One of the best assignments I’ve ever had was calling the wives of the winners of our “Sarasota’s Hottest Husbands” contest this month to tell them the happy news. I knew the wives would be surprised and delighted to learn that their nomination was a winner, but when I talked to Joanne Willaredt I got a surprise of my own.
Willaredt told me she met her husband, Art, in Illinois in 1993. She was a teacher, and he was a retired snowbird who spent winters in Sarasota. One day, he told her he had something to ask her—and something to give her that would convince her to say yes. “Marry me and come to Sarasota!” he said. “It’s paradise.” Then he handed her a copy of Sarasota magazine. “I looked at your magazine and saw that it really was paradise,” she said with a laugh. “So I married him!”
Today Art is in a nursing home with Parkinson’s, but he’s as full of fun and life as ever, Joanne says; and she still feels the heat when she walks into his room. Theirs is just one of the many love stories that melted our hearts as we read the stacks of nominations that poured into our office from women who declared their hubby was Sarasota’s hottest.
Who are these guys? The nominees include doctors, real estate agents, two local TV personalities, firemen, an opera singer, developers, a prominent artist, a Mr. America weightlifter, CEOs and executive directors, an attorney, one of the town’s top executive chefs, a symphony conductor, a retired Naval commander, a professional model, the former star of a Hollywood sitcom, a long-distance truck driver, and retirees from careers in rescue diving, ballet dancing, advertising—and much more.
Whatever their background, most were certifiably—and often sizzlingly—hot. In many cases, that was clear from one look at their picture. We had bulked-up guys with burning gazes, suave dressers with sexy smiles, blue-eyed blonds in bathing suits, a Harrison Ford lookalike and distinguished gentlemen of a certain age who radiated confident charm. Many were in amazing shape—and why not, when they run marathons, kickbox, scuba dive, ski, practice martial arts and Bikram yoga and compete in everything from discus throwing to master’s swimming?
But even the guys who didn’t score high on hunkiness seemed hot once we read what their wives had to say about them. (I’m thinking of a chubby middle-aged man with what his wife described as “a beautiful bald head” who considers her two sons his own, leaves silly, sexy messages on her answering machine and gives great back rubs, too.)
Almost every single woman wrote that his actions and character, even more than his looks or charisma, make her husband truly hot. And to see these guys in action was inspiring. They shop for groceries, cook, clean, iron and even sew. They can fix anything that’s broken and build everything from furniture to a house. They take their wives boating, dancing, out to dinner, to the theater and opera and on romantic getaways (where they’re likely to cover the hotel bed with rose petals). They send flowers, buy jewelry—lots of jewelry—and rarely miss their children’s performances or games. They listen empathetically and talk openly, and they’re attentive to their mothers and their mothers-in-law as well. They work long hours to secure their family’s future, and when they come home they’ll watch a chick flick without complaining—then head to the bedroom for a night of tender passion. (As one lucky lady boasted, “Believe it or not, at 86, he’s still got that gleam in his eye!”)
But don’t take our word for it—just listen to what some of the wives had to say.
“He can wear a pair of overalls like no other man I’ve ever seen.”
“He’s a wonderful neighbor to a 95-year-old man who often calls for help.”
“He’s surprised me with jewelry appearing under the pillow, in the refrigerator or in the trunk of his car.”
“He actually has his own sewing machine.”
“What 53-year-old man can look great in a pareo on the beaches of Club Med or snowboarding down the back bowls of Vail, hell-bent on making another run before dark?”
“I’ve heard him sing in front of 18,000 people, but listening to him sing Baa-Baa Black Sheep to our two-year-old daughter is the sexiest thing in the world.”
“He is the official dog pooper picker upper for our golden retriever. He refuses to let me do that task.”
“He loves greeting cards and spends hours finding just the right one for me.”
“He reads Auto Week and Architectural Digest with equal fervor.”
“I’ve been fighting cancer for four years. He’s seen me with hair and without and thinks I look good either way. He’s been my Rock of Gibraltar.”
“He is an excellent veterinarian and does the best impression of a cat throwing up a hairball that I have ever seen.”
“He danced hula for me on our wedding anniversary, telling the story of our love.”
“He works so hard but yet he makes breakfast for his girls—egg white spinach omelettes with whole grain toast and fresh juice, all lined up on the counter ready to eat as my daughters and I are running out.”
“My hair always looks great and my butt never looks big!”
As we read about these perfect partners, we judges alternated between awe and (let’s be honest) stabs of envy; and by the time we’d worked our way through the pile, even the most cynical of us had regained our faith in love and marriage. Choosing the winners was a challenge—and a joy. If you think you can stand the heat, turn to page 78 and meet Sarasota’s Hottest Husbands.