Randy Larrimore honors the memory of his wife, Eileen Eileen loses life in walking accident on South Atlantic island
By Lynn R. Parks
Forty-eight years ago, Seaford High School students Randy Larrimore and Eileen Madden were getting ready to go to the prom. Randy was a junior, set to graduate in 1965, and Eileen was a sophomore. The theme of Randy's junior prom was Rue de Fleurs, or Street of Flowers.
That night, as Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" played on the radio, Randy gave Eileen his high school class ring. She accepted it and wore it, either around her neck on a chain or, with yarn wrapped around the band to make it fit, on her finger.
The couple continued going together through Randy's graduation and through his first year at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa. Then, when Eileen graduated in 1966 and headed off to Shippensburg University, Shippensburg, Pa., they separated.
Years passed. Randy, who is the son of the late Irene and Randall A. Larrimore, graduated from Swarthmore and went on to study at Harvard Business School and become a businessman. After Shippensburg, Eileen, daughter of Dr. Kenneth and Mabel Madden of Seaford, joined the U.S. Army, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. They both met other people, got married and, eventually, divorced.
When Randy and Eileen reconnected nearly 40 years after graduation, their high school memories were so precious to them that they recreated them while dating and even at their wedding.
And after Eileen suddenly died this winter, in a walking accident on South Georgia, an island in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina, Randy turned to those memories, as well as to memories of their years together as husband and wife, for solace and comfort. He also used them in planning her memorial service, which was held at St. John's United Methodist Church in Seaford.
"After the service, people walked away remembering and celebrating her life as opposed to crying about her loss," said Randy, who lives in Arlington. "That's how I wanted it to be.
"Her story is such a wonderful story. She had such a wonderful life. She enjoyed it until the end. And we were in love."
Their story begins in 2003, when, following a separation from his wife, Randy moved from Rome to Chicago. He bought a condominium there and sent out change-of-address cards to everyone on his Christmas card list.
Eileen's name was on that list. When she received the card, and saw that Randy was separated, she called him. "She was divorced, she said, and thought that it would be fun if we got together," Randy said. Eileen was retired from the Army and was living in Arlington. For their first date, the two met for dinner in New York City.
"We immediately reconnected," Randy said. "We had mutual interests, passions and values. I had dated women in Chicago and they didn't have the same value system that I had. It was quite refreshing to reconnect with someone from Seaford, someone who felt the way that I did. I felt that she was a godsend."
The two started dating. After six months, Randy arranged that they would go to a favorite New York City restaurant for dinner. "While we were sitting at our table, I pulled out a ring box," he said. "Eileen saw it, and she was quite nervous because she wasn't sure that she was ready for an engagement yet." But marriage wasn't what Randy had in mind.
"I handed her the box and asked her to go steady," he said. "Inside was my class ring, the same ring that I had given her after my junior prom in 1964."
Eileen accepted. "It was really quite touching to be giving her a ring that I had given her before," Randy said.
About a year later, Randy decided to ask Eileen to marry him. He made reservations at a piano bar in New York City and arranged for the music of the evening to include a selection of tunes from the 1960s, "music that was important to us as teenagers," he said.
When the pianist started playing Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," Randy asked Eileen to dance. She was reluctant; this wasn't the kind of place where people danced, Randy said. But he convinced her, reminding her that was the song that had been playing on the radio when he had given her his ring in 1964.
At the end of the song, Randy dropped to one knee to asked Eileen to marry him. She misunderstood, thinking that he had fallen, and kept trying to pull him to his feet.
Finally, she understood what was going on. "She accepted, and everyone in the restaurant applauded," Randy said. "Always after that, whenever that song came on the radio, we stopped whatever we were doing to dance."
Visiting nearly 50 countries
Randy and Eileen were married April 14, 2007. The wedding took place in the Clarksville United Methodist Church and the reception was held at the nearby Cripple Creek Country Club.
"We had a decorating committee just as we had had in high school, and they spent the day decorating with the same theme that we'd used for the prom," Randy said. "They recreated Rue de Fleurs right there in the country club."
Just as couples do at proms, guests had their formal pictures taken. Men were given boutonnieres to wear and women were given corsages. And for dancing, the disc jockey played hits from 1962 through 1967. "Everybody had a fantastic time," said Randy.
