SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – When John Doherty first went online looking for a pen pal he didn't expect to connect, let alone fall in love, with someone halfway across the world. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. 

“We met online. I was looking for a pen pal, someone I could write to and Willyn replied to me right away and I'm so thankful,” Doherty told TAPinto South Plainfield. “We loved each other from the very beginning…I fell in love with her beauty first but her heart soon after. She is the hardest-working woman I have ever known. The kindest. I'm very, very lucky.”

On Sept. 19, after years of paperwork and red tape, Doherty of South Plainfield and Willyn Lopez of the Philippines were married at borough hall, a small group of the groom’s family gathering for the ceremony officiated by Mayor Matt Anesh. 

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“There are many responsibilities that come with being mayor and presiding over weddings is one of the most enjoyable. You get to be there when they are starting their life together,” said Anesh. 

Doherty, 53, and Lopez, 35, met through a now defunct pen pal website and corresponded through video and text messaging for nearly a year before Doherty hopped a plane to meet Lopez face-to-face. At that time, Lopez was working as a housekeeper in Hong Kong, her three children living with her mother in the Philippines. He visited her and her family several times and, during one trip, popped the question. 

“The first struggle we faced was getting [her first] marriage annulled; that was a two-year process that took lots of time and money and paperwork…Then the process of filing for her K-1 visa took close to [another] two years for approval,” Doherty said. 

Earlier this month, However, Lopez boarded a flight from Manila to Taiwan and, following a 23-hour layover, made the 16-hour flight to New York’s JFK Airport, arriving ‘home’ at 9 p.m.. Sept. 5. 

“I am excited and happy. So happy,” said Lopez prior to the nuptials.

Doherty, 53, a resident of South Plainfield since 2001, grew up in Passaic Park, served in the United States Navy and has been employed with the New Jersey Department of Transportation for 20 years. He has two sons, Brian, 16 and Sean, 14 from a previous marriage. Lopez, 35, has three children Cedeick, 16, Ahzer, 14, and Icy, 11, who are all currently still in the Philippines with her mother. 

The next step, said Doherty, is for them all to be together, soon.  “Our plan is to bring them to the United States ASAP, especially Icy who is disabled and needs proper medical care…,” Doherty said. “I hope and pray we will have them here soon.”

However, before Lopez’ children can come, even more paperwork must be filed and Doherty told TAPinto he is hopeful they will all be together within the year. “Creating a new life for [Willyn] and her kids, a safe life here, is important to me. I have always loved South Plainfield and I know Willyn will too,” he said, adding, “I would also love for Willyn and I to have a child together. I would be on cloud 9 if that was to happen.”

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