Gary and Margaret Perdue were both hired by Robert Porterfield (in portrait), founder of the Barter Theatre, to be part of Barter's 1962 theatrical company. Contributed photo.
Gary Perdue was eating lunch in the cafeteria of the Barter Inn in 1962 when he first saw the woman who would become his wife two years later.
"I saw this gorgeous creature come in the lobby and was immediately smitten," he said. "There was just something about her. The look in her eye and the smile on her face had a very deep impact on me."
Life has taken Gary and Margaret Perdue all over the United States. But the couple still has a great fondness for the Barter Theatre and Abingdon, Va. — so much so that the couple returned last month with their children and grandchildren to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
A very fitting way to celebrate, considering Gary and Margaret not only met and fell in love at the Barter, but were also married on the Barter Theatre's stage on Feb. 24, 1964.
Gary and Margaret were both in the Barter Theatre's 1962 company when they first met that day in the cafeteria.
"Later, there was a party for the company, a get-together. Margaret and I went for a walk and wound up down at a cemetery and sat and talked all night long, getting to know one another. We became pretty serious," Gary said.
But at the end of that season, Gary resumed his studies at East Tennessee State University while Margaret returned to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga.
"And then the following year in 1963, Margaret and I both returned to the Barter for the summer season and our romance became more serious, and we began to talk marriage," Gary said.
Gary, who graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1956, said he always enjoyed theater.
"When I was at D-B, I was in the thespians. That was my primary extracurricular activity under the direction of Nancy Necessary [Pridemore]. That was the starting point of my interest in theater. My senior year, our drama production won a state award," Gary said.
After high school, Gary says he had no idea what he wanted to do. His father encouraged him to go to college and, after a stint in the Naval Reserves, Gary joined his brother at Emory & Henry College.
"But I still didn't know what I wanted to study," Gary said. "I was in an engineering program, but 'extracurricularly' I was acting in plays. One of the English professors there was putting on some productions. There wasn't a theater program at Emory & Henry at that time. Finally, I realized, 'Hey! Theater! That's what I want to do with my life!'"
Being in such close proximity to the Barter Theatre, Gary says he contacted the theater's founder, Robert Porterfield.
"We had lunch together and talked, and I told him of my interest in going into theater," Gary said.
Porterfield encouraged Gary to head down to Pinehurst, N.C., where a new theater had been started. Porterfield told Gary to come back to Barter the following spring and he'd see what he could do for him.
Gary took Porterfield's advice and headed to North Carolina and worked to help build sets. True to his word, when Gary returned in the spring, Porterfield gave Gary a spot in that season's company.
In the meantime, Margaret had auditioned for the company and was also included in the 1962 company.
Gary left Emory & Henry and enrolled at East Tennessee State University's theater program.
Margaret's mother, however, was not thrilled with Margaret's passion for theater or her relationship with Gary.
"My mother had other plans for me," Margaret said.
"Her mother did not think that theater was the right direction for her daughter and certainly not marrying an actor," Gary said.
Margaret's mother encouraged her to go visit her aunt who was teaching in the north of France to get her away from Gary.
"I told Margaret to go on to Europe, that it was going to be a long time before I could take her to Europe, have a good time and I'd finish up my final year of school and then we'll get married. I went back to East Tennessee State and she went to Europe. We kept in touch and after Christmas, we were talking and decided it was about time she came back home," said Gary.
"I got my trip to Europe and it enabled me to be absolutely sure I wanted to go home and marry Gary," Margaret said.
Margaret's mother wanted her daughter to have a big wedding — something Margaret, however, did not want.
"I contacted Mr. P [Mr. Porterfield] and told him we'd like to get married on the stage of the Barter Theatre, and he said that would be wonderful," Gary said. "We lined up a minister and got our marriage certificate. Mr. Porterfield was my best man and Mary Dudley, who was in public relations with the Barter, was the maid of honor. It was the two of them, Margaret and myself and the minister on the stage of the Barter Theatre. We had a very simple wedding and afterward Mr. Porterfield put us up in the Martha Washington Inn for our honeymoon. We had ginger ale out of the vending machine for our champagne."
Eventually Margaret's mother accepted Gary as a part of the family, and the two became quite close.
"My father was always on Gary's side, but I think my mother was just not ready to see me make a commitment. Gary became one of her favorites," Margaret said.
Gary and Margaret returned to the Barter in the summer of 1964, continuing their work in the company.
"There were a number of people who would meet at the Barter, would fall in love and feel like they wanted to get married. Mr. P's advice was that before you do that, you should go on tour with one another and that will be a test to see if you're really compatible and really want to do this. We didn't get on the tour prior to marriage, but we did get on the tour after marriage, and we've managed to stay together for 50 years," Gary said.
After the end of that season in 1964, Gary learned of an opportunity in his hometown.
"The Kingsport Theatre Guild was looking for someone to direct a play for their season. So, Margaret and I came back and directed a production of 'Harvey' for the Kingsport Theatre Guild. That was a very good experience," Gary said.
Life eventually led Margaret and Gary to Penn State University where they both obtained advanced degrees and then later permanent jobs. The couple made their home in Pennsylvania with their two children, Rob and Meg, but never forgot their time at the Barter Theatre.
"Once a 'Barterite' always a 'Barterite.' Our visit last month was like a homecoming," Gary said. "We were welcomed back like we were a part of the family. They made us feel very special."
For their anniversary weekend, which was organized by their children, Gary and Margaret were treated to dinner with Richard Rose, Barter's artistic director. They also got to see Barter's production of "Man of La Mancha."
"We have a special connection with that particular play," Gary said. "I had directed a production of 'Man of La Mancha' for the Penn State thespians, and I had cast the lead role to Jonathan Frakes, who later became Commander William T. Riker in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation.' 'Man of La Mancha' is a little special to us."
And although it's been 50 years since Gary and Margaret's time at Barter, Margaret says they are still impressed with what the theater offers.
"The Barter is an institution of which the region should be proud," she said. "It's been a privilege to get back and see people and realize the quality of the work that continues to be done there."
And Margaret's advice to other couples for a long, happy marriage? A shared passion.
"We have both been fortunate that we were able to follow career paths as well as our personal life paths together," she said. "I think about the way in which people's lives are pulled apart by the demands of the work they do. Ours managed to be a shared effort. We have enjoyed that. Our story is a happily ever after."comments powered by Disqus