Larry and Anne Gilleland... an international love story
By Beth Volpert Johansen
A little more than 50 years ago, a couple met on a beautiful sandy caribbean beach. It wasn’t love at first sight, but a kind of slowly burning flame that became brighter as their courtship continued towards matrimony.
Embassy Beach in the Dominican Republic might have been an unlikely place for a Danish girl and a young Southern Baptist boy from Snellville, GA to fall in love, but for Anne and Larry Gilleland, the tropical beaches of the Dominican Republic worked their magic on the pair.
Stationed in The Dominican Republic with the Peace Corps, young Larry was busy building schools during the week and hanging out with his friends on the weekends. One particular Sunday morning, Larry and his friend, John Greenough, another volunteer who was working in Santo Domingo, headed to the beach for the day. “That was always a welcomed suggestion… even with a rather bad hangover.” laughs Larry. “At Embassy Beach I sat under a palm tree most of the time, strumming on a recently purchased Spanish guitar while I waited for the hangover to go away.”
Left: The young couple falling in love in the tropics of Bocca de Yuma
Like a scene from any kitschy 1960’s beach movie, Larry and John noticed a couple of attractive young ladies-and their US Embassy Security Guard dates. Still stung by the pains of the night before, Larry wasn’t too keen on investigating, but John pressed forward, eventually enticing Larry to join the group and play a little guitar.
As it turned out, one of the young ladies named Zaza had asked to borrow the guitar, but it was her companion, the daughter of a Danish couple living in Santo Domingo who caught Larry’s eye. For the next several weeks, Anne Weidlich would turn up again and again within the young group of friends. It was at a weekend party held in Las Matas de Farfán, a town several hours north of the Capital that would change attraction to love. “John told me that he was going by to pick up Zaza, and when we arrived at Anne’s house I was surprised to see Anne also getting into the car,” says Larry. “Anne and I rode back to the capital lying on a blanket in the back of an International Scout. Our conversation was a lot more lively and personal than in the past and I was later surprised to hear Anne say that it was on that trip that she decided she was going to marry me.”
For a young woman who grew up on an island, the thought of Snellville, GA was a rather foreign one. “I never thought I’d end up in Snellville,” says Anne. “We are lucky, it is so pretty here to look out on Larry’s pastures and walk the trails.” The view of the pastures are enhanced by several outdoor living areas decorated with items representative of their international lifestyle. “I collected nativity sets from places we lived and visited,” says Anne. “I enjoy getting them out each year and remembering where we have been.” Their travels and life in other countries stemmed from Larry’s work for General Motors as an engineer which took him all over the world and eventually to retire back on the family farm in Snellville.
The couple still travels a great deal. Both of their children and all of their grandchildren live outside of the United States. Their daughter is in the Dominican Republic and their son lives in Argentina. “We talk with Skype almost every day,” says Anne. “It is how we are able to stay close in between visits.”
Inside their cottage home, which Larry helped build many years ago, Anne and Larry look comfortable with one another. He serves tea and and tells their love story in the romantic caribbean as Anne recalls the dates and place names. She receives her cup of tea, their eyes meet, and she thanks him with a sweet smile.
Later, on a tour of the house and grounds, Anne and Larry point out different aspects of their farm-”Larry built this for our swing... Anne wanted a place to see the pastures... we like the screened porch all year long.” Each spot has a reason for having been created and connects nature to the structure of their home. The ebb and flow of their relationship today has changed from their courtship days on an island, but their movements and conversation still maintain a certain easy wave pattern-sort of like the tides rolling over the sand.