They are part of our popular history: Lucy and Ethel, Matt Damon and Ben Afflect, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Indeed, friendship exists on countless levels. Author Joseph Epstein charts them in his book, "Friendship: An Expose" (Houghton Mifflin, July 2006): best friends, friendly acquaintances, foxhole buddies, e-mail correspondents and more. He goes on to explain the sometimes painful and frustrating turns camaraderie can take, into the territory of the demanding friend, the unreturned overture and the broken bond.
But when friendship lasts over the course of a lifetime, it is a gift of the highest order. "Reciprocity is at the heart of friendship," he writes. "This reciprocity is always of an inexact, probably immeasurable, doubtless best unmeasured, nature."
What friendship ought to be, says Epstein, is an art. With that in mind, meet three sets of friends who have mastered the art of friendship.
Meghan Foley and Liebe Smith
As 27-year-old businesswomen with downtown stores near one another, Meghan Foley and Liebe Smith help power the entrepreneurial verve lifting Sarasota
into its future. As lifelong friends, they share the fun of being thriving, independent women in the city in which they grew up together.
"Never in a million years did we think we would both be back in Sarasota,owning our own businesses," Smith says. "We're both at great times in our lives."
Smith has a jewelry design and sales business with her mother, June Simmons. Foley, a Realtor who worked for Michael Saunders & Co., and brother Andrew
- children of the late developer, Jay Foley - took ownership in December of the independent bookstore Sarasota News & Books.
Foley's and Smith's lives have been interlaced since before their Sarasota births because their colorful, socially active parents were friends. But
they say it was at Riverview High School that their present closeness evolved. Smith says, "We look back and sometimes giggle at who we were and what we were doing."
After high school, they stayed connected as Smith headed to the University of South Florida and then University of Central Florida, and Foley to London's Richmond College and then Florida State University. When Foley transferred to UCF, their plans to room together were dashed by Smith's decision to give acting a try for five years in Los Angeles, where she also attended UCLA. “That was a horrible day that I had to call Meghan,” Smith says.
And, when Smith relocated to Sarasota a couple of years ago, it was at the urging of Foley, who persuaded her that the city now had plenty to offer for young professionals. Soon after came one example of their sustaining ties. It was Foley’s 25th birthday, she was throwing her own party, and she had been fighting with her boyfriend. “It wasn’t going so well,” she says. Smith made her a gorgeous bracelet, picked up all the food for her, and festooned Foley’s house with balloons and candles.
“It was one of those good-friends perfect moments,” Foley says.
They say they have an easy, healthy friendship that serves as the constant in one another's lives. They can talk for hours. Having each recently ended long romantic relationships, they support each other in
the local social scene.
Foley says, "I think we have a very deep understanding of each other. We just get each other."
Smith says, “I trust her so much, and I know that she trusts me.”
Mary Kay Ryan and Ellie Ingerick
They lived in the same Sarasota neighborhood, went to St. Martha's Catholic Church, and flew up together in Brownies. They roomed together for 2 1/2 years at the University of South Florida and were Chi Omega sisters.
Their dads built them loft beds in their dorm room. Their moms took turns packing them coolers of food to cook on a hotplate. Ellie Ingerick, now a speech language pathologist for Sarasota schools, still has some of the humorous notes that Mary Kay Ryan, director of sales and marketing at the Longboat Key Club, would pass to her when both were supposed to be studying.
Nightly, when the alarm clock went off at 10 p.m., it was time to stop studying and start partying. They tended to be the last to leave the party, after hours of agreeing to give other attendees rides home. Once, they packed an additional eight people into Ingerick’s tiny Vega. She says, “We actually had to open the hatchback, and whoever was in back had to hold it down.”
They have been through a young lifetime of high points and low points together. There have been double dates, weddings, and shared travels. Every summer since 1989, they have vacationed with four other sorority sisters. Ingerick's younger brother died when she was still in college. Ryan married and divorced. When Ingerick's first husband, Cliff Scarbrough, died nine years into their marriage, she and Ryan were only 34. Ryan's mother, Edwina, died two years ago.
Through all of these events, the friends showed up for one another like sisters, leaned on each other, loved unconditionally, always looking for
laughter no matter how dark the circumstances.
"I think what sustains us as adults is that we hold each other's histories," Ryan says. "We've always had each other - and each other's families."
Their fathers, John Ryan and Ferd Thompson, for example, get together to take Thompson's 1920s popcorn truck to car shows or fund-raisers.
Ingerick's mom, Mary Ann Thompson, leaves motherly messages on Ryan's phone.
Two years ago, Ellie married Rex Ingerick and gained "bonus children," - his daughter Heidi, 16, and son Rex, 13. Ryan has embraced them, too.
"Where we are, our relationship is so solid and so intertwined that it's just effortless," Ryan says.
"It's friends that become your family - the family that you pick," Ingerick adds.
Maxwell Cooke and Lelia Windom
He admires her "stay-ability." She likes his dignity. They grew up in the same tight social circle, with a common understanding that each, as she says, had been "raised with the basics."
Maxwell Cooke and Lelia Windom have a friendship that stretches back at least to 1943, when they were 12 and in seventh grade at Sarasota High School. And, she says, "Sarasota was so small that you knew people six years ahead of you and six years behind you."
They both attended Duke University, and they married their spouses at about the same time - he in 1952 to Vivien, and she, in 1953, to Robert (later
the assistant U.S. secretary of health).
Raising their families in Sarasota, Cooke and Windom's shared histories expanded and mutual regard grew as they worked to benefit arts and educational causes. Among their activities were serving as founding officers of the Asolo Theater Festival Association in the late 1960s and co-chairing the annual New College Action Auction in the mid-1980s.
"In order to chair such a function, you've got to spend a lot of time together," Cooke says. "We have such a good time together, always."
Windom says, "It was nice because we were among the only hometown people that were doing what we were doing. We were proud to represent Sarasota."
The Windoms were in Washington, D.C., from 1986 to 1989. "It was just a little blip on the screen. It did not do anything to friendships," she says. "Basically, I missed my Sarasota friends."
Cooke and Windom say their stint of community service and heavy socializing (they could once handle three Christmas parties in one night) was made
possible because parents then were less likely to be tied to children's busy schedules, and women were less likely to be employed outside the home.
The Windoms have three children and six grandchildren. The Cookes have three children and three grandchildren. Maxwell Cooke, who sold his
Cadillac dealership in 1986, works for Dillard's in Southgate as the Polo brand specialist.
These days, Windom and Cooke see relatively little of each other, but say this doesn't alter their friendship. They have similar, very social personalities that revolve around enjoying people, their families and living in Sarasota.
And, they continue to hold each other in high esteem.
"I think we've seen that we have a strength," she says.
"I think we're more knowledgeable and stronger than we were before," he adds. "We're definitely stronger."