She has a permanent smile now, seriously,” says Phyllis, Omega’s niece.
“Talking about all this prayer? That’s what I’m praying for,” says Sheraz Wiley, 32, daughter of Cyndi and granddaughter of Omega. “To have that type of love.”
“It makes me so happy,” Cyndi says, “because most people in their 80s, I would assume, are thinking about the end. ... But they decided to make a commitment to each other, and that tells me that they’re thinking of the possibilities of what their life is gonna be now. I mean, there’s still so much more, and we all should look at that, as it’s truly never too late for love. Never to give up. It’s really inspiring.”
Oh, about that commitment: With more than 175 friends and family members there to bear witness, and with William’s brother Jacey serving as the officiant, William Bell and Omega Brown were married Oct. 7 inside Brown’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Gibsonville.
Sixty-two years after their first date, Omega Brown is now Omega Bell.
William and Omega Bell will appear on NBC’s “Today” show on Thursday. The telecast begins at 7 a.m.