Sleepless in Seattle + Oprah = True Love for Northwest Couple

Jim and rita Schwarting of Kent are still in love all these years after meeting courtesy of Oprah Winfrey

How does an artistic free spirit from California and a logical engineer from the Northwest meet and fall in love? Courtesy of the Oprah Winfrey Show, thank you.

The year was 1993 and Sleepless in Seattle was a blockbuster hit movie. It starred Tom Hanks as a recently widowed man whose 8-year-old son calls a radio talk show to help find his father a wife. Meg Ryan plays one of thousands of women who were so moved by the grieving man’s story that they write the radio station asking to meet him.

Later that same year, triggered by the movie’s success, the Oprah Winfrey Show asked five men from the Seattle area who had lost their wives to cancer to tell their stories. Oprah invited women viewers to write in asking to meet the men.

It was one of the most popular shows of the season and in a case of life imitating art, the response was overwhelming. Within a week or so, Oprah drove a forklift onto the set carrying thousands upon thousands of letters from women wanting to meet the widowers.

Each of the men chose someone from the mountain of letters to go on a date with, which was filmed for a later Oprah show. None of the dates turned into relationships.

Enter rita ann (small r, small a) of Santa Cruz County, California. She was one of those thousands of women who had written to the men. She noticed Boeing engineer Jim Schwarting right away because he was very tall (6’4”) and his career sounded interesting. But mostly she was moved by the story he told of his late wife. She was both moved and daunted; Jim’s wife was a doctor (psychiatrist) who played ten musical instruments.

“But it isn’t a big risk,” thought rita, “what are the chances he’ll even see my letter?” rita didn’t have many recent photos to include with her letter, but she did have one where she was wearing Groucho Marx glasses. That is the photo the ever-whimsical rita sent.

Jim received an overwhelming 10,000 letters. After his date filmed for the Oprah show, as well as other dates that people kept setting up for him, he had stopped reading through the letters. But then, during his annual Boeing Christmas hiatus, he decided to take another look. He was organizing them into piles – one stack represented those he would send a postcard to and the other stack was for those he would respond to with a letter.

Jim was sorting through the piles of mail when he came across rita’s letter; her Groucho glasses caught his eye. He placed the letter on top of a tall stack he intended to answer with a postcard. Then he left to walk the dog.

When he returned, rita’s letter had fallen from the stack and landed on his computer keyboard. That really is a cute photo, he thought. He could tell she had a sense of humor. He moved her envelope to the top of his tall stack to answer with a letter instead of a postcard. Then he left for dinner.

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