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How We Met: Mother Knows Best

When love takes off



Photo by Kristen Jensen

The bogus phone number that Bette Spielman gave her chatty seatmate on a flight from San Juan to New York should have been enough to avoid a follow-up phone call without hurting the woman’s feelings. Bette was returning from a vacation with her mom. She was wedged between her mother who was totally engrossed in a book and the persistent woman trying to get Bette to meet her son.

“She had so many packages and carry-ons I had to sit with my feet curled under me,” says Bette. While she thought the woman was funny and nice, Bette had no intention of meeting a guy who needed his mother to arrange his social life.

Meanwhile, Bob had recently broken off an engagement, was living at home, and was focusing on his job as a Wilton police officer. His true love was flying, but airlines weren’t hiring. He joined the police department to become the only dual qualified pilot/police officer in order to be eligible to fly the governor’s helicopter. 

Now home, the senior Mrs. Spielman raved about the pretty young woman she met on the airplane. Bob could only imagine his typical Italian mom talking about “her son, the pilot.” But he trusted her so he decided to call. When he got a wrong number he switched into cop mode to track down Bette Bowman, ​pretending it was ​for a case he was working on. 

Internet searches didn’t exist, and ​B​ette ​was suspicious about how he found her not-yet-listed number. When Bob asked her out for one of his rare evenings off, Bette quickly told him that it was her night to play paddle with her aunt and uncle. 

To Bob it sounded like a brush off.

“Too bad,” he told her. “I was going to fly you around Manhattan and then take you for dinner.”

While Bette still declined, it didn’t take her long to call Bob back. This was, after all, an offer she couldn’t refuse. She too had broken off an engagement and was focusing on her career as a New Canaan schoolteacher, but she thought, Why not?

As promised, Bob rented a plane from Danbury Airport, where he was an instructor, flew Bette around Manhattan, and then took her to dinner in a small restaurant at Westchester Airport. While he stuck to non-alcoholic beverages, Bette kicked back and enjoyed herself. “He was interesting, funny, and cute and I really liked him,” says Bette. “He was just adorable.” 

She admits the glass or two of wine she enjoyed might have lowered her inhibitions because when the date was over, Bette gave Bob a very long kiss—one that still makes Bob smile when he thinks of it. And then she announced, “I don’t want to scare you, but I think I’m going to marry you.”

A year later, on the anniversary of their first date, the two were engaged and have been married for 42 years. With Bette’s encouragement, Bob went on to become a pilot and recently retired after 37 years with United Airlines. Bette continued her career and was in the Ridgefield school system as a fourth-grade teacher and literacy coach for 20 years. 

As for Bob’s mom, Lois Spielman, Bette feels lucky to have such a loving friend. And she adds, “She can never complain about her daughter-in-law because she picked me.” 

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