A most unusual love story

John Sager of Mercer Island holds up his book, “A Tiffany Monday,” which is a love story about him and his late wife, Joan. - Linda Ball/Staff Photo
John Sager of Mercer Island holds up his book, “A Tiffany Monday,” which is a love story about him and his late wife, Joan.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Staff Photo

John Sager first met and fell in love with Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) in the fall of 1935, when they both entered elementary school at Sumner Grade School, southeast of Tacoma. Joan didn’t know he was in love with her, but even at that tender age, he knew. Sager said at that time, about 1,900 people lived in Sumner.

“Her dad was the town doctor, and mine was the town lawyer,” Sager said. “I fell in love with the girl when I was 7, and never got over her.”

It would be 70 years later, but Joan did become his wife, their touching courtship chronicled in Sager’s new book, “A Tiffany Monday.” The title of the book is derived from Joan’s Tiffany fragrance that she wore. After one of their dates, he went to work wearing the shirt he’d had on the night before, the aroma of her perfume lingering on his shirt from a warm embrace the night before.

Sager, an intelligence officer who spent over 50 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, now lives in his self-proclaimed bachelor pad and Joan’s Gallery in Covenant Shores. Joan died June 23, 2011, from breast cancer, which came back after over 15 years, but Alzheimer’s had also set in one and a half years before she died. They had just over five years together as husband and wife. It’s clear she was the love of his life.

“The neurologist at Swedish thought it was Alzheimer’s, and so did the Hospice nurses who were so wonderful,” Sager said.

The two went through the Sumner School District together, and even attended the University of Washington at the same time. Sager would discover later that Joan’s sorority house was 300 yards or less from his fraternity house.

Joan received her bachelor’s degree in painting, Sager said, and he earned degrees in international relations and the Russian language.

“I figured we’d either be fighting or trading with the Russians, so I figured I’d better learn about them,” Sager said. “It made it really easy to get into the CIA.”

But back to Joan’s Gallery. She would go on to become an accomplished visual artist, working in various mediums including batik, watercolors, some oils, acrylic and multi-media work. On display in Sager’s Covenant Shores apartment are 62 of (he doesn’t even know how many) Joan’s paintings. He said there are a number of paintings at her Mercer Island home, where she had lived since 1953. Her art has been shown in many area galleries; Sager said Joan was a huge supporter of the arts. She was the secretary for the Bellevue Arts Museum’s Guild, and Sager said Joan was instrumental in the museum’s “resurrection.”

“A Tiffany Monday” is a collection of email exchanges between the two from the spring and summer of 2005 before they married in Honolulu Nov. 25, 2005. In February 2005, they met up at a meeting of old classmates from Sumner, at the IHOP in South Tacoma, where a group of old classmates had been meeting for many years. Sager had just shared with the group that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. He’s cancer free now. But Joan admired his courage, and the email exchanges began.

“It was a beautiful courtship,” Sager said.

After they were married, the couple moved into Joan’s Mercer Island home. It was five years of completely loving bliss, he said.

In all those years apart, each married and had families. Sager’s first wife, Colleen, died in the mid-1980s, and Joan’s first husband, Cliff, died in 2003.

This isn’t Sager’s first book, although it is the first one he’s published. He said he wrote a book in 1983 about the U.S.-Soviet stand off, but never had it published. Sager had quite an exciting life, it would seem, including living in Iran from 1955 to 1960 when the Shah was still in power.

As for finding love again, he doesn’t want to look. Joan was the one.

“A Tiffany Monday” is available at Island Books or at

Sager plans to donate most of the proceeds from the book to the Alzheimer’s Association and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He will be reading from his book at the Mercer Island Library on April 9 at 11 a.m.


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