It was a passion to serve and protect that brought — and keeps — this couple together.
Back as a student at Florida State University in the late 1970s, long before becoming chief of the Orlando Police Department then sheriff of the Orange County Police Department, Jerry Demings recalls meeting his future wife. Val Demings, however, has no such recollection.
They do agree on their first encounter in Orlando, on an investigation in 1984, when she was a first-year police officer taking an initial report and he was a detective following up on the case. In a meeting, she challenged some of the investigation's findings, not directed at Jerry but on his end.
"When she walked away, I said, 'That's a rookie asking the senior people why we're doing something?' … I was thinking she's pretty sure of herself," says Jerry, who became the county's first African-American elected sheriff in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012 following a stint as Orlando's first African-American police chief from 1998 to 2002.
Notably, that resolve would enable Val to became the first female chief of the Orlando Police Department in 2007.
After that meeting, their duties took them in separate directions. Eventually, and hesitantly, they did date but only after going out casually in groups. Friends began to recognize their attraction.
Ultimately, what united them was a common passion to serve the community, nurtured by similar backgrounds.
Growing up in Orlando, he is the youngest of five children; she is the youngest of seven from Jacksonville. Both mothers cleaned houses for a living. His dad drove a taxi. Hers was a gardener among other jobs. He had a brother who died of drug addiction. She has a disabled sister, cared for by another sister.
"That narrative is what defines who we are," says Jerry about their family histories.
For the record, Val emphasizes, there were no plans to date, much less wed, a police officer. "I married the only one I dated," she says with a laugh.
Serving the Orlando community, though, particularly its youth, has always been very serious business. Jerry and Val are concerned about young people not having better lives than their parents. And their work in law enforcement has only been part of that commitment.
"We are just on a mission right now to make sure that every child who lives in the country that we say is the greatest country in the world has the opportunity," says Val, who retired as police chief in 2011.
Her days remain filled with service and protection in the form of a United Way board membership and involvement in a variety of other local organizations. In addition, she is active on the political front, where she plans to run again later this year for the U.S. House of Representatives (10th District). In 2012, she lost to incumbent Daniel Webster.
Jerry is on the executive board of the Central Florida Boy Scouts of America and a board member of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida, among other organizations. Also, he is seeking re-election this year as county sheriff, which he says could be his final term.
There are the children, too: five grandchildren, along with their twin sons, 35, and, another son, 25. They all live in Orlando, so family life is a big deal.
Then they have their Harleys. Both are avid riders. To get away, they take to the back roads of Central Florida on motorcycle — together. Jerry perched on his Screaming Eagle and Val on her shiny red Road King Classic.
Yet, in this romance of 30 or so years between each other, and with the local community, there is plenty still to do.
They aren't quite ready to ride off into the sunset.