(CNN) --

On September 3, 1971, the arrivals hall at John F. Kennedy International Airport was packed. In the crowd was Linda Ford, 24, clinging to her suitcase, her life about to change forever.


But right then, at that precise moment, Linda wasn't aware that she was on the brink of something. At that point, she was just feeling "pretty tired."

Linda was at JFK airport before starting a year of teaching at the City University of New York. She was excited about the idea of ​​continuing her academic career and getting to know a new city, but moving to the other side of the Atlantic was overwhelming.

  • This tribute to classic New York photography is not for the weak

Linda didn't know anyone in the United States. Although she had already left her home in the southeast of England (she spent time as a graduate student in Paris researching the French Revolution), New York seemed especially distant to her. The transatlantic flight was the longest of her life. Linda landed with a lot of jet lag and some fear.

"New York is a wonderful city," Linda tells CNN Travel today. "But it's a little scary for someone who hasn't been there before, a woman alone."

Here is New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, photographed in 1971, the year Linda met George there. Credit: John Rooney/AP

But Linda was looking for someone in the arrivals hall: George Porter. He was a stranger, a man she had never met, but he was a friend of a friend who had agreed to meet her after the flight.

advertising

Linda knew very little about George. But after an acquaintance put them in touch, they exchanged a couple of transatlantic letters. In Linda's note, she detailed exactly what she would be wearing when she arrived at JFK airport, thinking that that information would help George locate her.

"I'll be wearing a pink and white top, paired with beige pants," she wrote.

"I have no idea what I'm going to wear," George replied.

Linda arrived in New York "in precisely the clothes I described." At the airport, she looked around her, searching the crowd of people. Then her eyes landed on two men, side by side, looking at her expectantly.

One was tall, dark, with a mustache and a smile on his face. The other was a handsome Air France employee, dressed in the airline's uniform.

"Is it Linda Dean?" the brunette asked. She had a southern American accent.

The second man greeted her then. She had a French accent.

Linda looked from one man to the other, perplexed.

"I was in the strange situation of arriving at a busy airport, in a country I had never visited, and being greeted by not just one, but two very nice young men," Linda recalls today.

The brunette with the mustache "was George," Linda points out.

The one from Air France was the unexpected one. It was Jean-Claude, another friend of a friend whom she had never seen, also there, unexpectedly, to greet Linda. Jean-Claude was married to the cousin of a girl Linda had met in Paris.

"I don't remember exactly how he found out that I was arriving on that flight, presumably he had the means to look for it. But he had also come to meet me," Linda remembers. "He was a charming Frenchman."

Jean-Claude, when he realized that George and Linda had an agreement beforehand, withdrew, saving Linda the discomfort of choosing between two airport guides.

“This potentially quite confusing situation was resolved very amicably,” says Linda. "George would accompany me to New York."

So Linda and George said goodbye to Jean-Claude. George took Linda's suitcase. And they left together for Manhattan.

  • 13 strangers who were stranded at an airport embarked on a road trip together a year ago. This is how their lives changed

Welcome to New York

Linda arrived in New York excited to embark on a new chapter. Credit: Courtesy of G. Porter and Dr. LM Porter

Like Linda, George Porter had also moved to New York. He grew up in a small town in Arkansas and moved to the northeast to work as an architect.

In the early 1970s, New York was an "exciting place" and there were "a lot of new things" for 27-year-old George.

But although he liked the city and everything it offered, George felt that New York would be more fun "to share with someone."

"I just hadn't found exactly the right person to do it," George tells CNN Travel today.

An old high school friend from Arkansas put George in touch with Linda: this friend was dating someone in Linda's wider circle in Paris. She wrote to George and asked if she could meet Linda at the airport on September 3, 1971. In her note, the friend told George something about Linda, describing her intellect, her ambition and her sense of adventure.

"Linda seems like the kind of person I might end up really liking, because I really like smart women," George says.

"It seemed kind of fun," George recalls, adding that he was also "fascinated by the idea of ​​someone from England, from Europe."

  • “Love is everything”: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary

At JFK, he looked at young blondes who could be Linda, discarding them when they weren't wearing the required pink and white top. She then noticed that Jean-Claude, the Air France employee, was also approaching the women and also asking them if they were Linda Ford.

"Then we realized we were both waiting for the same person," George says.

When George first saw Linda walking through the crowd toward him, he was immediately struck by her, thinking she was "pretty pretty."

