Armstrong: Harris Wofford is one lucky guy

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Former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford with soon-to-be husband Matthew Charlton (left) in 2008.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT by former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford (D, Pa.) that he would marry again Saturday at age 90, this time to a man 50 years his junior, hit the Web like another naked Kim Kardashian selfie.

As someone who once interviewed Wofford, I was as shocked as anyone.

The news didn't break the Internet, but the venerable Democrat, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and helped start the Peace Corps, got people talking. His relationship challenges traditional notions of heterosexuality and of love. A recent Washington Post article on Wofford's impending nuptials attracted upward of 1,000 comments, many predictably negative.

Some people are weirded out by the considerable age difference, but it isn't all that surprising. May-December romances such as that between Anna Nicole Smith and Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall don't get a lot of respect. As an email buddy pointed out Friday, "Imagine a 75-year-old guy doing it to a 25-year-old woman. Or a 75-year-old woman, and a 25-year-old guy? We'd be barfing . . . Wofford gets a pass - why ? Because he's allegedly now gay?"

But sexuality isn't always black and white, as sex researcher Alfred Kinsey showed with his famous Kinsey scale.

"Did I ever consider myself gay? No. It's what I think should not be asked of people," Wofford told the Post. "I think this is an example of the most private matter," he said. "Most of us are intrigued with the sexuality of friends or others. Perhaps with some close friends you want to talk about this."

And others, perhaps not so much.

His wedding was scheduled to take place in his Washington apartment. About 30 guests were expected. Afterward, attendees were to celebrate at a neighborhood Italian restaurant.

His timing couldn't be more perfect, given the ongoing national debate surrounding gender and sexuality. Wofford disclosed his marital plans in a much-discussed, self-penned column in the New York Times last Sunday.

"I was sure I would never again feel the kind of love Clare and I shared," he explained in his essay, referring to his late wife. "I assumed that I was too old to seek or expect another romance. But five years later, standing on a beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., I sensed a creative hour and did not want to miss it."

Wofford was swimming in the ocean when Matthew Charlton walked over and started chatting. They've been together ever since. Wofford, a father of three, showed his adult children an album with photos of himself and Charlton together to warm them up to the idea.

"To some, our bond is entirely natural, to others it comes as a strange surprise, but most soon see the strength of our feelings and our devotion to each other," Wofford wrote in the Times. "We have now been together for 15 years."

Wofford was almost 70 when his wife died in 1996 of leukemia. The couple had been together 48 years, apparently happily. If you live long enough, you discover that life offers twists and turns.

I understand how even someone so much younger would be attracted. I interviewed Wofford a few years ago, and our conversation was so engaging that I didn't want to get off the phone. I could have listened to him all day.

Wofford has had a distinguished career in public service. He chaired the Democratic Party. He was the first white man to attend Howard University Law School. He marched in Selma and Montgomery ,and was an adviser on civil rights to President Kennedy. He's a man of considerable accomplishments and charisma.

Unfortunately, that doesn't shield a person from loneliness. The loss of his wife had to be devastating.

Some poor souls go through life never having had a great love. Wofford is fortunate to have had two. That's a beautiful thing, no matter how it's packaged.

Frankly, I think a whole lot of folks wagging their tongues about Wofford's unconventional romance would jump to do the same if they were 90 years old and a beautiful young person expressed interest.

I agree with Carole Lieberman, a prominent forensic psychiatrist, who wrote in an email: "If it makes them both happy, good luck to them."

I dialed Wofford's cellphone Friday afternoon, silently praying that he'd pick up. A man who identified himself as a friend said the former senator was too busy to chat. He emailed me a photo and this response from Wofford:

"We have received an overwhelming response from friends new and old. Matthew and I have been deeply touched by the heartfelt good wishes from around the world. We are eagerly anticipating the weekend to come."

I congratulate the two grooms and hope that they'll be happy for many more years.

armstrj@phillynews.com

215-854-2223 @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen