Happy to Follow

Tony Wilson

FOR MUCH OF MY ADULT life, I’ve read about marriages in turmoil because the wife earns more than her husband. That’s always bewildered me, because I spent most of my career being a very happy trailing spouse.

My wife and I met in our early 30s while trying to rescue a three-year-old stuck on an elevator. This was more than three decades ago. I was divorced and working as a journalist, and had taken my son with me when I needed to drop by the newsroom early one weekday evening. My future wife was the personnel director at the newspaper—the term “human resources” wasn’t yet in vogue—and she happened to be working late.

I told my son to wait by the elevator while I darted around the corner to speak to a colleague. Alone for perhaps a minute, he punched the elevator button, got on alone, and then naturally punched the bright red emergency button a few seconds after the doors closed. He was stuck, I was in a panic and my wife-to-be came to the rescue. She hurried from her office, quickly assessed the situation, and spent the next half hour calmly working with building management and the fire department to successfully free my son.

It took a few weeks, but I eventually worked up the courage to ask her out. A scant few months later, we were engaged and, a year after meeting, we married. And like the elevator holding my tiny son, we were on the move.

We left Kentucky, our home state, less than a year later. My wife had accepted a promotion in Kansas City. The editor of the newspaper in Kentucky told me I was making a mistake leaving my job as the sports editor, but my gut told me what to do—follow my heart.

We lived in Kansas City for five years, where I enjoyed a happy stint in The Kansas City Star newsroom. Again, opportunity knocked for my wife: another promotion, this time in New York City. There, I got employment in a shrine I’d always dreamed about: The New York Times

A journalist for 15 years, I had a couple of years earlier migrated to technology, specifically training journalists on software to produce the newspaper electronically. This was the 1990s—and, in hindsight, the beginning of the end for print media. My career change served me well.

My wife got another promotion soon after the New York move. Just a year after joining the Times, I left to join her in Europe, where we enjoyed the next six years as expats: four years in London, a quick hop to Geneva for a year and then back to London for a final year. Shortly after the move to Europe, I landed on my feet again, working for global news and financial giant Reuters.

We returned to Kentucky in 2001, six months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With our once-healthy retirement accounts decimated amid the 2000-02 financial meltdown, we had to get back to work. Despite her international success, returning to the States meant my wife had to accept an HR position several levels below her previous positions. But as always, her talent and drive got her to the top HR job at the state’s flagship university within a few years.

We just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. I’m retired, and she’s mostly retired. I’ve been asked over the years if I found it difficult to accept that my wife earned multiples of my salary, if the power dynamic made me feel inferior. I always reply, “Are you kidding?” 

From the start, I’ve been proud of my wife—in awe of her, really—and her career moves created superb opportunities for me as well. We’ve had wonderful adventures together. I could quite possibly be the happiest trailing spouse ever.

Tony Wilson spent most of his career working as a journalist and then newsroom technology trainer at news organizations in Kentucky, Kansas City, New York City, London and Geneva. He finished his career as the translations planner at printer manufacturer Lexmark.

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