She was a New York State Assemblywoman on a personal, not a political, mission – to find the perfect guy for her best friend, Fran Reid. She had someone in mind for Fran – Gary Bixhorn, Chief Operating Officer of Eastern Suffolk Board of Educational Service. But Gary, a recent widower, was still in mourning and wasn’t ready to hear any talk about dating. “Basically, I cut her off,” says Gary.
Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel had never played matchmaker before. “But I have the personality for the task,” she says. Michelle is a risk-taker and a good listener. She likes people and enjoys helping them.
Michelle had worked with Gary to develop educational finance reform legislation and found him to be “normal and nice.” She wasn’t sure if he was “funny enough” for Fran, but then again, she only knew him professionally.
Michelle worried that the “casserole brigade” of single women would start bringing delectable dishes to Gary before he had a chance to meet her friend. She knew what she had to do, and she was relentless. Every time she ran into Gary, she brought up Fran’s name. “It became like a joke,” says Gary. But the ploy worked and finally Gary yielded and asked for Fran’s telephone number.
Still, it took six months for him to call. It’s not easy to step back into the dating world after 30 years.
Finally in December 2010, two years after the death of his first wife, Gary was moved by the holiday spirit. “It’s time to stop fiddling,” he said to himself and called Fran. “This is Gary Bixhorn,” he said. Her response: “I don’t believe you.” Michelle was in Fran’s kitchen at the time of the call and the two women screamed and laughed like teenage girls.
That same week, Fran, 56, and Gary, 59, met for lunch at a restaurant in Roslyn, New York. During their three hour tête-à-tête, they realized they had much in common. They shared civic interests – Fran is the chief sustainability officer for the Town of North Hempstead in Manhasset, New York. They both earned degrees in New York City – Fran, from the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, and Gary, a master’s in educational administration from Columbia University. In addition, they were both connected to Great Neck – Fran lived there and Gary had graduated from the local high school. And each had an only son.
“I immediately knew there was some potential for a future with Fran,” says Gary. But she left for vacation that same week. Fran, whose first two marriages ended in divorce, sent him an email as a way of reaching out: “Gary took the first step in calling me. It was my turn to show some interest.”
On January 2, they had their first “real” date – dinner and a movie. There were tickets available for only one movie that evening: Yogi Bear. “As we were wearing our 3D glasses, the only two persons in the empty theater, I realized that Gary was the guy for me.” says Fran. “I called Michelle that night to give her a report.”
Within weeks they were an item. For their two-month anniversary, Gary gave Fran a rhinestone-studded Yogi Bear necklace.
On a trip to Havana in December 2012, two years to the day they first met, Gary proposed marriage in the lobby bar of the Melia Habana Hotel.
Rabbi Robert Widom of Temple Emanuel of Great Neck officiated at their wedding. He was the same rabbi who had confirmed Gary in 1970 and he had also officiated at the Bar Mitzvah of Fran’s son in 2004.
Fran and Gary were married on October 12, 2013. Mazal tov.
Dr. Leah Hakimian currently researches the question: How Jewish couples meet and marry. In the 90’s she founded two nonprofit Jewish matchmaking programs, and continues to champion the role of community in helping singles meet. She resides in Jerusalem and Great Neck, New York.