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Romance is what Valentine’s Day is all about

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Romance is alive and well in Queens. At least it is for two couples living happily ever after in the same neighborhoods where they met and married--one in Richmond Hill and the other in College Point. But for one of the couples, their love story got off to a rocky start.

“Buzz off,” were the first words uttered by Debbie Rafter, a 46-year-old office manager at a car dealership, to her future husband, the Rev. Frank Rafter, the 66-year-old pastor of Richmond Hill Baptist Church, when they met 23 years ago.

“She thought I was hitting on her,” said Frank Rafter describing the couple’s first encounter at the Club Diner, now the Atlantic Diner, in Richmond Hill. “I wasn’t wearing my clerical collar when I approached a tearful Debbie, who was cashing a check at the diner. I was trying to comfort her, but she would have none of that.”

“A tragic event had just happened,” he said. Debbie was crying because her 8-month-old niece, Mary, had just fallen out of a second-story window and was on the way to the hospital.

“When Frank came to the hospital with his collar on, I was embarrassed,” Debbie Rafter said. “I realized that his intentions were not what I had thought. A few days later I saw him in the Club Diner again. So to thank him for coming to the hospital, I paid his bill,” she said.

“Shortly after, we started to see each other and dated almost every night for the next year until we married in 1980,” said Frank Rafter. “Out of that awful event, the miracle of our

love began and has grown for 22 years,” he said.

“And as for Mary, she had a few stitches and bruises but recovered completely. Frank has always spoiled her, and he is her favorite uncle,” said Debbie Rafter. The couple had no children, but the Rev. Rafter has a daughter from a previous marriage.

But not everyone predicted a happy ending for the couple. “Some skeptics warned me against marrying Debbie because of the 20-year age gap and the religious differences. She was Catholic and I’m Baptist,” said the Rev. Rafter.

The skeptics couldn’t have been more wrong. “She is my greatest support,” said the Rev. Rafter. “Despite his pacemaker and three heart attacks, Frank is the ‘energizer.’ He works two jobs and still goes wherever he is needed. On Sept. 11 he went down to the World Trade Center with the EMS to counsel victims,” Debbie Rafter proudly said.

“The fact that Debbie is here for me makes it possible to do these things. She’s ‘number one’ and I’m the most fortunate man in the world,” Frank Rafter confessed.

Another man who considers himself fortunate is 50-year-old musician Bill Pascali. When they were both 15, he and his future wife, Pat, began their love story in College Point.

“I didn’t know it then, but my best friend saw her first in the audience at a performance of our band, Fragments of Love, for a St. Fidelis dance,” said Bill Pascali. “I was on keyboard and he was on bass. He raved about this girl that he had seen in the audience.”

“Shortly after that night, I saw Pat for the first time. She was walking with a girlfriend, and it was love at first sight for me,” he said.

“For me, it was attraction at first sight. He talked mostly to my friend,” Pat Pascali said. “That night she gave Bill my phone number, and we started seeing each other.”

“I would run to the subway station to meet her after she got out of Monte Christo High School, now St. John’s Prep,” Bill Pascali said. “She would help me hand out flyers about when and where the band was playing.”

“When Pat came to a rehearsal, my friend announced that she was the girl in the audience,” he added. “To this day that friend is unmarried. And he still says there’s a special place in heaven for Pat because she puts up with me.”

And the rest is history. “Within two months of meeting, we were going steady,” Pat Pascali said. “We went to the prom, got married right after high school, had five children

(three girls and two boys), and became grandparents to a beautiful little girl,” she said.

“They are great kids and I’d love to take credit for raising them, but I can’t,” Bill Pascali said. “Music is my passion, but it takes me away from my family. For the past 30 years, Pat has taken care of everything, so my mind is at ease when I’m away. She is very supportive of my music.”

“I’ve watched marriages where one spouse discourages the other spouse’s dreams. It can really destroy the relationship,” said Pat Pascali. “Music helps to keep Bill smiling.”

Bill Pascali is currently performing as the lead singer with the three original members of Vanilla Fudge. Find out more at www.billpascali.com.

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