BY HELENA M. HEWLETT
To fall in love once and marry your best friend is an amazing feeling, a dream come true. Falling in love a second time, after all of your dreams are tragically shattered, is even more amazing. Those were the words of Kevin Houston, written in a letter submitted to “Live! With Kelly” around Christmas. Houston, who grew up in Pearl River, wrote to the show after hearing about their “Hawaiian Dream Wedding Giveaway” contest.
Houston and his fiancé, Eileen Bellew, also of Pearl River, had quite the story to share. As it turns out, it was just compelling enough to win them a free trip to Hawaii, all expenses paid, including food and lodging for 30 guests. The ABC show is also footing the bill for everything from the dresses, tuxes, the cake, catering, and all that a dream wedding could possibly entail. Their stories touched the hearts of viewers, who voted to make this couple’s dream wedding a reality.
Houston and Bellew attended Pearl River High School and lived in the same small town growing up, but ironically never met one another. Upon graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1987, Houston married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth (Liz). After 21 years of marriage filled with love and happiness, as well as three beautiful children, Liz lost a five-year battle with a rare illness in 2009. The couple’s children were 20, 16, and 13 at the time. Houston and his children had taken care of their beloved wife and mother, during the course of her disease as it slowly limited her life, once very full of teaching and working with children at summer camps. On January 3, 2009, Houston’s worst fears arrived, and he lost his dear wife.
“I was in such a dark place, and felt empty and alone,” Houston told The Rockland County Times. “It was so difficult to cope with, and also challenging to know how I could help my kids work through their emotions as well.”
Houston was blessed to meet many sympathetic people during this dark time through various support groups. Among them was Bellew, who had lost her husband of 10 years, in 2005. John Bellew was one of New York City’s brave and heroic firemen, and lost his life suddenly in the horrific Black Sunday fire in the Bronx in which six firefighters were forced to jump four stories to escape the flames.
Two passed away, and four were badly injured due to the leap, and later in the day another firefighter passed away in a Brooklyn fire, earning the day the name Black Sunday.
Black Sunday left behind Eileen as the sole parent of her four children, ages 6, 3, 2, and 5 months. Eileen was on maternity leave from her job as a science teacher in Pearl River at the time of her husband’s death.
Bellew was motivated by her strong, inspiring children despite the sadness she felt on a daily basis. She held onto the memory of John’s courage and bravery, pressing forward each day.
Houston and Bellew communicated through emails and phone calls for several months, encouraging one another and relating through their similar experiences of loss and grief. They became good friends, and finally met in person in July 2009, at Pearl River High School of all places.
“My brother was running a basketball camp, and Eileen’s children were attending,” Houston told The Rockland County Times. “That was the first time we met in person, and there was an instant spark.”
In October of 2009, the couple officially began dating. Houston recalls leaving their first dinner date and knowing that he would like to continue seeing Bellew. “We hit it off right away, and things moved pretty quickly from there,” he said.
After they got engaged in May 2011, Houston and Bellew were planning a warm July wedding for 2013. Within the last several weeks, those plans have completely been scrapped, and replaced with a much more tropical, inexpensive, nearly care-free agenda. On January 23, the winners for “Hawaiian Dream Wedding Giveaway” were announced on “Live! With Kelly” and Houston and Bellew found out that they had won by tuning in to the show.
“We found out just like everyone else. We did know that we were among the finalists, and we had tapped into all kinds of networks to gain votes, sending texts and emails, making phone calls, you name it. But we did not know that we’d won until they announced it on the air,” Houston said.
Ironically and bittersweetly, it was seven years ago to the day (January 23, 2005) that Bellew had turned on the news at 9 a.m. (same time that Live! airs) and heard the horrible news of the Bronx fire that her dear husband was killed in.
Houston and Bellew still see reminders of their former spouses on a daily basis, not only in their beautiful children, but also in symbolic ways. For Bellew, rainbows are a reminder of John, and for Houston, soaring hawks are reminders of Liz. The couple looks forward to flying to Hawaii on February 15, getting married on the 20, and then spending another six days on the island for a honeymoon together, all expenses paid covered by ABC.
“If you’ve ever heard the phrase that someone is ‘watching you like a hawk,’ that’s how I like to think of Liz,” Houston said. “We both found love once before, and we had truly amazing marriages. We were both happy and in great relationships. We were lucky to find it again.”