Aide defies odds and gets the girl

As Jason Batts knows, sometimes it pays to be patient and, well, perhaps a little foolish.

In the first year that he began pursuing Tonia Stroud, a girl two years his junior at the small high school they attended in Hickman County, Ky., she rebuffed him several times.

But as in all dramatic love stories that survive rocky beginnings, Batts persevered. He continued to ask her out even though she continued to say no — again, and again, and again. At one point she relented and agreed to go to prom with Batts, but only as friends.

Why put up with such madness?

“I don’t know. Call me crazy, but I just knew there was something there,” says Batts, 24, a staff assistant for Rep. Anne Northup (R-Ky.), adding that all of her no’s became a running joke at school.

Still, he told himself, “I just knew it was meant to be.”

Much to everyone’s surprise, Stroud, now 21, eventually dumped the boyfriend she had been dating, realizing that being with Batts, her best friend, was what she wanted all along. Like many in the same situation, she feared romance could ruin the friendship and agonized over whether taking that step was the prudent thing to do.

“I was so confused about what I wanted,” she says, explaining that the entire time she was dating her ex-boyfriend she and Batts were inseparable. “I would call my boyfriend in the evening and say, ‘Jason and I are going to the movies,’ and he was fine, never got upset, never got jealous or anything.”

One month after Batts and Stroud began dating in earnest, she discovered that she was in love with him. At the time, her father was dying of cancer and Batts was at the house spending time with her family. Stroud eavesdropped in the hallway as Batts comforted her grandmother, saying if she needed to talk he was there to listen.

“I just burst into tears,” Stroud recalls. “I immediately fell in love with him. It was a split second.”

A day later, her father died.

In the summer of 2004, Batts came to Washington to intern at the White House. He returned to Kentucky after the internship to finish his senior year at Morehead State University, where Stroud is still a student.

In May 2005, Batts graduated and moved to D.C. to work for Northup. The couple make the seven-hour car trip, sometimes over dangerous snowy mountains, to visit each other once a month.

Since beginning his job with Northup, Batts has been saving up for a ring for Stroud, and it hasn’t been easy. The past several months have involved many quiet nights home alone. “My roommates think I’m a 60-year-old man in a 24-year-old body because I sit home every Friday night,” he says. “I just wanted to be able to afford the wedding ring.”

The proposal culminated in an elaborate plan that Batts executed Dec. 20 in the Capitol’s majestic Sanctuary Hall. For four weeks prior, he had been in intense negotiations with the Capitol Police and the Sergeant at Arms Office. He wanted to demonstrate the room’s characteristic echoing feature.

But as the plan came together, Batts learned that “there are no secrets in Washington.” He kept his co-workers informed and endured their questions leading up to the big moment, such as “Where is she? Will she say yes? Are you nervous? Do you want us there?”

Somehow Batts did not envision himself down on one knee with Team Northup cheerleading in the background as he popped the question. As nervous as he was, he proceeded alone to the Capitol with his girlfriend on the fateful day, hoping everything would go as planned. “A part of me feared that my planning and hard work would be in vain, but all fears were quickly silenced after hearing a female police officer whisper to her partner, “That’s him!”

With the room cleared and silent, Batts asked her to marry him, to which she shrieked and said, “Are you serious?” before saying yes.

Six years have passed since the couple first met. Batts insists that he has fully recovered from the trauma of all the rejection early on. He says that her yes answer to his proposal sufficiently makes up for the 11 months of hearing her say no.