Notable couples succeed at spending time together at work, at home


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With one foot on the public stage and the other firmly planted at home, local so-called "power couples" strike a delicate balance among child rearing, hectic schedules and keeping their relationships alive, all while working in high-profile jobs in television, the judiciary and local government.

This week, the Post-Gazette talked to some of these busy and influential couples to see how they keep it together.

Kristine Sorensen Griffin and Marty Griffin

Marty Griffin, investigative reporter for KDKA-TV, first laid eyes on his future wife in 1998, as she stood in a Washington County field, wearing a pink silk pantsuit, reporting on a story about cicadas.

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Mr. Griffin, 53, described himself as "totally enamored."

"First of all, I thought, wow," he remembered. "She was gorgeous. But, here she was standing in a field in a $1,000 suit."

Mrs. Sorensen Griffin, 40, grew up in Winter Park, Fla. After college, she found herself in Pittsburgh working as a television reporter for WTAE-TV.

"We spent maybe 15 hours together on our first date," recalled Mr. Griffin, who grew up in Shadyside. He said he felt a connection with her immediately -- one that has lasted over the years.

"We were incredibly tight, from the first date on," he recalled.

"That's right," she said. "He was different from anybody else."

The couple moved to Dallas, Texas -- a much larger media market -- to pursue their careers, but after a couple of years, returned to Pittsburgh.

The couple wed in May 2003, shortly after they'd returned to Pittsburgh to work for KDKA-TV. Mrs. Sorensen Griffin was a weekend anchor and reporter for a time, while Mr. Griffin was an investigative reporter -- a job which he remains well known for, and hosted a KDKA Radio show from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays.

Now she hosts "Pittsburgh Today Live," a lifestyle show on KDKA-TV from 9 to 10 a.m. weekdays, and is an anchor on the news at 5 p.m.

The couple lives in Mt. Lebanon with their children -- Sophia, 7, Chloe, 5, and Vincent, 22 months.

"The great thing for me in terms of life balance is I often get to go home in between those two shows and see the kids," she said.

So, who's the disciplinarian and who's the softie when it comes to raising the kids?

Perhaps not surprisingly to fans of Mr. Griffin -- known for his brash and controversial style -- it's him.

"Daddy's in charge," he said.

When it comes to keeping their love alive, the couple thinks it's important to maintain a sense of humor and not take life so seriously, especially in jobs that can become emotionally draining.

"We're completely, deeply in love and that's not a cliche," he said.

Getting to live his dream life in Pittsburgh has been an experience he wouldn't trade for anything, Mr. Griffin said.

"This is a great city, because the people here will tell you what's on their mind."

David and Mary Ann Cercone

U.S. District Court Judge David Cercone and McKees Rocks District Judge Mary Ann Cercone might never have been married if it weren't for sticky buns and a beat-up car.

The couple met in March 1979, in the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Bob Colville, where Mr. Cercone was a new assistant district attorney and Mrs. Cercone -- then Mary Ann Kraus -- was a paralegal.

"It was my first day," recalled Judge Cercone, 59, who was instantly attracted to the pretty blonde and often found himself being chastised by the boss for loitering too much at her desk.

For Mrs. Cercone, who grew up on Pittsburgh's North Side, the relationship took a little longer to develop.

Fearing that she would see him as "just a friend," Mr. Cercone hatched a plan involving his old Dodge Dart.

"My ploy was I had a used car that my dad bought for me, and now that I was working I was going to go buy myself a new little sports car," he remembers. "I heard through the grapevine that Mary Ann was looking for a car so I moseyed up to her desk and said 'I heard you're looking for a used car. I might have one for you. Do you mind if I swing by your apartment Friday night?' "

Mr. Cercone parlayed that visit into a night out dancing.

He also won over his wife by bringing her grilled sticky buns, fresh from a local coffee shop.

