SINGER RANDY TRAVIS MAY KEEP HIMSELF in boots and buckles with country love songs, but when it comes to his own romantic interests, the 32-year-old star sidesteps questions as though they were cow pies—especially when the questions concern Lib Hatcher, 48, his manager and housemate of 15 years.

Last week, however, Travis offered up a major statement—in typically understated fashion. When he took the stage for a Nashville concert, he sported a shiny new gold band on the third finger of his left hand. The reason? Nine days earlier, in the best stand-by-your-manager tradition, Travis had stood by Hatcher—and in front of a preacher—at one of their two Maui homes. "The wedding took place in the courtyard in front of a waterfall, reports Lib happily. "No one attended but two strangers. The preacher brought them."

The secret wedding, for which Travis wore black jeans and Hatcher a black-and-white checked dress, was originally planned for last January, says Hatcher. But when she and Travis applied for a marriage license on Maui back then, they had too little time for blood tests before they were due back in Nashville. They tried again last month in Tennessee but missed the Big Walk that time when Travis hurt his back.

Some may find the romance hard to believe, if only because Travis and Hatcher have labored for so long to deny it. "It seemed easier than to explain everything to every interviewer you talked to," Travis says. Hatcher also worried that the relationship would hurt Travis's career. "He was young, and you want to attract that young audience," she says. "I wanted him to appear available."

Then, last March, a supermarket tabloid ran a story implying that the two-time Grammy winner was gay. Angrily denying the suggestion, Travis started talking at last and told the Washington Post that he and Hatcher had been involved for 12 years.

Now Lib is sporting a four plus-carat diamond engagement ring and waiting for the jeweler to put the finishing touches on a wedding band of diamond baguettes. Given Travis's aw-shucks style, though, those rings may remain the only outward sign of romance. Hatcher says Travis takes after his father when it comes to displaying affection. "His mother told me she asked his dad why he never told her he loved her," says Hatcher, "and he said, "I told you 40 years ago, and if it ever changes I'll let you know.' Randy's not quite that bad."

A native of Kernersville, N.C., Mary Elizabeth Hatcher met Randy Traywick in 1977 when the 17-year-old came into her Charlotte, N.C., nightclub to audition for the weekly talent competition. The second of six children, Traywick (Travis is a stage name) had grown up in Marshville, N.C. His father, a turkey farmer who also ran a small-time construction business, encouraged his four sons to be country singers, and by the time Randy was 10, his voice was already attracting attention at local dance halls and lodges. Soon his behavior began attracting the attention of police. "I got into a lot of trouble, drinking and taking drugs by the time I was 12," he admits.

When he walked into Hatcher's club, he had already been to jail several times for drunk driving and was facing a five-year prison stretch for breaking into a convenience store. Hatcher persuaded the judge to release him into her custody and brought him home to live with her and Frank, her husband of 10 years. Travis sang and washed dishes at the club to earn his keep. But when Frank told Lib to choose between their marriage and Randy, Hatcher and Travis moved out. "I never spoke to the man again," she says. "Randy might have given me the courage to leave a bad situation, but Randy did not break up the marriage."

By the time they moved to Nashville in 1982, though, Hatcher and Travis were into more than business. "Of course, to start with, the music brought us together," Travis says. "And just being around each other, working with each other—it just grew from that, I guess."

After Travis released his first album, Storms of Life, in 1986 and garnered five No. 1 singles, the ninth-grade dropout was on his way—with Hatcher guiding his career at every step. These days she oversees 52 employees who handle everything from bookings to T-shirts. "She is energetic, witty, intelligent—and very kindhearted," says Travis.

At home Hatcher picks out Travis's clothes, cooks his meals and even cans her own vegetables to accommodate his allergies to meat and daily products. "Lib's a lot more outgoing than I am," he concedes. "I'm happy riding horses and getting out shooting my gun, things like that. But we go to movies, and she's a great cook. And of course I enjoy eating about as well as anybody, so it works real well."

As for the 16-year age difference, Travis says, "I was uncomfortable talking about it, but I've learned to deal with it and not worry about it."

Travis and Hatcher spend most of their private time outside Nashville, where they have a two-story log farmhouse on 100 acres crossed by paths marked Libby Lane and Travis Trails. Not that they're home that much to enjoy it. Travis is currently at work on his sixth album, due this fall, and a television special. Still, they expect to find time to enjoy married life, though not necessarily to say much about it. Reports Hatcher, issuing a Travisesque bulletin from the front: "The first week went real well."

CYNTHIA SANZ
JANE SANDERSON in Nashville

  • Contributors:
  • Jane Sanderson.