WEDDING - Then and Now: How'd they meet? How'd they marry?

by Courteney Stuart

April 14, 1979

Many childhood crushes are forever unrequited, living on only in the memories of a racing heart, flushed cheeks, and, of course, painfully awkward moments. That might have been the case for Linda Harding, who was a Fluvanna County sixth grader when she first caught sight of her future husband, a high school senior who, incidentally, was also the football team's quarterback-- and was dating the head cheerleader.

"In middle school, I'd look out the school bus window and see him and his girlfriend," recalls Linda. "It was a big-time crush."

Needless to say, the crush was not reciprocated-- at least not immediately.

"She was a little girl on the grade-school bus," laughs Chip, the newly elected Albemarle County sheriff who dated the cheerleader into his sophomore year in college.

Five years later, when he was a probation officer, Chip was invited back to Fluvanna High to speak to the student body. Linda, who by that time was dating the current football star, hadn't forgotten her old crush.

"I tried to figure out which lunch period he'd be eating," Linda recalls, "so I could see him."

Still, it was another two years before the stars aligned.

When Linda was 20 and Chip was 26, a friend set them up on a blind date. They met, for the first time as equals, at the Odyssey, a night spot on Pantops in the current Aunt Sarah's location. This time, the chemistry went both ways, and they dated for the next year and a half. But it wasn't a smooth road from there to the altar.

"We dated a year and a half, and suddenly he started dating other people," says Linda, adding, "I found out in hindsight that he was testing the water to see if his feelings for me were for real."

"I wanted to make sure I was right," adds Chip. He'd told Linda he'd never tell any woman he loved her unless he was planning to marry her, and so when he said the magic words, on a visit back to Fluvanna High, it might as well have been a proposal.

They married April 14, 1979, coincidentally two years to the day after their first date at the Odyssey. They've lived in Ashcroft, a subdivision less than a mile from that spot, since soon after they wed.

Twenty-nine years later, the couple has survived not just the stress of Chip's decades in law enforcement-- much of the early years spent working nights while Linda stayed home with their two children-- but the recent stress of the political campaign, which Linda says actually brought the couple closer.

Their advice for others hoping for a long-lasting union: "I think it's good to think through it before you get married, look at compatibilities," says Chip. "We're compatible. She reads the Bible; I teach Sunday School. Our value system is very compatible. That translates even to wanting possessions. We never push to have the new car, and we looked at buying a house as an investment."

"We're best friends," says Linda.

J. E. "Chip" Harding

Albemarle Sheriff's Office
410 E. High Street
Charlottesville, Va 22902