When Romona Robinson boarded a plane to Washington, D.C., one Friday afternoon in October 2002, it was to kick back and relax after a particularly stressful ratings period. The 39-year-old WKYC-TV 3 anchorwoman was looking forward to a few days of spa treatments, shopping and sightseeing; looking for love wasn't on her agenda.
Like so many women, the twice-engaged Romona had discovered that a good man was hard to find — and not a project she wanted to tackle on this much-needed getaway. And she certainly wasn't desperate to tie the knot. Life was full enough with friends, family and her work.
"I had from time to time prayed for a husband," the small-town Missourian says as she sits in the greenroom of the station's Lakeside Avenue studios one March afternoon, ready to talk about the trip that changed her life. "But my faith is so strong, I just felt like when the Lord wanted me to have a husband, he would send someone for me."
The Lord, as Romona tells it, was about to deliver Mr. Right in a most unusual way.
The weekend started pretty much as expected. During the ride from the airport to the hotel, a friend who tagged along for the trip asked the cabdriver where they could meet "some nice, professional men." Romona told her friend that she'd be checking out the nightlife by herself.
"One of the things my mom taught [me and my sisters] once we became young ladies was you're not going to meet a man you're going to want to marry in a nightclub," she explains. "And during my younger years, when I would go to clubs, I agreed with what my mom said. At the time, I hadn't been out to a nightclub in seven years."
But at 1 a.m. Sunday, Romona suddenly, inexplicably, woke up and announced from her bed that she wanted to go out. An hour later, she and her friend were being ushered into a private club above Phillips Restaurant and Seafood Grill, a place on the water the cabby had suggested. The posh, quiet surroundings were better than those Romona remembered from her forays into the Cleveland bar scene. The lines men used to try to pick her up were not.
"I said to my girlfriend, "Just once, I'd like a man to walk over and say, "Hi, what's your name?' " she recalls, "The next thing I knew, someone was standing over my shoulder saying, "Hi, what's your name?' "
The speaker was Rodney Tyler, an attractive single father of two in his mid-40s who was out for a rare night on the town. He told her he was a network consultant for the State Department. She told him she was "in marketing for the Cleveland Browns."
"Once what you do comes up and you say, "television,' the conversation turns," she says in defense of her "little white lie." "Before you know it, the whole night has been spent talking about what you do." Instead, the pair spent an hour or so chatting about their mutual passions: football and basketball. The conversation flowed so easily that the usually guarded Romona gave Rodney her cell-phone number. Three weeks later, he called.
The couple's first date in January 2003 — dinner at B. Smith's in Washington's Union Station followed by a stop at Blues Alley, a popular local club — was the beginning of a long-distance romance fueled by frequent phone calls and twice-monthly visits. Romona insisted on staying in a hotel instead of at Rodney's house.
"I found that he is a good man," she says of the discoveries made during their courtship. "He's a Christian, and that mattered to me."
In October 2003, almost a year to the day from their first meeting, Rodney asked Romona to marry him at the Watergate Hotel. She reports that he slid to one knee, proposed and presented her with a 3-carat, princess-cut diamond engagement ring right at the dining-room table after dinner.
Even as she plans her June 26 wedding at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Oakwood Village, the bride-to-be acknowledges the challenges she and Rodney face in what will begin as a commuter marriage. She recently inked a multiyear contract with Channel 3; he will remain in the Washington area until daughter Britney, 17, and son Brandon, 14, graduate from high school.
"When [Rodney] first told me he had teen-agers, I thought, Oh, my God!" Romona says. "But it has been the most wonderful thing. Yes, they're kids. But they're really like young adults." Nevertheless, setting up house together will be an adjustment for the couple.