Linda, for her part, thought George "seemed very charming."

And despite the unusual nature of their meeting at the airport, and the Jean-Claude thing in the process, Linda and George felt instantly comfortable with each other. Together they boarded a bus that took them into the city, to Linda's temporary lodgings downtown. It was nighttime and Linda was exhausted from the trip, so George left her to rest, but not before asking if she wanted him to show her around New York City the next day.

Linda accepted, so on September 4, 1971, she and George toured the length and breadth of Manhattan together, talking, sightseeing, and getting to know each other.

George Porter was from Arkansas. When he met Linda, he had just moved to New York and was excited to find someone to share the city with. Courtesy of G. Porter and Dr. LM Porter

They realized, as Linda says, that they had a "similar outlook on life." They were both “politically and socially conscious,” she says, and “there was a kind of natural attraction.”

George loved seeing the city that had captured his heart through Linda's eyes. It was clear that Linda quickly fell in love with New York as well.

"I remember taking a taxi to the theater in New York at night and seeing all the skyscrapers lit up," Linda says. She remembers that she was "captivated."

"We were both captivated by New York City," says George. "We were fascinated by it."

  • Two strangers met on a dance floor in New York 24 years ago. This is what happened next

George and Linda were also captivated by each other. The days passed and they continued spending all the moments they could together. George took Linda on the Staten Island Ferry, not to visit Staten Island, but to take in the spectacular views of the city skyline from the water.

"It's a wonderful way to see the island of Manhattan," says Linda. "Then later, probably not that first weekend, but not too long after, we took a boat tour that goes around the island, and takes you right next to the Statue of Liberty."

The romantic connection between Linda and George "just happened," Linda says. "And pretty fast, I have to say, too."

A week or so after Linda's arrival at JFK, Linda and George shared their first kiss in George's apartment one night.

"I think if you share interests and have a fairly outgoing personality, which is the case for both of us, things come naturally," Linda says.

"George was very handsome, and still is. But he was. My friends at home were very impressed, as you can imagine."

George and Linda fell in love in bustling New York in the 1970s. They toured the city's museums, went to the theater, relaxed in Central Park and walked hand in hand through the streets.

The first month Linda was there was hot and humid, but October was "beautiful." As the leaves on the trees in Central Park turned bronze and gold, Linda and George grew closer and closer.

Meanwhile, Linda adjusted to her job at the university: the commute was long, but the work was interesting and rewarding. She found an apartment on Third Avenue in Manhattan, which she shared with two new friends, Penny and Patty.

Meanwhile, George lived downtown, in an apartment he calls "not the best in the world," where not only himself lived, but also a bunch of cockroaches and an old waterbed left by the previous hippie tenant.

New York was no longer the epicenter of the counterculture it had been ten years earlier: "now all the hippies were on the West Coast," says George.

"But New York was, in a way, a little more authentic, a place where a lot of things happened," George says. "It was a very, very exciting place at that time."

Mutual commitment

George and Linda loved hosting parties. Here is one of the innovative ways they had to send invitations to parties. Courtesy of G. Porter and Dr. L.M. Porter

About six weeks after Linda arrived in New York, her father came to town on business. Linda was glad to have the opportunity to introduce her to George.

"I told him that George had been taking me around and that we were enjoying each other's company," he recalls. "It was nice that they met pretty early in our relationship."

When Christmas came, George invited Linda to spend the holidays with him and meet his family.

By then, Linda was just getting used to New York City. The small Arkansas town was another culture shock, but Linda found it fascinating, with hers "very pretty scenery, mountains and pine forests, and all that and the lakes."

George's parents gave Linda a warm welcome. They were excited to see her son so happy and were fascinated by Linda's stories about life in the UK. George's mother proudly told her friends that the young couple was "engaged just to be engaged."

George and Linda dismissed the comments, but it was true that they saw a shared future. So in the spring of 1972 they moved in together. They loved waking up every day in the same little apartment and spending long evenings around the city.

But this happiness had a time limit: Linda's work visa only allowed her to stay in the United States for one year. Her stay in New York had a definitive end.

That's how the conversation about marriage began. There wasn't a big romantic proposal, but for George and Linda, the moment was still romantic simply because the decision to get engaged was so obvious to both of them.

Here are George and Linda on their wedding day. Courtesy of G. Porter and Dr. LM Porter

"When you meet someone with whom you have very similar interests and points of view, it occurs to you that maybe it would be wise to spend the rest of your life with that person," says Linda.