As a newly-married couple, Randy and Eileen indulged a love of travel that they shared. They visited typical destinations like Paris and Italy. But they also went to China and Mongolia, Iran, Africa, Vietnam and Thailand. In all, they traveled to 49 countries on six continents. "Then we decided that we wanted to see Antarctica," Randy said. "We wanted to step on the seventh continent."
They planned a trip that would include some of the same places that had been visited by Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton in the early 20th century. Shackleton, captain of the "Endurance," was shipwrecked and stranded in Antarctica. He and his crew managed to sail an open lifeboat 800 miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia and then walk 32 miles across that island to its whaling station. Their boat trip through the icy South Atlantic waters "is considered one of the greatest navigational feats of all time," Randy said.
To start out their trip, Randy and Eileen flew to Buenos Aries, Argentina. There, they boarded a ship that would take them on a three-day cruise south to the Falkland Islands and on to South Georgia.
On the morning of Jan. 3, the day of Eileen's death, she, Randy and the rest of the tour group walked around some of South Georgia. "King penguins nest there and at one point, we were surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pairs of penguins, all standing next to their nests," Randy said. "It was the most remarkable sight."
That afternoon, the tour group disembarked from the ship again. The group of about 40 people was to walk the same path that Shackleford had walked over the final six miles of his journey across the island to the whaling station.
"It was cold and sometimes drizzly, sometimes sunny," Randy said, "We walked about three miles and were standing on the top of the crest of a hill, where we could see the cruise ship sitting in the bay.
"We started to walk down the decline to get to the bay. Eileen stumbled and fell forward. She called out for me and I turned around to see her sliding down the hill on the loose shale.
"I grabbed her legs to stop her from falling. And we both went over the edge of a cliff, sailing off into mid-air. We fell straight down, 50 or 60 feet."
Randy said that during his fall, he apparently hit a piece of rock that jutted out from the cliff. That hit, he thinks, slowed him down enough that the impact, when he landed on the ground at the bottom of the cliff, was not as hard as Eileen's. "She was conscious and was able to talk and move her arms and legs," he said. "But she suffered extreme internal injuries."
Eileen was carried back to the ship. Randy, who had several broken ribs, walked back. "I spent several hours tottering back to the ship," he said. "When I finally got there, they told me that Eileen had died."
The celebration of Eileen's life that Randy planned and that was held Sunday, Jan. 29, included a reading by Randy's brother Dale Larrimore of the Alfred, Lord Tennyson poem "Crossing the Bar," which was also read at Shackelton's funeral in 1922. Just as they had for Shackleton, the church bells rang six times.
Eileen's sister-in-law Mikki Madden sang the song, "I Hope You Dance." "So when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance. I hope you dance," she sang.
"I wanted people to get the message that if they haven't seen the world, to start traveling," Randy said. "In other words, live life to the fullest. Don't put off doing what you want to do. That's how we lived our lives."
On July 6, Eileen Madden Larrimore will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. A service will be held in the chapel at Fort Myers, then her body will be carried by horse-pulled caisson to a gravesite very near the Tomb of the Unknowns. There, before her interment, she will be given a 21-gun salute.
"People who want to attend can contact me to get on the security list," Randy said. "I'm sure that she'd be honored to have people from Seaford be there."
Randy said that before the walk across South Georgia, he had tried to discourage Eileen from going. "I didn't want her to do it just because she thought that I wanted to do it," he said. "But she said that she wanted to go. And we were in the middle of the group. It didn't seem risky at all."
Despite the outcome of that walk, Randy said that he has no regrets about the life that he and Eileen led. "She died living her life to the fullest," he said.
"We did the things that we wanted to do," he added. "When we got to know each other again, it turned out that we both felt the same way about things. We both wanted to see the world, and we did that."
On the program that was handed out at Eileen's celebration of life, Randy included two simple messages. "To honor Eileen's memory," one message read, "pick a place on a map, pack a bag and go before it's too late." And the other: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
For your information Randy Larrimore has set up a memorial fund with the Grand Circle Foundation to honor his late wife, Eileen Madden Larrimore. Donations to the fund will benefit the Oficial Parvulos School, a school in the village of Santa Catarina Barahona, Guatemala, that Eileen and Randy visited in February 2011. To make a donation, visit the website www.grandcirclefoundation.org. For information, or to arrange to attend Eileen's interment service at Arlington National Cemetery on July 6, call Randy, 703-888-2073.
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