Dan and Pat Tomberlin consider themselves experts in travel, art and love, as they should—the pair has chased jobs in the creative field all over the world during their 45 years together.
The Tomberlins met in Columbus, Ga., after Dan had just returned from his deployment in Vietnam. They lived in the same apartment complex and bonded over their shared love for art and adventure.
Dan Tomberlin said they had instant chemistry, and he knew the bond was something special from their first date.
“It was an instant karma, instant chemistry,” Tomberlin said. “Maybe love at first sight, I don’t know.”
After only three months of dating, Dan and Pat decided to get married and begin the rest of their lives together. Soon after, they moved out of Georgia for Dan’s new job in Colorado as a museum curator.
Art has always been part of both of their lives, and it has also been the focus of Dan’s career. He has spent his lifetime curating for museums, working for advertising agencies and teaching art. During this time, Pat would often stay home with the couple’s two kids or work part-time.
This dynamic changed 10 years ago, when Dan suffered a heart attack and underwent open heart surgery. The surgery caused a financial struggle for their family, and Pat picked up as many odd jobs as she could while taking care of Dan.
“She fed me, she bathed me, she communicated for me when I couldn’t speak,” Dan said. “I didn’t come out of a coma for three or four weeks, and the entire time, she talked to me, and my soul could hear her.”
The heart attack not only changed the dynamic of their relationship, but also the way Dan practiced his art. He was unable to work, so he spent weeks locked in his basement, creating abstract, colorful pieces that were the opposite of the measured, mostly black-and-white pieces he had spent his life creating.
“I saw something shift in him,” Pat Tomberlin said. “After the surgery, he started creating art for himself, and not anyone else.”
Dan Tomberlin began painting abstract portraits of Pat and his two granddaughters, portraying them as princesses, queens or superheroes—whatever it took to make them happy and give him a creative outlet.
His most recent works includes Volkswagen Beetles, psychedelic colors and abstract shapes. For the first time, Tomberlin is selling his work in galleries, including the Hall House Art Gallery in Dahlonega, Ga.
Dan Tomberlin said that over the years, his inspiration to keep going no matter the circumstances has remained the same: Pat. He said that if they weren’t together, he may not have had the courage to chase his creative endeavors and live all over the world.
“She has always been a friend, not just a spouse,” Tomberlin said. “We’ve always been able to talk to each other. You have to find somebody like that.”
Pat Tomberlin agrees. She said the reason they have been so happy is due to their friendship and open communication.
“I don’t know how to describe our relationship, because we just get along,” Tomberlin said. “It’s been like a rollercoaster ride, but even the bad times are good.”
Rosemary Scott is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. This story was produced during the 14th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop in Dahlonega, Georgia.
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