Feb. 10, 2023
VCU is a place where you can form uncommonly strong bonds. Just ask these four couples who met here.
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One of the best things about a large university like Virginia Commonwealth University is that whether you study here, work here or teach here you are bound to meet a lot of people. It’s not unusual to make connections that last a lifetime. And sometimes those connections are romantic, er ramantic, in nature.
In the leadup to Valentine’s Day, VCU News caught up with several couples to learn about their VCU love stories and, in the spirit of the new “Uncommon VCU” brand, asked them to use an “un” word to describe their partner.
Naomi and Tim Reddish
Tim knew instinctively when his eyes met Naomi’s during orientation for the Master of Social Work degree program in 2007 that he wanted to get to know her better.
“There is something special about Naomi,” Tim said of his wife. “Her eyes pop. They bring you in. I wanted to know what was behind them.”
Naomi and Tim got to know each other during the social justice class they shared and ultimate frisbee, an after-class activity that some members of the MSW program took part in.
During a night out with friends at the National Folk Festival in Richmond in October 2007, they danced together for the first time.
“We danced all night,” said Tim, who invited Naomi back to the festival the next two days.
Every year now, Tim, Naomi and their two girls spend time at the Richmond Folk Festival.
“It has a special place in my heart,” Naomi said.
The chemistry between Tim and Naomi was immediate, they said.
“I couldn’t explain it on the surface,” said Naomi, who is an administrator of community-engaged child and family well-being initiatives and Child Welfare Stipend Program coordinator in the VCU School of Social Work, as well as an assistant professor. “He was different from what I thought I was looking for in a partner. As I got to know him, I realized he had a strong character and values that were consistent with my values. He was a loyal friend and family member. We had a lot of things in common.”
Their friendship deepened and one night Tim, who now works as a foster care program supervisor at Commonwealth Catholic Charities, asked Naomi out on a date.
“I turned him down because I didn’t want to complicate graduate school,” Naomi said.
When the two graduated from the master’s program in 2009, Naomi told Tim she was ready to give dating a try, albeit long-distance dating for a while — she had a job in Albemarle County and he went to Guatemala before returning to Richmond.
Tim asked Naomi to marry him on January 16, 2011, dropping on one knee in the dark to pop the question in the exact place on Monument Avenue that she turned him down for a date. They married that same year on Sept. 17.
“I chose that location for the proposal because I felt that it needed to be redeemed after she had turned me down there previously,” Tim said.
— Joan Tupponce
Deborah Cartwright Porter and Clif Porter
Deborah had seen Clif around campus, but they never really spoke until one night when she was studying at Cabell Library with a group of people and Clif came up and asked if he could sit at the table.
It was September 1986.
As the evening wore on, Clif asked her if she was hungry and took her to McDonald’s.
He knew “almost immediately after our first conversation” that he wanted to date her. “I remember thinking, ‘She is beautiful and so smart,’” he said.
“That led to him asking me out on our real first date to see ‘Top Gun’ a week later,” Deborah said.
Two things about that first movie date stand out to both of them: Clif was late and some of the steamier scenes between Pete “Maverick" Mitchell and Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood made them a little uncomfortable.
About a month later, Clif realized he had strong feelings for Deborah. “I didn’t want to be apart from her,” he said.
Deborah, though, had cold feet. But she knew he was different when she couldn’t go home to New York for Thanksgiving and he invited her to join his family in Maryland instead. Still, she was graduating the following spring — with a degree in administration of justice — and was hesitant to get into a serious relationship.
“But Clif was persistent,” she said with a laugh. “I told him I was applying for jobs in other states. He told me he loved me and hoped I would stay near. Well, I didn’t get one single job interview out of state. I knew then that this was serious.”
Clif graduated in December 1989, with a degree in health administration and the two married two weeks later.
