ON THE HALLOWEEN night in 1977 when Rena Ilumin and Tom Roth met, sparks did not fly. Unlike other patrons of Pioneer Square’s J&M Café, neither was in costume.
Rena had been working in a studio above the old tavern, editing an experimental film, “The Politics of Housework.” It portrayed the lives of women who worked at a job all day only to come home and do all the cooking, cleaning and child care.
Taking a break from moviemaking, she went down to grab a drink. She was annoyed to find her regular spot at the bar taken by a young, somewhat self-possessed architect, Tom, who, after attending graduate school at the University of Washington, was helping to remodel the decrepit Pike Place Market.
“You’re in my seat. Move!” Rena demanded. Obligingly, Tom shifted bar stools, but with every intention of getting to know Rena better.
His persistence paid off. Within two weeks, they shared their first date, at a French restaurant. Tom suggested they drive to the property he was considering buying.
“It was a clear night with a full moon,” Rena recalls. “We pull up in front of a tiny little shack, and there’s a huge tree stump out front. ‘You’re gonna buy this?’ ”
Over the next few months, with Rena’s help, Tom tore down the house and replaced it with the home they still live in today. They were married a year later. Tom eventually started his own architectural firm, which he closed in 2005. Rena has worked as finance director-controller for a dizzying range of firms, from the American Lung Association to a French IT company.
“We have complementary temperaments,” Rena says. “We both love food and music, which are very important to Filipinos. Since we were first married, Tom’s become a terrific cook, and my family absolutely adores him.”
“And we had a prenuptial agreement,” Tom inserts.
Rena laughs. “It was written on the wrapper of The People’s World newspaper, stating that we would alternate cooking and cleaning and shopping chores week by week.”
“Another reason,” Tom says, “we’ve stuck together so long.”