‘A lot of damn questions’ helped romance bloom in their 40s 

WHEN PHILL BRISCOE, then 46, met his future wife, Louise Allen, then 45, at a 1991 party at a West Queen Anne condominium, he was flattered by her attention. “She asked a lot of damn questions,” he says. “She was compiling lots of data.” It brought to his mind the Sonny Boy Williamson lyric: “Don’t start me to talking; I’ll tell everything I know.”

In the case of Phill, “everything” was formidable. The Kansas native and Vietnam combat veteran had taught ethnic studies at then-Central Washington College in Ellensburg; directed the Upward Bound program in Olympia; and aimlessly driven a van for months along Highway 101 as, he says, “a Black hippie.” But he was now an insurance salesman. He also was big into the gentle exercise of tai chi.

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Meanwhile, Louise, a sociologist, had grown up in Washington, D.C., traveled with her diplomat dad to Hong Kong and completed a marriage that had produced two children. She had just switched from working on population studies at Seattle’s Battelle Research Center to a position as contract manager at Group Health. “We had very different backgrounds,” she says, “and that appealed to me.”

Race is a shared topic for the South Seattle couple: Louise recently taking an Episcopal “racial healing” class, and Phill advocating reparations for those called foundational Black Americans.

Over the years, they have learned to, as Phill says, “stay out of each other’s way,” which means neither “standing on the sideline” nor “getting in front” of what each is trying to do. For Louise, that’s included a 25-year career at Group Health and involvement in the Episcopalian Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross. For Phill, it was a challenging bout at starting and sustaining a computer networking business.

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They’ll reach their 30th wedding anniversary this October. “I’ve told Louise,” he says, “that I’ve only made two serious commitments in my life. One is to her, and one is to my tai chi practice.”

Louise laughs and slips in, “I’m glad he put them in that order this time.”