On May 4, Elizabeth Harper walked with her boss into Dennis Kucinich’s Capitol Hill office for a meeting and immediately noticed three things. In the reception area, she saw a visiting nun in white robes. In his inner office sat a shelf bearing an illustration depicting “light consciousness” and a bust of Gandhi.
She studied the lean and intense congressman and felt an attraction.
“Now this is an interesting man,” she thought.
Elizabeth Harper and Dennis Kucinich
Dennis had also closely observed Elizabeth, a statuesque Englishwoman with waist-length red hair.
“I saw her eyes go to the light consciousness picture, then to the Gandhi bust, then to me,” he says. “It was like one, two, three. That’s when I knew.”
Within an hour, he called his friend, actress Mimi Kennedy, best known for playing Dharma’s mother on “Dharma & Greg.”
“I met her,” Dennis said. Kennedy knew exactly what he meant. She gave a little yelp of joy.
Elizabeth and Dennis, by most laws of logic and logistics, should never have met.
She grew up in the 1980s in the tiny English village of North Ockendon, in a cottage where Pea Lane meets Dennis Lane. At Maytree Cottage, she planted flowers, listened to her mother read stories by the wood stove in the winter, and with her younger sister tended stray animals.
Dennis grew up in the 1950s. Sometimes, he and his six siblings and parents lived in the family car.
When his mother became ill, the children stayed at the Parmadale Home for Children for months at a time.
Elizabeth went to an academically competitive secondary school in nearby Upminster. She and her classmates occasionally traveled Europe. Always the tallest in her class, she was one of the school’s best players of net-ball, a game similar to volleyball.
Dennis, always the shortest boy in his class, went to high school at St. John Cantius in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. He worked several jobs to pay his tuition. And despite his 4-foot-9 stature and weight of 97 pounds, he toughed it out on the football team as third-string quarterback.
In 1996, Dennis, the once-marginalized boy mayor of Cleveland, continued his political comeback and was elected to U.S. Congress.
That same year, Elizabeth graduated from high school and took a plane to Agra, India – site of the Taj Mahal – where she had signed up to volunteer at one of Mother Teresa’s homes for India’s poorest children.
They really shouldn’t have met, these two people, with oceans and three decades between them. But they did share some things: a desire to work for peace, concern for the environment, a strong spirituality girded by Eastern traditions and – the thing that brought Elizabeth to his office last spring – a belief that monetary reform can offer a solution to poverty.
Well-educated woman lived among the poor
Elizabeth arrived in the United States in April, one month before meeting Dennis. She spent part of her first month visiting an Austin, Texas, death-row prisoner with whom she had corresponded. It was her second trip to this country and she was well-traveled and highly educated.
After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Kent, she spent 16 months in a rural Tanzanian village, where she lived in a concrete-block, tin-roofed house, and worked as an advocate for regional development.
“It was there, and in India, that I learned that people who our society thinks have nothing, and who live in the poorest conditions, still find so much joy in life,” she says.
After she left Tanzania, she volunteered with a British Red Cross refugee unit; earned a certificate in peace studies from Coventry University; and got a job as a fund-raiser for a seafarer’s charity in London. Often, her volunteer work took her to the House of Lords. That was where she heard financial analyst Stephen Zarlenga speak about monetary reform.
She was impressed and soon was hired to become Zarlenga’s assistant at the Chicago-based American Monetary Institute. It was that work that took her and Zarlenga to Dennis’ office.
At MacLaine’s house, they discovered each other
While Dennis was sure of his attraction at their initial meeting, he didn’t know how Elizabeth felt. Several nights later, in his Washington office, he sat at his desk and thought about her. “Basically, I asked for a sign,” he says. Seconds later, ping! went his computer, alerting him to an e-mail.
It was from Elizabeth. The first line read, “This has no connection to work.” Dennis was ecstatic.
She was forwarding an e-mail from one of her friends that related to the peace legislation he had proposed as a presidential candidate. He noticed her signature quote at the end: “Knowing love I shall allow all things to come and go, to be as supple as the wind and take everything that comes with great courage. My heart is as open as the sky.”
This gave Dennis hope.
The two e-mailed each other regularly. While the e-mails were businesslike, each of them had a deeper agenda: They were attracted to one another. A couple of weeks after their first meeting, while she was in Arizona with her boss for more meetings, she wrote Dennis an e-mail telling him where she was.
“Really? I’m going to be in New Mexico tomorrow,” Dennis wrote back.
Elizabeth responded, “So will we!”
Several hours later, Elizabeth went shopping before leaving for New Mexico. She bought an opal ring – her birthstone. For reasons she can’t explain, she decided to call it her “Dennis ring.”
Elizabeth and her boss met Dennis in Albuquerque, where the congressman invited them to lunch the next day at his friend Shirley MacLaine’s house in Santa Fe. While she was at MacLaine’s, Elizabeth’s phone rang. It was her mother, calling from England.
“Mum, you’ll never guess who I’m having lunch with – Shirley MacLaine!” Elizabeth put the actress on the phone.
Julia Massey had read MacLaine’s memoir, “Out on a Limb.” After reading that book in the 1980s, Massey, who had worked as a secretary in London, decided to train to become a healer. She learned how to provide alternative therapies like massage and aromatherapy to clients with health problems. Eventually, she built a healing center called The Sanctuary next to the family cottage.
“I changed my life – my whole career – because of your book,” she told MacLaine.
Later at lunch, the actress, a longtime friend of Dennis, invited Elizabeth and Zarlenga to stay overnight.
“Dennis and I stayed up, sitting by the fire, talking until half past 6 in the morning,” Elizabeth recalls. They professed their love for each other; within a few days they decided to marry.
“We realized our life vision was the same, our outlook was the same,” Elizabeth says. “It was a leap of faith, but based on a deep knowing.”
That Sunday, driving out of Santa Fe with her boss, Elizabeth looked down at the ring she had bought in Arizona. For the first time, she noticed how the stone was inlaid in silver.
The design of the silver was two capital Ks, back to back.
Difference in age not a problem
Several days later, Elizabeth talked to her father, Graham Harper, who lives in Coventry, England. “I’ve met the man of my dreams,” she told him.
Her father had a few questions. What’s his name, where does he live, what does he do?
Then: How old is he?
“He’s just a bit older than you,” Elizabeth told her 56-year-old father.
Her dad paused. “So long as you know what you are doing,” he told her.
A few weeks later, Elizabeth called her father again to say she wanted to get married.
“You can’t,” he said. “He hasn’t asked me yet.”
So Dennis got on the phone with his future father-in-law.
“And once I spoke with him and he told me how fond he was of Elizabeth, it was fine,” Harper says. “Elizabeth is my best friend, and she’s got a very good head on her shoulders.”
Elizabeth’s mother was a bit concerned about her daughter’s plan. An American politician? In England, people mostly hear about America’s conservative political figures. She couldn’t imagine Elizabeth with such a man.
“But then I went to Dennis’s Web site and I realized he was so much like Elizabeth,” Massey says. “It just seemed heaven-sent.”
She, too, found the age difference – Elizabeth’s 27 years to Dennis’s 58 – insignificant. “This is about a meeting of souls.”
Of course, the age difference has garnered them attention.
“People who see us together understand – they see our connection,” Elizabeth says. “And it’s not like I’m some ditsy young thing and he’s an old fogey. He has the wisdom of an ancient and the energy of youth.”
Dennis says, “I’ve never seen myself as time-bound. When you make a connection on a soul level, age is not important.”
As for having a family – Elizabeth says she would like children some day – Dennis says, “There’s no problem there.”
In early July, Elizabeth visited Dennis in Cleveland. On July 5, the two went to the Cleveland Orchestra concert at Public Square, and he showed her around downtown.
She loved the view from the Mall next to the convention center, with the graceful peace memorial fountain on the south end and the lake on the north.
“This is the place I want to get married,” she told Dennis.
They set the date for August so family members could travel from England.
Among the group of 17 family and friends were attendants who symbolized Elizabeth’s international travels. Besides her sister, Verity, there was Elizabeth Jane Dunn, a native of Ireland; Davinder Marway, whom Elizabeth met in India; and Stellar Obeo Mamotto, a friend she met in Tanzania (and for whom Elizabeth found a scholarship to a college in England).
Before they arrived, Elizabeth chose a dress for each bridesmaid. She already had her dress. A few years earlier, while shopping in London with girlfriends, she found a regal ivory gown with a chiffon train that flowed off the shoulders. It fit perfectly, off the rack.
She stored the dress inside a trunk that her great-great-grandfather had carried to World War I. All her mother had to do was send the dress to Cleveland.
Julia Massey and Graham Harper both say they found Cleveland beautiful, and came to adore Dennis.
Harper said he was amazed at how, when he traveled with Dennis throughout the city and suburbs, strangers would approach and thank him for his work.
“At first I was skeptical, but then I realized he couldn’t afford to pay that many people,” Harper says jovially.
Time is spent working with Dennis
These days, Elizabeth still does some work with the American Monetary Institute. She’s also adding her personal touches to the couple’s West Side home. Inspired by Dennis’ vegan diet, she has become a vegan as well, eschewing all animal products, including dairy.
“Dennis and I go to loads of community events, so I am getting to know my new home city and the people within it,” says Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth arrived in the spring, she expected to spend six months in the United States and then return to England. She only brought summery clothes with her.
“I wasn’t prepared to be living here, so I’m taking it slowly, exploring my new life,” she says.
She doesn’t plan to look for other employment.
“I couldn’t see there being any job of greater importance than working with Dennis – we have such a partnership. I travel with him, and we spend the majority of our time in each other’s company.”
A sign in a sign from his campaign
Dennis’ bachelorhood became part of his run for president last year, with a contest held to find him a mate. The dates didn’t pan out, but something unusual happened in the spring of 2004, a year before he met Elizabeth. A group of supporters he visited in Brooklyn, N.Y., painted an 8-foot-long banner, heralding “Dennis Kucinich, the Peace Candidate.”
The detailed painting had a series of figures, people of all races and ethnicities forming an even row, from one side of the banner to the other.
Dennis put the banner away, and forgot about it until a few weeks ago. Then he took it out of the box and unfurled it to show Elizabeth.
Stunned, he said, “Wow.”
In the middle of the row of painted figures, standing head and shoulders above all of them, is a woman in a white gown, with long red hair.
The Plain Dealer