Kelly Irish is the perfect example of how getting fired from a job doesn't necessarily have to be the end of the world. It can, in fact, be the beginning of something much bigger and better. When she found herself sitting across from her boss and hearing the words "You're fired," the last thing she expected was that she would one day be standing across from the same man under a wedding canopy hearing the words, "I do."
It was work at an assisted living facility that split them up, and it was that same work that eventually brought them back together. "We bonded over our love for the residents," says Irish. But they had to take quite the roller coaster ride to get to that point.
Irish thought her potential new boss, Casey O'Keefe, was matter-of-fact yet extremely handsome when she first interviewed for her job as an activities director at the soon-to-be-completed West Winds Assisted Living Facility in Zephyrhills, Florida. O'Keefe's family owned the business, and he thought Irish was competent and qualified, but annoyingly cheerful. He hired her anyway.
Quickly, Irish resigned from the job she had at the time, which paid more and had better benefits, but wasn't as satisfying. She would be training in the other O'Keefe family facilities until the new building was completed. She loved the work and was confident she was doing a good job when O'Keefe notified her he wanted to meet with her. She was sure he was going to tell her how well she was doing.
"I was speechless and appalled when he told me they were letting me go after only about four months," she remembers. It seems construction was running behind, and the new facility wasn't ready yet. Since there were no residents to plan activities for, keeping her on would be pointless.
Irish was down but not out. She immersed herself in her volunteer work. She was on the local hospital board, a Meals on Wheels leader, and was active with the local Chamber of Commerce. "This is a small community where people know more about which cow you own than which car you own," she says. "I know everybody I see when I go shopping at Super Walmart." She knew she would run into O'Keefe again, but when she did, she was stunned.
She'd decided to spend some of her down time to work on her personal life, and signed up on the dating website PlentyofFish.com. Wouldn't you know it, O'Keefe kept popping up as the best match for her within 25 miles. "You've got to be kidding!" she said to herself. "That's the guy who fired me!"
She can't explain why she decided to correspond with him, and he didn't understand either. "This is a small town," she told him. "We need to be friends or one of us has to move, and I've been here longer."
In the meantime, Irish took a job as a 911 dispatcher with the local police department. When Irish and O'Keefe started seeing each other socially, they found there was actually great chemistry and they balanced each other quite well. They dated for several months before the demands of both their jobs became too much for the relationship. They were working long shifts and there just wasn't enough time to spend together.
After several months, O'Keefe called Irish saying the new facility was finally finished, and wanted to know if she knew of anyone who might be interested in taking the job she'd been hired for earlier. "I would be interested in applying again!" she said, knowing that as a 911 dispatcher she had to be unemotional and detached, where as in an assisted living residence she could hold a resident's hand and take the time to work them through their problems.
"I had to interview all over again," she said. "I dressed up in a suit and was very professional, and he said he appreciated that because if we were working together, we'd never be able to date again."
That lasted only a few weeks. "I saw him teaching a resident how to use the cappuccino machine. He was so tender and sweet with her -- as if she was his own grandmother. Tears came to my eyes." They began dating again, but very quietly, attempting to keep it secret from their colleagues and the residents. They didn't fool them for long, however.
O'Keefe blew the lid off their little secret when he proposed to her, in front of everyone. As the center's marketing and business director, Irish was hosting a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in the dining room at West Winds, talking about how it was a family owned business, when O'Keefe piped up from the back of the room, "Hey Kelly -- since we're family owned and operated, why don't you marry me?" He hadn't planned to propose that way -- he hadn't planned to propose that day. But he just couldn't contain himself.
From that point on, the relationship became a family affair, and the family included all the residents. "We fell in love through them. We wanted to include them in everything, so we had the wedding right there. They helped decorate and gave us wedding advice. One made me a garter by hand. Another gave me a dancing lesson," she recalls. "When they suggested Casey wear a kilt, he ditched his tux and took their advice."
Even their dogs were involved. Irish and O'Keefe have rescued six, and five of them are therapy dogs who help out at the center. They were dressed up and part of the wedding party, enjoying the Frank Sinatra music they played at the wedding reception along with everyone else.
"What brought us back together after that very rocky start was our love for the people we work with," says Irish, as of last Saturday Irish O'Keefe. "It's really wonderful to be able to work with the ones you love so much." This is one of those rare cases where an unhappy ending leads to a joyous beginning.
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