Roses are red. Violets are blue. Those sweet Hallmark cards? The work of two 'Hoos!
Photo by Steve Puppe.
Their meeting was like the Hallmark cards they’d later write and design.
Chris Purcell and Alarie Tennille spied each other at an English major reception at the Rotunda. It was 1972. He was a film buff toying with the idea of transferring out and going to design school. She was one of a handful of women in the class — the first coed class at the University.
Years later, they’d craft valentines and just-because cards — sometimes in each other’s honor.
Purcell (English ’74) and Tennille (English ’74) work for the nation’s largest greeting card company, Hallmark. He is a lettering artist. She is a writer.
Calligraphy and hand lettering were always a hobby of Purcell’s. At the University, he designed posters for the Film Club and pored over books about typesetting and lettering at the library. After graduation, he landed a job at a small Charlottesville advertising agency, designing ads.
A master's degree in education from the Curry School led him to the Virginia Beach area. There, on the side, he joined a group of other lettering enthusiasts. One of the guys found out Hallmark was looking for hand letterers. Purcell's wife encouraged him to send his portfolio to the company's Kansas City headquarters. He landed the job and moved to the Midwest; three years later, Tennille joined the company as an editor.
Their jobs are the kind that provokes questions: How does one come up with greeting card poems? Who decides what those cards will look like? Do you realize how much time people spend rifling through the stacks of cards?
“It’s a good gig for an English major,” Tennille says.
It’s also one of those mysterious gigs. Most people don’t know how much thought and research goes into a greeting card. Hallmark brings in famous writers and psychologists to give workers inspiration and real-life clues into human emotion.
Often, workshops end in tears.
During their years at Hallmark, the couple has witnessed the growth and specialization of the greeting card industry.
Years ago, saying the word “cancer” in a card was taboo. Now cards of encouragement mention breast cancer by name. Holidays have expanded to include Kwanzaa and Doctor’s Day. For Mother’s Day, a line of cards include “You’re Just Like a Mother to Me” to reflect non-traditional Mother’s Day greetings.
Those specializations pay off.
One poem Tennille wrote, for a special 50th anniversary card for couples who married during World War II, sold more than 300,000 copies. The card actually elicited fan mail.
“How miraculous it must have seemed then/to find a reason for happiness/ and a hope for the future,” the poem reads, in part.
Tennille was inspired by her own parents, who married during the war.
“It was a really personal project,” she says.
So what does the Hallmark couple do for each other on special occasions?
Every five years, they go to France for their wedding anniversary. Next year they’ll head there for their fourth trip.
For Valentine’s Day, Purcell gives his wife four or five cards.
For them, it’s not a “Hallmark holiday.” The company didn’t invent Valentine’s Day or any other holiday, for that matter, Tennille says, despite the oft-cited refrain.
They send out Christmas and birthday cards, of course. They also send Chinese New Year and St. Patrick’s Day cards.
And they bring their relationship into their work, says Tennille.
“I use him as my inspiration when I’m writing all those mushy Valentine’s Day cards.”