By 1983, the couple had married and built a home overlooking the city in Stowe, where they raised three sons: Spencer, 24, Stephen, 22, and Chris, 15.

Mrs. Cercone, 54, worked in the district attorney's office for seven years, eventually becoming a county detective, and attended night school at the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a master's degree in business administration.

Mr. Cercone was an assistant district attorney for four years, then was elected to the post his wife now holds as district judge in McKees Rocks. She took over the district judge seat in 1986, when he won a seat on the Common Pleas Court. At the time, he was just 32 years old -- the youngest person ever elected to the court.

Mr. Cercone served as administrative judge of the criminal division from 1993 to 1999 before being nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 2000.

But, it was an election year, and as the fight between George W. Bush and Al Gore escalated, Mr. Clinton's nominees were being denied confirmation hearings by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

After the contentious election was decided in favor of Mr. Bush in December 2000, Mr. Cercone thought it unlikely that he would be re-nominated by the Republican newcomer.

But he was wrong. Mr. Cercone was appointed to the bench by Mr. Bush in 2002, this time among a pool of Republican candidates.

Over the years, the couple decided to "leave work at work," Mrs. Cercone said, and to concentrate on family time when together.

Their secret to a long and happy marriage?

"We have different interests," said Mr. Cercone, also an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh since 1982. "And I think that we respect each other and allow each other to do their own thing."

They also found it easier to divide duties when it came to raising children: Mr. Cercone is the homework expert and Mrs. Cercone is in charge of shuttling her sons to and from activities.

Mr. Cercone also said he's a better cook than his wife, though he acknowledges that her berry pies are legendary.

"When the kids came home from school, when they were young, the first question they'd want to know is who cooked? Mom or Dad? And if it was Mom, they were disappointed," he said.

Katherine Emery and Gary Gilman

Washington County Common Pleas Judge Gary Gilman was smitten with his wife, Common Pleas Judge Katherine Emery, when the pair met in 1989. But it took him a year to work up the nerve to ask her for a date because, as assistant county solicitor, she was his boss. At the time, Judge Gilman was fresh out of law school and working for then-county Commissioner Frank Mascara.

When his big move finally came, she had no idea.

"So finally, after a year, I said I'm going to ask her out and whatever happens, happens," he remembered.

Judge Emery, 56, thought Judge Gilman, 49, was asking a group of friends to join him to watch the Super Bowl at his family's lake house in Somerset County.

But, his plan was to get her alone, which came as a surprise to her in an interview with the couple.

"I didn't know that!" she said. "So it was like a date that I didn't know was a date -- he just said he wanted to show me the lake."

Judge Gilman's ploy worked, and he transferred out of the solicitor's office after the two began dating.

The couple married in May 1991 and have since built their own home at the lake, along with their main residence in North Strabane.

Four years after they married, Judge Emery, a native of Canonsburg, was elected to the bench, and her husband followed last year, winning a heavily contested race for a vacant seat.

They have a 16-year-old son, George, who was born just a month after Judge Emery took office.

"Soon after Kathy got elected, I saw what she was doing and her interest in it. I thought to myself that it would be great to be a judge," said Judge Gilman, who delayed a decision because he was reluctant to spend a year of his life campaigning.

Realizing that their roles could bring up courthouse conflicts, Judge Gilman, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., worked as a hearing officer in the Allegheny County court system when his wife became a judge.

"He didn't like practicing here when I was a judge," she said. "It's funny because people say 'isn't it a conflict for husband and wife to serve as judges?' But it was actually more of a conflict before." Then it could have appeared as though he was receiving preferential treatment from her judicial colleagues, she said.

"We needed to have separate domains," he said.

Since Judge Gilman's election, the couple has found themselves working in the same building but still largely apart.

"Here, we really have very little interaction," he said. "I've been in office for six months and we've only had lunch together three or four times."

He is assigned to Family Court cases and she oversees Civil and Orphan's courts.

"I never see any judges," she said of her colleagues. "It's not like any of us work together."

