Mutual friends set them up on a date more than 20 years ago, and Phil Everly wasn't exactly open to it.
"I'm not looking for a girlfriend, I'm never getting married," he told Patti, then a longtime dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department.
"What do you say to that?" Patti Everly said, laughing. "I thought, OK, at least this'll be a nice dinner."
The pop legend's declarations notwithstanding, the two got married a year or so later, and the tabloids had a field day with the headlines. Her favorite: "Lonely Everly dials 911 for love."
And that started what Patti Everly says was a wonderful marriage filled with laughs, beaches and wine — and one that ended with stress, oxygen tanks, gasps for air, fear and doctors.
Though painful, Patti Everly says she wants to speak up about her husband's last days to draw more attention to the disease that ended his life. And she also wants to promote a once-in-a-lifetime concert by Paul Simon happening Wednesday at Nashville society maven Sylvia Roberts' house — which serves as country singer Rayna Jaymes' home on the ABC drama "Nashville."
"It's been a helluva year," said Patti Everly, sighing.
"People ask, 'What can I do?' And I say, 'Well, I wish you could bring him back.' "
When they met, Phil was a chain smoker, but he eventually quit in 2001.
"Seven years of nagging, I finally got through to him," she said. "That's a long time to be nagged."
A couple of years after that, The Everly Brothers finished their last tours, as openers for friends Simon & Garfunkel — and that's when Patti Everly started to notice her husband having problems.
"He would clutch his chest a lot and sigh and go, 'Ah, I can't breathe.' I thought he was having a panic attack. Kinda looked like one. It was being short of breath," she said.
"Then, he started worrying about singing, worrying about the next show, if he'd have enough air."
That shortness of breath turned into nasty bouts of coughing and more and more problems breathing. Phil Everly's touring days ended in 2004, and his last public appearance was 2011 when he spoke at Buddy Holly's Star Walk induction — andvideo shows Phil Everly struggling to catch his breath while he's speaking.
It was right around then that the singer got the COPD diagnosis. And it progressed quickly.
"It went from mild COPD to severe. He skipped medium," Patti Everly said.
"When I met him, he was 55 and taking nothing but vitamins. By the end he was taking 20 medications, and hooked up to oxygen 24/7, carrying it with him. He had oxygen canisters, oxygen on his shoulder," she said.
"We tried everything. Different inhalers, different treatments, his list of medications was so long he'd have to put it in his phone so when he went to the doctor's, he'd just rattle it off."
Two granddaughters often ran around the large Antebellum house the Everlys had in Columbia, Tenn., where Patti Everly still lives. And the girls would have to avoid standing on the tubes that were bringing their grandfather oxygen.
Nighttime was horror. That's when Phil Everly's oxygen levels would dip to dangerous levels, and his wife's fears would rise.
"In the middle of the night, you look over to see if they're still breathing," she said.
The fear took its toll on Phil Everly as well, especially when he left the house.
"Each step, he'd do less and less. He'd wonder if he'd make it. Then when he did make it, he'd sit down and wonder if he had enough air to get back to the car.
"Pretty soon," she said, "all you're waiting for is death."
Meanwhile, Phil Everly continued songwriting, inviting collaborators to the house in Columbia, making them feel at home by offering drinks, food and conversation.
"His thing was, 'If your ego's in control, your life is in control. Period.' "
And Everly would show those granddaughters how to run the toy train around the house every Christmas.
"They were his everything," Patti Everly said.
"He was positive about enjoying life, cracking jokes, laughing and enjoying movies. He'd love to watch TV and drink a glass of wine. He read his Bible a lot. He tried to stay positive."
When Phil Everly passed, his wife was devastated.
But Patti Everly says her new mission — bringing attention to COPD and raising money to find a cure — helps her make sense of his death.
"I want him to be remembered for helping find a cure. I want to reach out to people with COPD," she said.
"It's good to be busy doing something that's gonna matter."