A Telephone Romance: The Love Story of Ed and Annette HendrickJul 14, 2021 02:25PM ● By FRANCESCA BLOCK
When the U.S. government ordered the Bell System Companies to break up its monopoly on telecommunications in 1984, two unassuming employees from distant regions of the United States were brought together.
Ed Hendrick, then a 45-year-old sales executive at the newly minted Southwestern Bell Corporation, found himself in a bind. “It was never intended to work,” he says, describing the divestiture structure. Nonetheless, he was put in charge of designing a new client interface for the seven separate entities of the Bell Company, who despite their recent breakup, still reluctantly worked together. Growing up as the eldest of seven in an Irish-Catholic family in downtown Philadelphia, Ed approached each of his assignments with a make-it-work attitude. As head of the team, Ed decided to take the lead on forging a new relationship with the toughest client, US West.
In 1986, Telcordia Technologies planned a technology conference in the historic town of St. Simons Island, Georgia, to bring all the companies together. Telcordia rented out a golf resort for the top technology executives from each of the newly created regional Bell companies. Before the event, Ed read over a list of all the attendees’ names, and one of them stuck out to him: Annette. Hers was the only female name among, as Ed describes, a bunch of “old white men” and “curmudgeons used to being king of the hill.”
Annette, then 37, arrived at St. Simons having recently been promoted to the executive team at US West. As the eldest of eight siblings in a large Catholic family in rural Minnesota, Annette was accustomed to shattering glass ceilings. She pursued a mathematics degree in college followed it with an MBA, and then became one of the few women across the country hired by the Bell Company in an engineering role. She walked into that first meeting at St. Simons and was confronted with a room full of men, a phenomenon with which she was quite familiar. One of the men, whom she soon learned was named Ed, approached her and confidently said, “You must be Annette.” Thinking about it today, Annette says the memory remains clear as day. “I remember that statement,” she says with a smile, “and I was, like, this guy is really swift.”
The conversation evolved from there. Eventually, Annette remembers asking Ed, “Why did you choose US West?” Both claim they remember the conversation as if it were yesterday, though Ed jokes, “what she really said was, ‘Don’t you understand we really don’t like you?’” “We,” referring to her company, US West, and “you,” referring to Ed’s Telcordia Technologies.
In that first interaction, Annette quickly discovered Ed’s passion for taking on seemingly impossible challenges. She remembers thinking “he was nuts.” Although the two of them might have gotten along in that first interaction, the animosity between their two companies remained palpable. “It was destined for failure,” Ed reflects today, “but the long and short of it is, it was anything but destined for failure.”
Ed and Annette soon became business partners and travel companions. Ed lived and worked in New Jersey, while Annette was based in Minneapolis. Throughout the fiscal year, both Ed and Annette would travel to Denver, home of US West for conferences, meetings and other work-related events. They often went out to eat with their co-workers, but sometimes it would be just the two of them.
When they were alone, they would share stories about their upbringings and remark on the surprising similarity of their experiences, despite their geographical differences. “They couldn’t be more like night and day,” Ed says, reflecting on the differences between rural and urban America, “and yet we had this instant, values-based ability to communicate.” Both attribute their connection to their Catholic upbringings and to what Annette calls a shared “culture,” but Ed thinks it’s more than that. “It’s like what Tevye says in Fiddler on the Roof when he talks about tradition,” he reflects, “that notion of a sort of common stream of experience.”
They continued meeting this way for three years. One night while on a business trip, Annette remembers Ed calling her up and asking her to dinner. “That felt like our first date,” she says. Although both remember the date, neither can explain why or how they started dating. Ed was adamant that their previous meals together while on business trips “weren’t dates.” Annette adds, “It kind of evolved from there.” In the end, they both agree, “It just blended.”
“It felt very natural,” Ed reflects, “not like something either of us were necessarily searching for.” But Annette’s face lights up with a playful smile as she says, “I think you were searching for me.”
Not long after they started dating, Ed was assigned to a new project based full-time in New Jersey. Annette was still working in Minneapolis, so the two maintained a long-distance relationship. Luckily, Annette remarks with a laugh, “our telephone calls were basically free.”
Much of their relationship benefited from this type of luck, or as Ed says, “serendipitous blessings.” After he accepted his new assignment and the two had been dating for about a year and a half, Annette was offered a rotational position at Ed’s company in New Jersey. Ed, who is quick to brag about Annette’s accomplishments, notes that she became “the first and highest-level technical woman executive in our company.” Not long after, Ed and Annette were officially engaged. “I maintain he proposed to me fairly early in the process,” Annette teases, while Ed chimes in, “Objection!”
Annette remembers the day well. They were sitting at a restaurant one calm summer afternoon in Chicago’s famous Navy Pier, enjoying the light breeze coming from Lake Michigan, when Ed turned to Annette and asked, “Do you think you could spend the rest of your life with me?” While Ed claims the question was “simply a hypothetical,” Annette is confident that on that beautiful afternoon in Chicago, “I was proposed to.”
When the real proposal came a year and a half later in 1991, they were eager to make their vows official. They married later that year and then quickly moved into their new home, which they started building together during their engagement. “From day one,” Ed says, “we were always building our own nest.”
Throughout the course of their relationship, Ed and Annette would eventually build five new homes together. They moved all around the country, from New Jersey to Denver where Ed and Annette both worked at US West. A few years later, they both retired, but Ed was eager to fulfill another lifelong dream. At the age of 55, he enrolled in law school and the couple relocated to New Hampshire. They later returned to Denver, and Ed joined Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) for a few years, before moving to Las Cruces, Mexico, where Ed decided to practice law on and off for a few more years.
After he finally retired for good, the couple moved to Sanibel, where they have been year-round residents since 2013. “We are fairly unpredictable,” Ed says. Annette jokes that she does not necessarily include herself in that statement. “He gets bored easily and wants to go do something new,” she remarks, “and I, for the most part, have come along.”
On Sanibel, Ed and Annette have wholeheartedly embraced their community. Annette became the president of San-Cap Catholics for four years and still serves on the board alongside her responsibilities as treasurer of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. Ed is president of their homeowner’s association and is also a board member of San-Cap Catholics. He also served on the board of Sanibel’s Community Housing and Resources and is a former vice president of the St. Isabel’s Men’s Society.
Ed believes that after moving all around the country together, “we have mastered the notion of how to meet and greet people.” Annette notes how getting involved is about more than getting to know people and keeping busy. “It’s about giving back to the community and being a part of the community that we are in,” she says.
Ed and Annette also value time spent with their family. Ed has three children from his first marriage, and the couple together have six grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way. In her free time, Annette enjoys sewing baby blankets in anticipation. Additionally, the couple value their two new puppies, Kobe and Piper, as members of the family.
As Ed and Annette prepare to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, they still look at each other as if they are newly in love. Annette reflects on how she loves her husband’s smile and infectious sense of humor. When asked what he likes most about Annette, Ed turns to look at his wife. “I think about you as absolutely a part of me now,” he reflects. “Even when you’re out of the house on an errand, I feel like a part of me is missing.”
Francesca Block is a resident of Sanibel and a student at Princeton University, studying journalism, public affairs, international relations and Chinese.