After ‘Mist,’ They Saw Things Differently

An evening at Mist Harlem, a former restaurant and bar, propelled Walter Smith-Randolph and LeAnne Armstead’s 12-year friendship into something more.,

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Walter Smith-Randolph said he was interested in LeAnne Armstead from the moment he met her at a 2005 barbecue hosted by Villanova University’s Black Cultural Society.

But it was a long, long, long time before anything came of it.

“I was 12 years a friend,” he said.

The two became friendly, a little closer than acquaintances, Ms. Armstead said, but not best friends either. They’d hang out with people in their social circle regularly, and they had a class together. Mr. Smith-Randolph, 34, had a car while in school, and recalled picking up Ms. Armstead, 35, from her family home in Brooklyn when driving back to college from his own family home in Queens Village, Queens. (“She says it only happened twice,” he said.)

He never made a move, though.

“She was beautiful, tall, gorgeous, and I thought that she was out of my league,” he said.

After both graduated — she in 2008, he in 2009 — they continued to see each other sporadically. When Mr. Smith-Randolph, who received a master’s degree in journalism from the City University of New York, later moved to Elmira, N.Y., for his first job in broadcasting, Ms. Armstead and another friend visited him there.

The two also often met up, with other people, in New York for “game watches,” which are essentially informal alumni reunions on the occasion of Villanova basketball games.

Ms. Armstead said that in November 2017, when Mr. Smith-Randolph had traveled from Kalamazoo, Mich., where he was then working, to New York for a family event, something changed.

They made plans to meet up at Mist Harlem, which was then a bar, restaurant and event space. She was attending with a group of friends, but the two still ended up making a quasi-solo evening of it.

“My girlfriends were asking me, ‘How come you’re not dating him?'” Ms. Armstead said. She responded, “He’s a catch, but I don’t want to mess up a friendship.”

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Credit…Mani Crawford

The evening did get her thinking, though. She texted Mr. Smith-Randolph, who flew back to Michigan right after their meet-up, later that night to make sure that he had gotten home safe. In her mind, she was indicating to him that she was thinking about him more than casually.

Mr. Smith-Randolph remembers a little less subtlety in the course of the evening.

“When we started talking one on one, she grabbed my thigh,” said Mr. Smith-Randolph, who is now the investigative editor at Connecticut Public Broadcasting in Hartford. “I was like, Oh wow, this is something.”

The two commenced texting every day, “about the most minute things,” said Ms. Armstead, now an e-commerce marketing manager at the Kroger Company, a grocery and retailer. When Mr. Smith-Randolph returned to New York the next month, both anticipated that their relationship might evolve.

They had brunch together the day before New Year’s Eve and, Ms. Armstead said, “We were being kind of flirty, kind of touching hands.”

As they headed back to her apartment, she remembers, “He said, You know, you’re going to be my wife.”

But first, she became his girlfriend. On Dec. 31, 2017, Ms. Armstead said, “He asked me to be his girlfriend. And then we had our first kiss.” They dated for more than two years before becoming engaged in May 2020.

The couple, who will both use the surname Randolph and who now live in New Haven, Conn., married Nov. 6 at St. Thomas of Villanova Roman Catholic Church on the campus of their alma mater. The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, who is the university’s president, performed the ceremony before 160 guests, all vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Of the yearslong friend who became his wife, Mr. Smith-Randolph said, “She’s one of my biggest supporters, she holds me accountable and she’s loyal. Even when you’re messing up, she’s not going to abandon you or run out on you. She’s going to stick with you through it. And she’s gorgeous.”

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