Today, the Porters call Northern Virginia home and have a daughter and two sons. Deborah is a parent coach and workplace parent consultant. Clif is senior vice president of government relations for the American Healthcare Association.They love VCU — “We often say VCU is ‘home,’ Clif said. “We are fortunate that as a couple we shared that experience. We become 20-somethings whenever we get on Broad Street.” — and remain connected to the university through the Porter Legacy Scholarship, which they established to help students who have demonstrated a commitment to the African American community and are pursuing a B.S. in health services.
“When I was in undergrad, there just weren’t many black men in health administration,” Clif said. “The environment at that time was lonely and there wasn’t much support. We decided to help eliminate the financial stress associated with getting a degree by establishing this scholarship.”
Michael Conigliaro and Casey (Zahn) Conigliaro
Michael and Casey met their freshman year in early 2011, when mutual friends realized the students were in the same Psychology 101 class. Michael, who was undeclared, and Casey, who was a pre-dental major at the time, got along and started studying together. Their relationship progressed, dating on and off during their first and second years at VCU. Their paths at the university and their relationship took twists and turns, including a hiatus. At times they would pass each other in between classes but not speak, as they didn’t feel ready to commit to each other, despite having a lot in common, including loving Greek life.
“It was definitely a lot of me being young and immature and not necessarily knowing what I wanted at the time,” said Michael. “We were really passionate and in love, but we were also so young. That’s, scary when you’re young.”
Michael graduated with a degree in public relations. Casey ended up majoring in strategic advertising. Both minored in business. But they were no longer dating.
After graduation, a friend told Casey that she was going to Michael’s going away party. She was taken aback to learn that it was her former boyfriend.
“I always felt like we would get back together, I knew the timing was never right. And so I was absolutely upset,” said Casey, who confided in a friend about how distraught she was.
She decided to text Michael to see if he’d like to get together to meet for lunch just to catch up before he left Richmond for a job in Connecticut.
“I didn’t think I was going to get a response because of how our relationship had been.
But he was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ So, we met up for a lunch and then we spent the whole day together talking and catching up,” said Casey.
Michael returned to Richmond in 2017 and soon the two moved in together in an apartment in The Fan, reliving college days. Michael, who works in tech customer success, and Casey, a senior account manager at a creative collective, got engaged in 2020.
During their 2022 wedding, their large group of VCU friends surrounded them. They were sure to document their union with a VCU banner, thankful for the somewhat tumultuous experience that brought them together.
Erica Jackson-Kyle and Raymond Kyle
Erica and Raymond first noticed each other at the gym in 2008. Erica said her future husband would always use the same exercise bike, which was right by the treadmill she always used.
“Well, little did I know he was checking me out,” she said.
Raymond figured out her name because she was on the residence hall council and hit her up on Facebook. Exchanging tokens in an online game turned into hanging out in real life. Raymond said as he got to know Erica better, they realized they had a lot in common and grew fond of each other.
Their first date was at Shafer Dining Hall followed by a movie screening on campus. However, Erica noted he made her use her own dining swipe.
“I still joke with him: ‘How are we married?’ Because like any other person, I think that would have been a deduction,” she said.
Erica said they didn’t have a lot of money at the time, so they did a lot of campus activities such as watching movies and playing games in The Commons and attending VCU orchestra concerts.
“We found a lot of enjoyment in those things and we really got to learn about each other,” she said. “He didn’t have to try to impress me or anything like that because we were just in that same space. And so we also really grew together.”
After they graduated, Erica stayed at VCU to earn her master’s in social work while Raymond moved to Florida to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. It was hard, but they kept dating despite the distance.
“We traveled back and forth between our semesters just to make it work and just being committed to one another and working around one another and just being there,” Raymond said. “And when we really needed each other, I think that was [what] made us say we were meant for each other because that was hard.”
They decided to get engaged in 2012 but did not marry until 2018.
“We probably had the longest engagement in history,” Erica said laughing.
Now the married couple has two children and thriving careers. Raymond said they have been able to keep their romance going by carving out time for each other.
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