If sharing common interests is what creates a strong relationship, then the glue that bonds Carol and Sallie Wyatt-Woodell is their mutual call to community involvement.
It was as close as it gets to love at first sight when the two met at a board meeting for Kindred Spirits seven years ago. Sallie sat on a committee that appointed Carol as a volunteer to perform fundraising development tasks for the foundation, and that’s when the sparks first flew.
“Sallie showed up uncharacteristically late to a meeting. Instantly our eyes met, and there was a click. I proceeded to flirt shamelessly through the entire meeting. We talked afterwards, and then both got in our cars to leave,” Carol recalls. “Two blocks later, we stopped our cars in the middle of the street, and I asked Sallie out. Sallie said she only accepted the invitation because she thought my car would get stolen. We were kissing before the night was over, and we haven’t been apart since.”
Both agree that meeting professionally while serving the community helped solidify their interest in each other. “The way we met was a great way to filter through what was important,” Sallie explains. “We didn’t have to meet at a bar or a blind date; we got to see each other as active participants in the community.” Carol adds, “How we spoke of and championed our opinions, and behaved as community leaders, made an impression on each other.”
Volunteering had always been a central part of their lives before they met, and it continues well into their fifth year of married life.
“In relationships, it’s common to see one person who is visible in the community [while the other person is] a silent partner. With us, we’re both active and involved, both together and on our own,” Carol says.
Sallie, 42, started volunteering in her early 30s, while Carol, 65, started in her early 40s. The list of organizations that they dedicate their spare time to is a who’s-who of the city’s most prestigious queer-focused nonprofits.
Carol is the creator and manager of Social Notes Houston, a website and email list that provides information about the goings-on of Houston’s lesbian community. She has volunteered for Pride Houston, where she held the titles of Vice President and then President. She also worked as a table captain co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign’s Houston Gala, and as a board member and event chair for 0utReach United.
Sallie currently serves as president for Out for Education, and as the director of volunteers for OutReach United. She previously served as secretary for the Diana Foundation, which is the longest-running LGBTQ nonprofit in the United States. She also spent time working with the Victory Fund’s Houston branch.
Through the years, Sallie and Carol have opened their home to host holiday parties that benefited various LGBTQ nonprofit organizations by raising thousands of dollars each year. Together, they served as table captain co-chairs for the Montrose Center Spring Gala in 2015 and 2016, and they are resuming that role for this year’s event.
Their dedication to the community hasn’t gone unnoticed. Both women were voted Female Grand Marshal of the Houston Pride parade—Carol in 2010, and Sallie in 2017.
In addition to their unwavering support of the LGBTQ community, they have an affinity for animal rescue and adoption. They share their northwest Houston home with three dogs and two cats, and are also in the final stages of planning their second annual From Rescue to Runway event to support Houston K-911 Rescue. It involves a puppy fashion show, a silent auction, and the chance to rub elbows with Houston’s animal enthusiasts. The charity event takes place from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 8 at Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, 11410 Hempstead Road.
“We just saw it as a chance to do something that we’re good at to help them. We’ve adopted two dogs from this rescue, and it was close to our hearts,” Sallie says. Carol adds, “It was a chance to take the skills we’ve built in the gay community, create a new event, and produce it on the fly for a different audience. It’s a labor of love.”
Both women maintain full-time careers in addition to all of their volunteer work, so taking an occasional vacation can look quite tempting to the couple.
“We enjoy traveling to the Rocky Mountains. Colorado is our spiritual home,” they say. “Because we both lead busy lives, any night we can spend at home in front of a fire with our animals and a glass of wine is an absolute treat.”
Committing to make time for each other is also a way they keep their relationship nurtured, and keeping a shared calendar helps them find down time for each other. “What we have done since the beginning of our relationship is schedule [our individual activities] on each other’s calendars. Then when we both have a free night, that is our date night. We have a date night every week,” Sallie notes.
As active as these women are, they are also looking toward the future and creating a long-term plan to hand the torch to the next wave of Houston philanthropists.
“I’d like to mentor the next generation of volunteers. I’d like to see them step up. We need their ideas, energy, and passion. We’re seeing that at the polls, and we need to see it at the small nonprofits as well,” Sallie says. “We’d like to find the people who want to volunteer, and help them understand that this will be good both socially and for business. Volunteering will make a difference in their lives.”
This article appears in the February 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.