Rocklin man remembers a lifetime of love

He never let her go
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Placer Herald and Press Tribune editor
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When Jim Plessinger met his future wife, Dottie, it was love at first sight – at least for him.

The two met on a blind date set up by their fathers in 1948. She came to the Merchant Marine Academy in New York to meet him for tea, a football game and a dance. When she and a girlfriend walked through the gate, Plessinger remembered, he was done for.

“She saw me there, so she came up and she put her right hand up and she said, ‘I’m Dottie.’ And I put my hand out and I held her hand and I looked in her eyes and I said to myself, ‘I will never, ever let go of this hand – in this world and the next.’ I was absolutely smitten – just blown away.”

So blown away, in fact, that the skinny young man summoned the nerve during the last dance to give Dottie a lingering kiss, tell her he loved her and propose marriage.

She ran away.

“I didn’t know where I was,” said Plessinger, remembering how he spent the next few days in a heartbroken stupor. “I had poured out my heart.”

But then there came a letter from Mount Ida College, where Dottie was studying, to tell Plessinger that she had a wonderful time at the football game and would very much like to see him again.

And so began the romance that would result in a 61-year marriage. The poor Plessinger met Dottie’s wealthy family, and he was surprised when she happily drove to his family’s flat to meet his parents. They dated right up until Plessinger completed the academy, and they married just eight days after graduation.

Their marriage survived Plessinger’s spending a year at sea, unemployment, moving and the loss of their first child. Plessinger became a naval officer and then a lawyer, while his wife, who “never failed to get a job within an hour,” eventually went into real estate.

The couple had two more children, Diane and Sally Jane, who they raised in Connecticut. Now grown, Diane Colby remembers how very much in love her parents were.

“They were madly in love with each other, from the first day they met to the last day she was alive,” she said.

So in love, in fact, that just weeks before her mother died from dementia, Colby took her out for lunch and asked her about her relationship.

“She said, ‘I’ve been in love with your father my whole life – I’ve been a very lucky person,’” Colby said. “And she meant it.”

Jim and Dottie’s love story lives on, through memories and the penning of a book Plessinger is in the process of writing. “The Girl Who Came Through the Gate” will tell the story of the couple, from the first time she entered the gate at the academy to her last moment when, as Plessinger describes it, she exited through another gate.

Dottie died Aug. 16, 2012, after a long battle with dementia. Plessinger hardly left her side during her struggle, and remembered how one night, toward the end, Dottie had a moment of clarity at 6 a.m. and asked her husband to “hug me and squeeze me.” Plessinger of course obliged, and asked Dottie why she had made such a request.

“Because I wanted to show you how very much I love you,” she said, uttering the last words she would ever say to him.

Plessinger’s devotion to his wife continues today. He remembers every moment spent with her, right down to the exact moment he met her: 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, 1948. Even as his wife was slipping from this world, Plessinger would find a way, every day, to remind her of that eager young man who fell in love on the first date – the one who vowed silently to himself that he would never let go of her hand.

“Every day he would say, ‘Hi, I’m Jim,’” Colby said. “And she would say, ‘Hi, I’m Dottie.’ And he would say, ‘Would you marry me?’ And she would say yes.”