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Love stories: A College of Humanities and Sciences Valentine’s Day special feature

Happy Valentine's Day! To celebrate, we've profiled three couples who found love at CHS. Find out what made the sparks fly between these love birds.
Meredith Katz and Antonio Espinoza

Meredith Katz, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Antonio Espinoza, Ph.D., Department of History

It was at a Global Education Office reception in 2012 that Meredith Katz, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, and Antonio Espinoza, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History, first laid eyes on one another. “I remember thinking wow, that guy is smart. Smart is attractive,” says Meredith. Antonio was similarly smitten, “I thought she was beautiful and extroverted, and I liked both!”

It didn’t take long for Meredith to share her adventures of backpacking through Central America with Antonio, a native of Peru. “Pretty early, it was evident to me that she was smart, kind, a good conversationalist and politically progressive. All of these are important qualities to me,” says Antonio. A first date was arranged—salsa dancing at the now-defunct Richmond restaurant Balliceaux. “Antonio is definitely a good dancer. To be honest, I didn't really know how to dance salsa, but he did,” says Meredith. “I’m usually in bed by 10 p.m., but we stayed out dancing until the bar closed. I took that as a good sign.”

After three years of dating, the couple married in November of 2015 and had their son, Gabriel Amado, in July of 2017. The family loves to explore Richmond’s many parks, hit up the cafés and travel. And Gabriel, age two, has added many stamps to his passport—three countries!

When it comes to work, Antonio and Meredith consider themselves fortunate to be paired with a fellow academic. “I do think our conversations inform each other’s scholarly and pedagogical perspectives. Sometimes, we also read and make suggestions to what we have written toward research,” shares Antonio. Meredith agrees.

“Marx and Bourdieu are household names around here. It's really great to be able to share some common theoretical understandings across disciplines. Being with someone who I am intellectually compatible with is very important [to me],” says Meredith.

“Antonio knows so much about Latin American history, and I would even say he knows more about U.S. history than I do.”

They even find time to meet up on campus during the day. “Sometimes on a whim we'll get a salad at Roots and find a bench and eat lunch. That spontaneity is nice and I consider us very fortunate to be a dual academic couple who met at a place we were both already employed,” explains Meredith. Antonio agrees. “Because Meredith is such a smart person and great conversationalist, I just love to sit with her anywhere on campus and chat.”

“I love how inquisitive Antonio is. He is constantly reading and learning about new things,” says Meredith. “Antonio also asks, and continues to ask, good questions, both intellectually and emotionally.” As for what he loves most about Meredith, Antonio had a hard time choosing. “I love so many things about her. Nevertheless, I would mention her gorgeous eyes, her good heart and her generosity.”

Chandra Broadnax-Payne and Christopher Payne

Chandra Broadnax-Payne (B.S. ‘98/MC) and Christopher Payne (B.S. ‘98/MC)

The first thing Chandra Broadnax-Payne noticed about her classmate—and future husband—Christopher Payne was that he never stopped talking. “Chris and I had several classes together. He was always the teacher’s pet and asked lots of questions,” she says. “He would ask so many questions that we would get out of class late because he was so engaged. I remember thinking, I wish he would stop talking so much.” She laughs. Of course, his talking wasn’t the only thing Chandra noticed. “I also thought, he's really handsome and dresses really nice.”

Still it took a while before sparks started to fly between the couple. “When Chandra and I first met, I was just getting out of a relationship so I was really just focused on my classwork,” says Chris. “After a few months, we started talking more and became friends. I thought she was cute and cool—not a lot of drama.” An opportunity presented itself when Chris had to miss a few classes for an internship opportunity in California. Chris asked Chandra to take notes for him while he was away. When he returned, he asked her to lunch as a thank you and Chandra said … no.

“We technically didn’t go on a first date,” explains Chandra. “After I said no, he kept asking. I didn't want to date anyone at that time. My goal was to finish college and apply to graduate school with no distractions. I would be the first person on my mom's side of the family to graduate from college so that meant a lot to me. I eventually agreed, but I told him it wasn’t a date.” The couple headed to Byrd Park and then went out to eat. “For some reason, Chandra was insistent that we were just hanging out. It was fine with me because I really was just looking for someone to hang out with, have a good time and just chill,” says Chris. Luckily, Chris was persistent. Pretty soon after their first non-date, the couple started officially dating.

“Chris and I had several classes together. He was always the teacher’s pet and asked lots of questions...I remember thinking, I wish he would stop talking so much.”

In 2005, the couple married. Chris believes their relationship works because they are different. “While we share common interests and goals, we are opposite in a lot of ways,” explains Chris. “She does things at a fast pace. I’m slower … the way I drive, the way I talk. We complement each other well and I think that gives us balance.” Chandra also believes that it is their faith that is the secret to their happy marriage. “We put God first. We’re human so we don’t always agree, but we’ve learned to disagree in love,” she says. “At the end of the day, we work really hard at being kind to one another and remembering the love we have for one another.” They also have a lot of fun. “What a lot of people don’t know is that Chris is hilarious. He’s secretly a comedian,” says Chandra. “Life in the Payne household is full of prayer and laughter.”

Debbie Creger Vlahos and Gus Vlahos

Debbie Creger Vlahos (B.S. ‘83/H&S) and Gus Vlahos (D.D.S. ‘81/D)

Debbie was always drawn to dentistry. Her first job was working in her uncle’s dental practice in Lynchburg when she was 16. “Dentistry was very different, standing up chair-side at that time,” explains Debbie. “But I served as his assistant and was able to help with cleanings, extractions and some restorative work. I loved it, and my uncle really wanted me to go to dental school.”

So, when her friends told her about an open house at MCV for the dental school, Debbie tagged along. The tour guide that day was a current student, Gus Vlahos, and Debbie was immediately impressed. “He was a great guide and answered everyone’s questions,” said Debbie. “He was very enthusiastic about dentistry, and you could tell that he was a southern gentleman.” Gus was also taken by Debbie. “Debbie was a very intelligent young lady and asked important questions during the tour. I definitely wanted to see her again and get to know her better,” he says. Gus learned that Debbie was a VCU CHS student, and after the tour, was able to convince a female dental student to look her up. He then gave her a call and a date was arranged.

For their first date, the couple went to dinner at O’Brienstein’s at the Regency Mall, then took in “9-to-5” at the movie theater. That first date led to many more, and along the way, Debbie completed her B.S. in psychology and Gus received his D.D.S. They were married in 1983 and started working together that year. In 1991, Debbie received her dental hygiene degree.

For the last 35 years, Debbie and Gus have worked side-by-side while also managing their dental practice. While some couples couldn’t dream of working together (and staying married), for Debbie and Gus, it’s been a blessing.

“The secret and success of our partnership is in our opinion about being team players with great work ethics,” says Debbie. “It’s also important to never take office matters home with you.”

When the couple isn’t at the dental office, you can find them spending time with their family—a son, Christopher, and a daughter, Stephanie. They also just welcomed their first grandchild, Brooks, age two months.

The couple thinks fondly of their time at VCU. “I think life is planned by God, but I still think it’s funny that we met at the Larrick Center. What are the odds?” says Debbie. “I could have attended [University of] Lynchburg. Instead I went to VCU, had a lot of fun and met Gus.”

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