First impressions are important. For Greg and Leigh Ann Underwood of Hattiesburg, it was most definitely not love at first sight.
In fact, Leigh Ann found herself hoping she would be out of town at times when the group of friends that included Greg got together.
The couple met through Leigh Ann’s roommate, who had known Greg from high school and eventually married Greg’s roommate.
“She went to the sister school to his all- boys school,” said Leigh Ann. “There was always a picture of him in my room.”
Their second meeting was during Memphis in May. Greg smoked at the time. Leigh Ann said when she tried to tell him where they’d met before, his reply was, “Yeah!” before blowing smoke in her face. That didn’t happen just once, but twice.
One night the couple found themselves thrown together when they had to drive a friend home. They started talking and Leigh Ann found out he was really nice and she liked him a lot. They also ate fried dill pickles together.
But the first impression … not so much.
In April, they will have been married 24 years.
Greg grew up in Memphis and went to Spring Hill College in Mobile (to get away from home and because they offered him the most money), where he earned a B.S. in accounting. He returned to Memphis where he earned his M.A. in English from the University of Memphis.
Leigh Ann grew up in Alabama – Huntsville and Scottsboro. Adopted from South Korea, she enjoys telling people she’s always been from the South. She attended Auburn, and headed to Memphis after graduation. She worked in the newspaper business before switching to public relations when the couple came south.
Their first date, the third week in April, was a minor league baseball game where a group of friends thought it would be fun to tag along as chaperones. Greg doesn’t remember who won, but he does remember them trucking out an aging country star on the back of a flatbed truck after the game.
“It was Waylon Jennings,” Leigh Ann remembers.
The couple dated for two years before getting engaged the third week in April. They married a year after that, the third week in April. A pattern there, though not really planned.
Greg proposed in a gazebo on the banks of the Mississippi River at the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Afterward they had a very nice dinner at Justine’s, a French restaurant which has since closed.
The couple was married in April 1998 at a Catholic church in Memphis.
Greg, who was interested in starting a PhD program, applied to different schools, but the University of Southern Mississippi offered him the most enticing financial package. So, just like Spring Hill, he followed the money to Hattiesburg.
The couple’s original plan was to move here in September 1995, stay four or so years and leave. That was 24 years ago.
Enter a midlife crisis for Greg, who was offered a job at Pearl River Community College. His advisor urged him not to take it, but to continue and finish his PhD.
“I took the job and she was right,” Greg said. “I didn’t finish it.”
These days he’s working on revision changes for his dissertation, whose topic has also changed, “to something he’s much more interested in,” said Leigh Ann of her homebrew husband. Now it focuses on early modern English literary depictions of ale and beer.
Greg and some friends are homebrewers, so the topic came naturally. And this semester he’s going to finish the goal he actually came to Hattiesburg for.
He also wanted to teach his children, George, a fifth-grader, and Jill, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart, that you finish what you start.
When they became Hattiesburgers, Leigh Ann went to work as a public information associate for Pine Belt Mental Health. Through the years, she made her way to Southern Eye Center for four years before spending the last 16 with Southern Bone and Joint.
The couple consider themselves older parents, having waited nine years before they had children. “Now I know why they say to have children when you’re young,” said Leigh Ann. “There are nights I go to bed before they do.”
These days the couple is in perpetual motion, always doing something on the weekends, usually kid related or with friends getting together, especially being in The Oaks District. “There’s always something going on,” said Leigh Ann of impromptu get-togethers.
“Luckily, we live around a lot of people our age, the kids age,” said Greg. “We are at that stage where your kids’ friends parents become your friends. That’s been helpful, especially with hauling the kids around.”
“We definitely, at this point in our lives, are constantly looking at the calendar,” Leigh Ann said.
Leigh Ann said before they had children they had so many frequent flier miles, they didn’t know what to do with them all. Now they’ve changed those rewards over to Marriott, since they travel with the children.
A 10-day, 14-state driving trip to Boston, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard ended up with return trips through New York and Washington D.C.
“We were in the car for 14 hours one day,” Leigh Ann said. “We had three breakdowns (mental) and two of them were mine.”
The couple used to play golf. “When you play golf, that time is such a luxury,” said Greg. “We don’t have that anymore. We played a lot before the kids, but it’s hard to knock out the five-hour commitment it takes.”
For Greg, downtime is spent reading or the occasional homebrew project. They had Saints season tickets a couple of years ago, but got rid of them. But again, there was a 10-hour commitment on a Sunday.
The family attends Sacred Heart, where Greg serves on the School Advisory Council and the couple has helped out with marriage preparation classes.
It’s not hard to see that there is a definite height difference. With Leigh Ann at 5 feet and Greg at 6 feet 4 inches, they’ve definitely been given a hard time.
“We took ballroom dancing and that was very hard,” Leigh Ann said. “I was laughing after one of our first attempts. The instructor told Greg he looked like he was stomping grapes and told me I looked like I had no rhythm.”
“Leigh Ann had to also be told not to lead,” Greg said.
It’s something they never really mastered. Now that son, George, is going through cotillion classes, Leigh Ann knows she’ll have to dance with her son during their final ball.
The couple lives on Adeline Street in the Oaks District, which they love, being close to school and church.
The family also consists of two tailless cats – King Tut and Cleo, short for Cleopatra. King Tut, a black cat, was an original, when the children started asking for a companion for King Tut. Gregg told them they could have one if they found a white tailless cat. And Cleo joined the family.
Beth Bunch is managing editor of Signature Magazine and PineBelt News.