February 4, 2020 Atlanta - Portrait of Kimberley Kennedy and her husband Kent Elsbree at their home on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. Kimberley Kennedy, a WSB-TV reporter and host, made national news two decades ago when her fiancé Lew Dickey (who ran Atlanta-based Cumulus Media) stood her up the day before the wedding. She parlayed this humiliation into a book "Left at the Altar" and remained single for many years. A few years ago, she finally met the man of her dreams and she decided to write a book to inspire other women in their 50s who are single that it's not too late to find "your person." (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Kimberley Kennedy, jilted at the altar 23 years ago, writes a book about finding love later in life

Originally posted Friday, February 7, 2020 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Kimberley Kennedy in the spring of 1997 was at a wedding rehearsal inside Atlanta's St. Luke's Episcopal Church when her fiancé’s sister pulled her into the priest’s office. There, Lew Dickey gave her devastating news: “I just can’t do it.” 

Kennedy was a high-profile 11Alive anchor and Dickey ran Cumulus Media, which was soon to become one of the largest radio companies in America. 

The news became fodder for Star 94’s Steve & Vikki morning show, talk host Neal Boortz on WSB radio and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Peach Buzz column.

“It was publicly embarrassing,” Kennedy said recently at a Starbucks in Brookhaven. She recalled spending time with family and friends and “it was like watching your own funeral. Everyone was whispering. People were bringing food.” 

It took nearly two decades but she was able to find the right man to marry in 2016. She recently published a book about her journey and how to find love later in life called “Pick Up Your Mat.” ($14.99, available on Amazon)

“The title comes from the Bible,” Kennedy said. “Jesus and his disciples go to a healing pool in Bethesda. A crippled man was by the pool on a mat. Nobody would put him in. Jesus said you have to pick up your mat and walk. And he did.”

She said women in their 50s and 60s - divorced, widowed or never married - are often scared to pick up the mat and jump in the pool. “They reach a point where they think nobody cares about them anymore,” she said. “They want love but just sit on the sidelines. My bottom line is, ‘It’s never too late.’”

The book features anecdotes from other women who also found soulmates at a later age, questions for readers to ponder and encouraging advice galore. 

ATLANTA,GA.: Kimberley Kennedy when she hosted the WSB-TV show 'Hot Topics" from 2004. (JOEY IVANSCO/staff photo).
Photo: Joey Ivansco/AJC

But Kennedy, now 58, admitted the short-circuited wedding damaged her. She sought therapy. She prayed - a lot. She gradually healed from the pain. 

She recalled running into her former fiancé at OK Cafe and feeling okay about it. She was able to jokingly call what happened as the “altar-cation.” She focused on work, hosting a weekly entertainment show on WSB-TV.

In 2009, she wrote a self-help book called “Left at the Altar” which became a best seller. She was featured on ABC’s “Prime Time” and “Good Morning America.”

Kennedy remained single all those years, her fear of rejection hard to shake off even as she tried to date here and there. “I had this thought that men my age didn’t want women my age,” she said. 

For years, Kennedy focused much of her energy taking care of her ailing mom Angela, who was suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis and needed round-the-clock care. 

“She spent a lot of time in private despair,” said Nancy Tiller, a friend of hers going back to Agnes Scott College. 

Her mom passed in 2014 and Kennedy funneled her grief in part by working at CBS46. 

But work wasn’t enough. She looked herself hard in the mirror and realized she was lonely and needed “my person,” a partner to cuddle up with at night, to share her deepest thoughts with, to travel with. 

So with encouragement from friends, Kennedy put up a profile on Match.com under the pseudonym “Gracie’s mom,” named after her then seven-year-old cockapoo. 

Dating is a numbers game and a couple months into her hunt, she saw the photo of Kent Elsbree on the dating site. “It was the dimples,” she said. She “liked” the photo - a less direct way of making an overture. 

“It felt like sixth grade,” she said. “That was really bold for me. He emailed me back within the day.”

On a quiet Monday evening in July, 2016, they met for drinks at Terra Terroir, a New American bistro in Brookhaven.

February 4, 2020 Atlanta - Kimberley Kennedy and her husband Kent Elsbree react as they walk their dog Gracie on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. Kimberley Kennedy, a WSB-TV reporter and host, made national news two decades ago when her fiancé Lew Dickey (who ran Atlanta-based Cumulus Media) stood her up the day before the wedding. She parlayed this humiliation into a book "Left at the Altar" and remained single for many years. A few years ago, she finally met the man of her dreams and she decided to write a book to inspire other women in their 50s who are single that it's not too late to find "your person." (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Elsbree, 61, who runs a charter airline service, had been divorced for seven years and dabbled with Match.com for awhile to no avail. He said he had a simple methodology for first dates: one drink and if it’s not going well, cut out. If there’s potential, a second drink. If there’s warmth, hor d’oeuvres. And if there’s a real connection, a full meal.

In this case, the opening conversation was promising. Elsbree stepped out to go to the men’s room. The bartender, Kennedy recalled, asked how long they had been together. “Oh, about 20 minutes,” she said. The bartender replied, “It seems like you guys have been together forever.” He told Kennedy he had seen a lot of first dates in that spot and they aren’t usually this comfortable this quickly. 

They would eventually have a meal together and close out the restaurant. 

“She was real,” Elsbree said. “She wasn’t acting.”

A few days later, they visited the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and danced to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” off Elsbree’s Spotify on his phone. By coincidence, Joe Gransden and his Big Band played the same song during their next date: Friday Jazz at the High Museum. They then saw Kennedy’s favorite singer Josh Groban at Chastain. 

“It was finally finding someone I clicked with and enjoyed being with,” Kennedy said. “He’s a happy personality, no drama. Even his divorce was amicable. He’s smart and well read. We share the same politics. We never run out of things to  say. It’s easy. I don’t think relationships should be so much work.” 

In October, 2017, Elsbree proposed in New York on a little aluminum rowboat on the lake in Central Park. She was genuinely surprised. “I didn’t think he was really ready,” she said.

Six months later, they married on St. Simon’s Island at tiny Christ Church before fewer than 100 people. “It was different in every way from my first wedding that didn’t happen,” Kennedy  said. “I wanted just my closest people there, the people who had been on the journey with me. It was so meaningful. This was the wedding God had planned for me.”

At the reception, Gransden reprised their song “Fly Me to the Moon” live as they danced. 

“Absolute magic,” Elsbree said.

Over the past two years, their marriage has gone smoothly.

Donna Douglas Walchle, a close friend of Kennedy’s who married for the first time herself at age 60 in 2011, encouraged Kennedy to be open, even when there is inevitable conflict in a relationship. 

“When things come up as they do, Kent and Kimberley very quickly recognize the need to sit down and talk things  through,” Walchle said. “They can be real and raw about how they’re feeling. Their relationship is very healthy.”

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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