"You have your own docket and manage your own courtroom," he said.

William and Monica Merrell

Peters Township school Director William Merrell used to screen his dates by bringing them home and watching the reaction of his dog.

"With all the animals that I've ever had, they've read people perfectly through my life," said Mr. Merrell, 61, who once declined a date with a woman whom the dog despised.

He met his wife -- then Monica Adams -- on an Internet dating site in 2002, after both had been divorced.

Mr. Merrell said he knew his wife was a keeper when the dog immediately placed her head in her lap.

"She was my ticket in," said Mrs. Merrell, 58, a Peters council member. "We were good buddies. She was a fabulous dog."

Passionate about their beliefs, neither has been afraid to buck the system. Both have routinely questioned long-held practices on their respective boards, though his style is more aggressive and hers more persuasive.

"I try to look at all the aspects of an issue and try to ask questions that I think other people would be interested in knowing," she said. "And I try to get to the bottom of an issue before I make a decision."

In keeping with their 21st century romance, they decided to marry in 2003, while watching the televised wedding of "The Bachelorette," Trista Rehn.

She worked for 32 years at the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, beginning in high school at Mercy Hospital, and now operates her own consulting business.

Mr. Merrell served four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and found himself recruited back into the service at the age of 30. Sixteen years later, he retired as a senior master sergeant and superintendent of chemical, nuclear and biological warfare. He has two sons, a daughter and two stepdaughters, who are all grown, along with four grandchildren.

He was elected to a council seat in 2005, but had to give up the position a year later when he got a marine construction management job that required him to travel frequently.

She decided to follow her husband's lead and secured his seat on council in 2007 through a write-in campaign during the general election. Two years later, she won a full, four-year term on the board.

"He got elected because I helped him, and I got elected because he helped me," she said.

Mr. Merrell ran for school board last year, hoping to "bring the district back to education," while looking out for taxpayers.

Mrs. Merrell is also a sketch artist while Mr. Merrell played the role of a security guard in the locally filmed "Silence of the Lambs," in 1989.

Pete and Mary Ellen Ramage

Pete and Mary Ellen Ramage have one common love: the borough of Etna.

She started working for the borough in 1977 as a clerical staff member, then worked her way up to assistant manager in 1982 and was promoted to manager in 1990.

All the while, she admired Mr. Ramage, 73, who has served on council for 43 years and as its president for 36 years.

"I always thought he was handsome and I still do," said Mrs. Ramage, 53.

The two worked alongside each other for many years, he as a longtime widower with four grown children, and she as a single woman devoted to her career.

But one day in 1997, the two were meeting to go over the next week's council meeting agenda, as they did routinely.

"He asked me, what did I normally do for dinner," she recalled.

The pair decided to grab a bite to eat after their meeting and ended up staying at the restaurant past closing time.

The next day, Mr. Ramage asked her out to dinner again. She didn't know how to respond.

"I said, 'is this a date?' and he said, 'I don't know. I think so,' " she said. "I had never thought of him romantically because he was my boss."

The two began dating, though they quickly realized it would create conflicts.

A retired math teacher and administrator for the Pittsburgh City Schools, Mr. Ramage decided he would resign his council seat if it came to that, but he wanted the opinion of his fellow council members first.

"He told council and they were very positive about it," said Mrs. Ramage, known then as Mary Ellen Cavlovic.

The two married in August 1997 and have avoided conflicts: Mr. Ramage leaves council chambers when anything about his wife -- such as her salary or contract -- is being discussed or voted on.

"I just step outside," he said.

Though the pair don't always agree on borough business, they try to keep the shop talk to a minimum at home.

The two love outings on the weekends, especially trips to Gettysburg, and they have found they have much in common in the town they love.

"We definitely share a love of the community,'' Mrs. Ramage said. The people here are absolutely wonderful."

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Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1867. First Published June 21, 2012 4:00 AM


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