Linda and George flew to the United Kingdom to get married in the summer of 1972. They were married in Sevenoaks, Kent, England, where Linda's parents lived. It was a small celebration. Linda's wedding dress was inspired by a design she had seen in a New York magazine, made by someone in the UK.

Linda says the wedding day felt like "the completion of a year of growing closer to each other."

"I was as excited as I could be," says George, but adds that he thought of the wedding day more as a "public commitment."

"I think we had been engaged privately before," he says.

"Yes, we had," Linda agrees.

Newly married, Linda, who adopted George's last name, becoming Linda Porter, returned to the United States, landing again at JFK airport. It had been less than a year since she had met George in the busy arrivals hall. Now they walked through the airport together, starting a new chapter.

Linda and George moved into a new apartment in Manhattan, on West End Avenue, between Riverside Park and Broadway. They organized big parties and invited their friends until the wee hours of the morning. They still loved New York. They went to the theater, saw concerts, and spent afternoons in art galleries.

  • A couple couldn't make it to a Las Vegas wedding chapel on time. Instead, they got married on a Southwest flight

Transfer to the other side of the Atlantic

Here is Linda in 1978 in New York, when she was pregnant with her daughter. Courtesy of G. Porter and Dr. LM Porter

In 1975, Linda and George welcomed their daughter, who spent her early years as a New Yorker, until the family moved to the United Kingdom in 1979.

Several factors influenced this decision. On the one hand, Linda felt that her academic career had stalled, she was still working part-time and was not sure where she would go. Meanwhile, New York City was bankrupt, George remembers, so architectural jobs were suddenly scarce.

Additionally, George and Linda weren't sure they wanted to raise their daughter in the city, but they also didn't love the idea of ​​moving to the New Jersey suburbs.

"Why don't we try living in the UK?" George suggested one day. So in 1979 they packed their bags, shipped their most prized possessions across the Atlantic and moved to Sevenoaks, the hometown of Linda's parents, where they had married.

George was enthusiastic about living in the United Kingdom, and his mother, rather than objecting to her son crossing the Atlantic, was delighted.

"I hated New York," George says. "But she was delighted with the south of England."

Upon returning to the UK, Linda left the world of academia and worked in a company for 22 years.

But later, when her daughter grew up, Linda returned to her first love: research and writing. She has since written five history books focusing on British Tudor history and the sixth is scheduled to be published in June 2024.

Five decades of love and support

George and Linda celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary this year. Here they are at their home in Sevenoaks, UK, remembering their wedding day. Credit: Max Burnell/CNN

George and Linda, now in their 70s, continue to live happily in Sevenoaks, UK.

Meanwhile, his daughter, now an adult, is married, has two teenage daughters and lives in Switzerland. Linda and George are proud of their international family.

"If your parents come from different countries, it's not so scary to move somewhere else," says Linda.

The family gets together when they can: sometimes in the UK, sometimes in Switzerland, and occasionally on holiday elsewhere in the world. Linda and George haven't been to the United States for a while, but a few years ago, Linda and George's daughter took her children to New York, and they retraced the steps of her grandparents' first meeting.

This year, Linda and George will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary.

"People often think there's some secret," Linda says of her decades of happiness.

"I think in our case, it's a combination of having similar interests, but also quite different backgrounds, which can produce a kind of positive tension, so to speak." Linda adds that marriage is "a journey."

"And like all journeys, sometimes it has twists and turns, but the end is always that you are together," Linda says.

"I'm very grateful for that," agrees George, adding that long marriages encompass many different phases.

"I'm almost 80 years old, I'm not like I was when Linda first saw me," he says, although he still has his mustache.

"There have been a number of transitions; I would tend to say our marriage has never been the same from one year to the next. It has constantly evolved."

But over the years, through the phases and transitions, one of the pillars of Linda and George's marriage has been the "support" they give each other, as George puts it.

Recalling their meeting at the airport five decades later and the series of chance events that led to their meeting, Linda reflects that she doesn't believe much in coincidences. Both she and George believe that "life is what you make of it" and are big advocates of the importance of "following your gut" and committing to making something work when it feels right.

Still, the couple laughs when they remember Linda setting foot on American soil for the first time and encountering two men waiting for her in the arrivals hall at JFK Airport.

“Jean-Claude was very nice,” George says, laughing. "But I was the one who married her."