Robert and Virginia Severi

“Best Friends at the Core:” AU Sweethearts Share Their Local Love Story

This story is part of a series spotlighting AU’s Mary Graydon Center (MGC). Central to the new Student Thriving Complex—fueled by the Change Can’t Wait campaign—MCG will be renovated to foster student engagement and community with multifunctional areas for gathering, student organizations, and events.

Virginia Severi, SOC/BA ’80, and Robert Severi, SPA/BS ’79, share a local love story. Like those of other American University sweethearts, theirs began with a chance meeting on campus in the Mary Graydon Center.

Raised just four blocks from AU in DC’s Spring Valley neighborhood, Virginia never imagined the role the university would play in shaping her future. She lived so close to campus that she would join neighborhood kids for free concerts up the street at AU’s Woods-Brown Amphitheater. When it came time to consider colleges, being in such proximity made AU an obvious choice. She began her studies as an anthropology major and soon switched to public communications.

A native of Port Chester, New York, a suburb of New York City, Robert was attracted to AU for the impressive administration of justice program. He was interested in forensics and decided to double major in criminal justice and psychology. As he began exploring all that AU had to offer, he discovered what would become a lifelong passion for photography.

One day in the spring of 1977, Robert was standing in the doorway of The Eagle office on the third floor of the Mary Graydon Center when a young woman wandered past. A few moments later, the woman—Virginia—returned to ask him for directions. Unbeknownst to either of them at the time, a romance was about to bloom.

Over the next few months, Virginia and Robert would coincidentally cross paths across campus. On the ground floor of the New Lecture Hall, today part of the Kogod School of Business, they fatefully ended up in classes right next to each other. At first, they each arrived at their classes early, finding time to chat in the hallway. Each week, it seemed they’d arrive earlier and earlier—chatting longer and longer—ultimately building a friendship in those moments before class. 

Their chats moved from hallways to the dining hall and dorm parties. As they got to know one another, their feelings began to deepen beyond friendship. They soon found themselves sitting side by side on a first date at the Uptown Theater, watching The Goodbye Girl.

The couple dated officially during their final two years together at AU. Although Virginia lived at home and Robert moved to a house in Tenley Circle, much of the time they spent together was on campus.

Virginia remembers the dark room on the third floor of the Mary Graydon Center, where Robert processed his photos. 

“I can still smell [the photography chemicals],” she recalls laughing, thinking about where his photos—and their love—developed. 

The two also shared evenings together at The Tavern, the on-campus bar and restaurant, or eating at neighborhood staple Armand’s Pizzeria.

Robert graduated ahead of Virginia and went on to pursue photojournalism at the University of Missouri. Virginia remained at AU to finish her public communications studies, honing her passions for writing and media. While apart, Robert realized that Virginia was the one.

At Les Delices, a French café not too far from where they first met on campus, Robert proposed to Virginia.

Robert and Virginia Severi on their wedding day in 1981.

Virginia and Robert Severi on their wedding day in 1981.


Their wedding took place on a beautiful fall day in October 1981. The couple eventually settled in nearby Silver Spring, where they raised their now-adult daughter Nicole and had thriving careers.

Four decades later, Virginia and Robert’s marriage is one of friendship and compromise. They spend time together doing what they enjoy most: cooking, traveling, and—in the spirit of their first date—watching movies together. They have been companions throughout life’s joys and sorrows, supporting one another in times of celebration and personal loss.

Now retired from her DC-based communications career, Virginia spends time experimenting with new recipes, planning adventures, and helping Robert with his successful photography business. 

Robert considers himself lucky and urges young people to do what they really love. “I get a rush when I press that button,” he says, recalling the time he photographed a beating heart during open-heart surgery for a Washingtonian magazine article.

Robert and Virginia Severi in 1982 wearing 3D glasses and watching television.

A memorable photograph of Robert and Virginia taken in 1982.


In their words, the couple’s skills “fit together like a puzzle.” They have learned to value the rough spots and embrace healthy arguments because each allows understanding and growth.

Virginia says they’ve rediscovered the joy in spending quality time together as recent empty nesters. She puts it simply: “Life just seems to be really pleasant!”

From their first encounter in the Mary Graydon Center to their upcoming 43rd wedding anniversary, Robert says “being best friends at the core” is most important for a lasting relationship.

By Amber Mapel