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Lunar love: Taylors enjoyed first date while watching moon landing

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Lunar love: Taylors enjoyed first date while watching moon landing

After nearly 50 years of marriage, most couples probably would have trouble remembering exactly when their first date occurred.

But for Bill and Donna Taylor of Aiken, that hasn’t been a problem.

It is firmly ingrained in their memories because of a historic event, the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Sitting in front of a small black and white television, Bill and Donna watched as the lunar module touched down on the moon’s surface and Neil Armstrong became the first human to take a stroll on the celestial body.

“Like everybody else, we were glued to the TV,” said Bill, the S.C. representative from District 86 and a longtime Republican.

Donna, who is a Realtor with Meybohm Real Estate, remembered being “thrilled to death” by what she was viewing.

“It was something that seemed so unreachable by many of us that we had to see it to believe it,” she said.

Bill lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the time and was working as a television reporter. Donna was a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, where she had a job with the Xerox Corp.

They got together after Donna traveled to Cincinnati to be the maid of honor in a wedding.

Her sister, Marcia Coar, married Bill’s good friend, Chuck Carson, and Bill was Carson’s best man.

“They (Carson and Coar) were promoting Bill to me big time,” Donna said.

Bill, meanwhile, was hearing similar positive words about Donna.

The rehearsal dinner provided them the opportunity to get to know each other, but it wasn’t love at first sight.

“We were not too thrilled,” Donna said.

But Bill’s lukewarm feelings changed when he saw Donna at the wedding.

“I remember vividly standing at the front of the church with the groom,” Bill said. “She came down the aisle, and I went, ‘Wow.’”

Donna knew she was looking good.

“I wore a peach gown, and I had a Phoenix tan that was so dark that you could hardly tell I had freckles,” she said.

An impressed Bill asked Donna if she would go out with him the next day, and Donna said yes even though she wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea.

“I might have been using him a little bit in order to have someone to watch the moon landing with,” Donna remembered. “Because I was there from Phoenix, I really didn’t have anyplace else to go.”

Bill and Donna went to dinner at a restaurant and picked up Bill’s grandmother at the train station.

But they spent most of their time in front of the television in Bill’s apartment.

Back then, the choice of that location for their first date was considered a bit scandalous.

“I was a Christian-educated and -trained person, so it was a big no-no,” Donna said.

“Interestingly, though, we never really thought about any of that,” Bill added. “We were like, ‘We’ve got to go to a place that has a television.’”

At 4:17 p.m., the lunar module, carrying Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, landed on the moon after leaving Michael Collins behind in the command module, which was orbiting above.

More than six hours later, at 10:56 p.m., Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

Aldrin joined him there nearly 20 minutes later.

“I remember cheering when the lunar module actually landed and then cheering again when the moonwalk happened,” Donna said. “Those were the goosebump moments.”

Bill also was feeling the excitement.

“It was all about aviation to me,” Bill said. “I learned to fly an airplane when I was 16 years old. I was in the Civil Air Patrol for 12 years, and later on, I had a commercial pilot’s license for hot air balloons. My cousin, Bill King, was the chief engineer on the team that designed the Apollo 11 lunar descent engine.”

After focusing on the moon landing for much of their first date, Bill and Donna decided they enjoyed being together enough to pursue building a relationship afterward.

“It was a good start,” Bill said. “There was a spark.”

Said Donna, “I fell in like. The one thing that really stood out to me was that he was extremely respectful and polite. He opened doors, and he pulled out a chair for me at the table. And those are things he still does today.”

After Donna returned to Phoenix, she and Bill grew closer through a series of telephone calls.

“It was a long distance romance,” Bill said.

On Nov. 2, 1970, they got married.

“Maybe some moondust did get sprinkled on us,” said Donna of Apollo 11’s effect at the start of their liaison.

Since then, Bill has met Aldrin several times.

In the 1990s, Aldrin sat next to Bill on a commuter flight from Gunnison, Colorado, to Denver.

“It was early in the morning on a cold winter day,” Bill said. “We visited a little bit, but he wasn’t too chatty. I also met him probably about two other times at television conventions.”

Bill never felt comfortable enough while with Aldrin to tell the former astronaut about Apollo 11's connection to the Taylors' marriage, but the experiences are treasured memories. 

“I have been around a lot of well-known people, so I don’t get starstruck,” Bill said. “But how can you not admire someone like Buzz Aldrin who is so brave? To allow yourself to be blasted to the moon without knowing what the end result will be is just so impressive.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.