When talent agent Elizabeth Geddes spotted Ron Vasser at a Chicago country-western bar in 1994, she remembered her first reaction: "Who is that guy in a DGA jacket who has not hired my actors?"
"DGA" stands for Directors Guild of America. And Elizabeth ran a talent agency, Geddes Agency, with her sister, Ann, in Chicago and Los Angeles; their client roster included the Cusack siblings, Jane Lynch and Jeremy Piven. Elizabeth knew which television and movie productions were in town and who had landed which gig.
But Ron had a good excuse: He directed and produced news shows, not the movies and TV programs the Geddes sisters sought for their clients.
Elizabeth's curiosity spurred a social conversation, and the couple learned they had mutual friends and frequented the same venues. Plus, Ron recalled, as he watched her dance that night he thought, "She's beautiful and she has spirit."
The couple discovered they also shared the same priorities, Ron said: "Family and friends, music and horses."
Ron, a native South Sider, didn't learn to ride horses until he was in his 30s, but his wardrobe had consisted of Western shirts and cowboy hats since he saw Roy Rogers on television as a child.
"Other kids just liked cowboys. I was a cowboy, even though I had no horse," he said. "Later, I found out my dad had been a rider, so it was in my blood."
By contrast, Elizabeth had grown up in the Chicago suburbs and Florida and was a horse lover who rode whenever she had the chance.
Although they had plenty in common, they didn't share the same relationship goals. Elizabeth had married young and had two children. Divorced for 15 years by the time she met Ron, she had vowed not to date, much less remarry.
"So we rode horses, went dancing, went to dinner," she recalled. "But Ron never called it a 'date.' "
They both laughingly remembered the time Elizabeth left for a trip with her sister, and the care package Ron gave her, with a note. "I wrote, 'Dear girlfriend,' then I crossed that out and put, 'Dear person I spend a lot of time with,' " he said.
After nine months of dancing around words that spelled commitment, Elizabeth recalled, "He asked me, 'Now can I call you my girlfriend?' "
Elizabeth relented. For the next 13 years, the words "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" sufficed, but she would not agree to "husband" and "wife."
That changed in 2006, when Ron was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.
"I was able to be with him in the hospital even though we weren't married, but we were lucky," Elizabeth said. "We decided to get married to make sure next time one of us got sick, we wouldn't have a problem handling the other person's affairs."
"Having cancer would have been so hard if she hadn't been right there with me, telling me I was going to make it," Ron said. "Everybody loves a pretty woman, but when you're sick, you find out if she's the real deal."
After Ron finished his treatment, the couple invited their friends to a 60th birthday party for themselves. (They were born 10 days apart.) They surprised their guests by exchanging wedding vows. Elizabeth's son, Carl Zeitler, who was in on the secret, walked her down the aisle.
Now the couple is semi-retired (Elizabeth closed the Chicago office in 2011; her sister closed the LA office in 2013). But they're busier than ever. Ron handpicks films, commercials and special events to produce through his company, Ronald T. Vasser Productions. They travel, work out, go to the theater and ride horses they board at a south suburban stable.
Together with other members of Chicago's horsey set, Ron and Elizabeth are creating the Chicago Horse Center of America, a public equine center they hope to open within the next five years.
"This will be a place where people can take riding lessons, therapists can do equine-assisted therapy, and horses can help kids stay out of trouble," Ron said. "Horses don't judge by color or gender; they just know how you act with them."
After 20 years together, they continue to appreciate their good fortune. Ron described meeting Elizabeth as "a relief."
"Finally, I found a woman my speed," he said. "We're both high energy. She's sexy, kick-ass and easy to love. In the rodeo world, you're the champion of one thing, like roping, or you're the best all-around cowboy. Elizabeth is the best all-around."
"Not a day goes by that we don't acknowledge our love for each other," Elizabeth said. "I embroider his shirts or make his special pancakes. He leaves me little notes and gifts."
They recognize their differences, starting with horseback riding. Ron participates in fast-riding rodeo competitions, while Elizabeth prefers trail riding. "He'll jump out of a plane; I will not," she said.
Elizabeth is the family "handyman," while Ron chooses the music they play.
Together, they're a team.
"We know we've reached the age where we'll have more health challenges," Ron said, "but we'll be there for each other."
"What we have," Elizabeth added, "is truly a love affair."
"Fall 'in like' before you fall in love" is Elizabeth's advice to couples in new relationships.
Then, accept the other for what he or she is.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun