June Williams has an eternal flower of optimism in her heart, and it bloomed with love when she least expected it—at almost 70.
She also was gifted with an unfaltering zest for living that allowed her to weave a full tapestry of experience over almost eight decades—despite physical challenges that many would consider insurmountable.
June was born prematurely with cerebral palsy 1934 at only 3 lbs. 7 oz. She spent part of her infancy in an incubator and her childhood years in New York and Texas bound to a wheelchair. For June, however, confinement has proved to be nothing more than a state of mind that she refused to let limit any aspect of her life, from learning to walk on Canadian (elbow) crutches in high school to attending college to living a fully independent life after her mother passed away in 1999.
It was during this prolific late-life season that she moved to a retirement apartment in downtown Sarasota, FL, took on a job as receptionist for Unity Church of Sarasota, and got married for the first time in 2004—all inspirations that prove anyone can begin wonderful new phases of life at any age with determination and passion.
“You would not believe the energy that June has,” says Rev. Dorothy Ann Jackson, who was co-minister of Unity Church of Sarasota with her husband Donald until their retirement in 2007, when Rev. Elizabeth Thompson took over as Senior Minister. “She would get in her wheelchair and go all over the city on the bus,” she fondly recalls. “She has patience, and she goes wherever she wants to go. She is unbelievable.”
June’s vibrancy and outgoing nature certainly wowed Jim Link, a retired optometrist from Wisconsin who moved into June’s apartment building in late 2003.
On Christmas Day of that year, June was on the elevator and the door opened and Jim stepped in. “He was a tall, handsome man, and I said Merry Christmas,” says June. “I asked if he was visiting and he said no, so I asked if he had any place to go for dinner that night. He did not. I was having a couple of friends over, and I asked him to join us.”
Jim said yes, and he even knocked on June’s door 30 minutes later to make sure he was not imposing. After the gathering, June’s two girlfriends left and a beautiful friendship was born as Jim and June spent the evening together talking. “The next day I told my friends, ‘You rats, you left me alone with a strange man!’” June jokes.
Jim, who was then working part-time for a rehab clinic, began inviting June to his small apartment to spend time together, and the couple also started going out on the town together in Jim’s car, with June’s wheelchair in tow. “I told Dorothy Ann that I had feelings for this man that I had never experienced before in my life,” explains June. “I asked her if she thought it would be OK for me to give Jim a friendship ring.”
With Dorothy Ann’s blessings and encouragement, June went to a local jeweler in Sarasota and bought Jim a black onyx ring, and she had a diamond placed in it from a piece of jewelry she inherited from her mother. June gave the ring to Jim on Valentine’s Day in 2004.
“You would have thought I gave him the world,” June says, “and we decided to get married. I actually proposed to him!”
In a strange twist of fate that followed shortly thereafter, Jim fell from a curb and hit his head on the bumper of a car, an accident that later caused him to have a stroke. As a result, Jim lost his ability to walk. Both June and Jim were in wheelchairs at the time of their marriage, and Jim had to move from the apartment building to an assisted living facility nearby to receive more medical attention.
Regardless of the new challenges, the couple was determined to tie the knot and nothing could stop them from moving forward with their plans.
On April 18 of that year, Dorothy Ann and Donald presided over the ceremony at Unity of Sarasota, which was located on Cocoanut Ave. at the time, close to June’s apartment building. “She had on a light orchid pantsuit, and I made the netting for the veil with flowers,” says Dorothy Ann. “June’s aunt sent 300 white roses for the wedding, and a friend of June’s family who was an interior decorator set up the church’s fellowship hall with long tables and made beautiful centerpieces.”
After the ceremony and reception, Jim had to return to the assisted living facility in a medic’s car, and the memory of what followed is what both June and Dorothy Ann consider the true highlight of the day. “June and I were the last people at the reception,” recounts Dorothy Ann. “I had a little Toyota, and I followed June home from the hall with all of the gifts in my car.”
June was on the sidewalk in her wheelchair slowly making her way back to the apartment building. While Dorothy Ann was in the car the radio started playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. “I turned it up full blast with both windows down, and June’s veil was blowing in the wind,” laughs Dorothy Ann. “I had no idea the traffic was building behind us! A police officer came up and directed the traffic around the two of us.”
The only night that June and Jim were ever able to spend together was the one after the wedding because Jim’s medical condition required that he live in a separate residence with more intensive care. “We had dreams of building a house,” remembers June. “But instead I spent every day by his side in his room holding his hand.”
“I don’t think many people try hard enough at their marriages, but I know I did. Jim was such a gentle and thoughtful man, and I loved him very much.”
Jim, a retired veteran, passed away three years after the marriage, and his flag hangs proudly high on the wall in June’s assisted living facility apartment. It is a constant reminder of the brief but wonderful time they spent together—a testament that true love can happen at any age.