When Roy Renfro first laid eyes upon who would become his wife of 50 years, he really didn’t think much of the young lady in the elevator who was wearing shorts with red bloomers peeking out, thinking only that the brunette bombshell “was too giggly.”
“I wasn’t impressed with the presentation,” said Roy recently from the couple’s Tudor style home just a mile from downtown Placerville.
After the attractive woman a bit later asked whether she could borrow some books from him, as they lived in the same apartment building, “All of a sudden, she kind of grew on me,” he said.
“That’s because I was so bloody good-looking!” said Margaret Renfro from the couple’s kitchen, where she tended to one of the meals she prepares every night for herself and her husband.
Margaret, known as Maggie to most, hasn’t lost the charming British accent that is her trademark as she runs Renfros bridal shop on Main Street in Placerville, a business known throughout Northern California and even farther for its array of scrumptious wedding gowns and other high-end clothing.
Six weeks after their first date, Maggie and Roy married Feb. 16, 1964 in Reno (with a more formal ceremony later in London). Each has an opinion on what it takes to make a successful marriage.
“It’s sleeping in a double bed together, right, dickie bird?” she said, looking to Roy for confirmation. (She calls all guys dickie bird, Roy explained.) “Sleep in a double bed and when he says turn, you turn.
“That, and never take him for granted,” Maggie added. “And always decide things together,” she continued. “Right?”
“Yes, dear,” said Roy, smiling at his guests from the Mountain Democrat.
Formula for wedded bliss
Roy Renfro has a slightly simpler formula for wedded bliss: “A happy wife is a happy life.”
And happy she is, never having lost that giggle and a zest for life that has taken the couple and their three children to Peru, to Scotland, to London and back to the United States, gathering adventurous memories along the way.
As a matter of fact, one of those adventures made its way onto national television after a mishap in 1976 involving a Puerto Rican cab driver in New York City.
The Renfros, with their two young daughters and son in tow along with the family dog, had come over from London to New York on the Queen Elizabeth II and were looking for a ride to Harlem, where they were to visit a Christian minister and his family.
Carrying a black bag with rings and other valuables including an antique silver spoon in a taxi, the family had the cab stop and got out of the cab to let the Labrador retriever do her business. The cab took off … black bag sitting on the rear floorboard.
It tuned out that several cab customers rode around with the bag of valuables that same day, and then the following day yet another customer found the bag and told the cab driver, Carlos Benitez, that there was a satchel on the floor.
“The cab driver recognized it right away and ended up calling us,” recalled Roy. “That just doesn’t happen in New York City. NBC news picked up the story and it went worldwide. For months after that, we’d hear from people; even someone from New Zealand called wanting the story.”
Roy speculated that Margaret’s winning English accent helped the story go “viral” or what passed for it in those days, and their notoriety resulted in the family obtaining transportation all the way to St. Louis, Mo., their destination in the United States.
“People in line at the rental car business recognized us from TV, people at the desk in two different locations recognized us …” Eventually the family found themselves tooling down the road, safely en route to Roy’s hometown of Festus, Mo., partly due to their fame greasing the wheels for easily obtaining cars.
Life on the farm
It was in Festus that the family took up residence on an 80-acre farm for 11 years, living off the land in a lifestyle that had been promoted by a family friend, a member of the Latter-day Saints. The rural lifestyle was wonderful, the couple agreed, but in the backs of their minds they always nurtured the idea of returning to California to retire.
And, while in Festus, Maggie had worked at the E&D Bridal Shop, then opened her own store, and the result was encouraging.
“I had cashed in Renfro’s life insurance policy for $1,400,” recalled Maggie (she calls her husband by his surname), “and that got my shop started. I had five bride’s gowns and 10 bridesmaid dresses and I would shuffle them around to make it look like there was more inventory. The shop did remarkably well, for 11 years.”
When the Renfros made the move west to Placerville 27 years ago Maggie had no intention of resuming her bridal gown business.
“I really had no intention of ever working again,” she said. “But I was bored.”
Maggie opened Renfros behind the Taco Bell on Broadway in Placerville, where she flourished but after friend Bev Hartwick suggested Main Street might suit the business better, she moved to a spot near the Empire Theater that was to become a favorite of fashion conscious ladies for 15 years.
She has just recently moved her shop to 435 Main St., where the gowns, sequined blouses and elegant evening wear simply shine from the window fronts.
Roy has had his own moments in the sun, having played in the minor leagues of professional baseball, where he was a catcher for the Pirates, Red Sox and Tigers. An avid golfer, Roy also spent time in the Coast Guard reserves and worked for the State Department.
Maggie paused in telling the couple’s story as she served tea with milk and sugar, a true English treat, to her guests.
At one point she stopped in mid-sentence to instruct on the proper use of a saucer in sipping tea in a civilized manner, then smiled brightly as she mentioned that the couple’s initial meeting in the elevator found her noticing that “he was quite a handsome chap.”
The woman from Surrey, England and the man from Festus, Mo., now enjoy the lovely home that is lit softly inside while a waterfall makes its soothing sounds from a backyard garden area that is thick with ivy, trees and foliage.
Roy built the waterfall for his wife’s 50th birthday and he shared that Margaret loves to read while sitting on one of the benches near the water.
The pair’s affection for one another is apparent even to the casual observer, as when Maggie pinched her husband lightly to make sure he smiled when photographs were taken out in their garden oasis for the newspaper.
As their guests were led to the front door following the interview and photos, Roy seemed to be all but bursting with something else he wished to say.
“Just in case you need more for the story,” he began, and as Maggie said, “Oh, no …” Roy mentioned again his love of golf.
“In 1999 I made the California state finals Senior Championship, in ’95 I qualified for the USGA Senior Open in Wichita, Kan., in ’95 I qualified for the British Senior Open and went to Scotland where I played for a month, and in 2001 I was in the USGA Senior Open in St. Louis, Mo.”
Roy explained that after the three children, Kari, Jennifer and Tristan, grew older and left the home, he and his wife developed different interests. His, of course, was golf, and since Maggie is a good sport about it, he indulges her loves as well.
“She likes to dance — so we dance,” he said.
Whether it’s strolling the golf greens or strolling a two-step, the Renfros have found a way to dance together through half a century. They celebrated their 50th anniversary last month with a surprise gift from their three kids, a family weekend in Tahoe with their children and nine grandchildren.
After the couple bade farewell to their visitors, Roy waved from the top of the steps as his wife called, “Cheerio,” her smile as bright as a pair of red bloomers.