Photography by Ryon Lockhart.
I am simply in love with this couple, and you’re about to be. I’m not even going to tell you about them myself, because I could never convey to you the love these two share better than the groom can. So settle in, because it’s not every day we have the groom to introduce his wedding with a love story. (And, I just have to add, while some brides choose to change up their look for the reception, it’s not every day it is the groom who does it – marrying his beautiful bride Virginia in his dashing Australian Army dress uniform, and then celebrating in a still-pretty-dapper tux). Over to James:
“I met Virginia on a rain soaked Saturday morning in March 2014 at a breakfast in Washington D.co., where she was studying a Masters of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and I was visiting a friend during a break from service as a United Nations Military Observer in Syria. I was struck by her fierce intellect, beautiful smile and the closeness of her shoulder to mine.
I left breakfast and returned to Observation Post 72 in Syria that Monday via New York and Tel Aviv. My home was a tennis court-sized United Nations post near Quneitra in Syria where, with two other soldiers, I bore witness to the failure of humanity that is the Syrian conflict. In that place I had immediate occasion to reflect on the pretty blonde girl with pink lips and blue eyes that I had met – and how valuable a moment that was. Wanting to pass on only a compliment, I sent her a dozen pink roses and a Cormac McCarthy novel. At best she would have cause to feel good, at worst reject the ostensibly sentimental impulse of a stranger.
We started to write to each other, my weeks punctuated by her letters. We met again months later when I had some more leave, this time in Vietnam. Our first date was on a humid night in a dark bar in Hanoi. She wore a long flowing blue print dress. She laughed a lot. After that, it was an easy decision to send her flowers each week, easier still to start flying to New York every month or so to become part of her life. Harder when I finished secondment with the United Nations and moved back to Australia in December 2014 to continue my career as an infantry officer.
So Virginia moved to Canberra, with two fat, short haired, ginger cats, in February 2015. She missed her family and friends and yearned for the cosmopolitan energy of New York City, but life was better together than apart. The proposal lacked the romance* of our meeting; however, we knew that we wanted to marry and live a long, happy life together. We looked forward to coming to New York in May so that our families and friends could share in that decision. Within a week of the ceremony I deployed with the Australian Army to Iraq. I send her flowers every week.”
(PS – the proposal may have been simple, but we have to disagree with James that it wasn’t romantic. Virginia tells us “we found out in February that he was going to have two weeks off before deploying. As soon as we realized this, James said to me ‘I’m going to fly my family from Canada to Brooklyn and I want to marry you in front of both of our families during the second weekend of May, before I deploy.’ I said, ‘Okay!’ and then it was on!”)
Yes, those are pink roses in Virginia’s bouquet, just like James sent her after their first meeting. My heart!
Why did you choose this location for your wedding? I was born and raised in Brooklyn and it is my favorite place on earth. James is Australian, and we have been living here in Australia for the past two years. We decided that we wanted to get married in Brooklyn, because it mattered to both of us that both of our families were there. We are both very family-oriented and our families are extremely important to us.
I have a very large family (18 immediate family members!) and they all live in Brooklyn. James’ immediate family is smaller (his parents, one sister who lives in Canada, plus a close aunt and uncle and two cousins) and they would pretty easily be able to come to Brooklyn. His parents were going to be visiting his sister in Canada for a week in May, which lined up with his pre-deployment leave from the Army, before he left for seven months in Iraq. So we decided to get married in Brooklyn with my family, his parents and sister down from Canada, and his aunt, uncle, and cousins from Australia.
We chose Brooklyn Winery because James grew up in the Hunter Valley, which is one of Australia’s most famous and beautiful wine-making regions. James put himself through university by working full-time in wineries and developed a great knowledge and love of wine. So, Brooklyn Winery combined one of my great loves (Brooklyn!) and one of his (wine!) James and I are laid back and wanted things to be simple and easy for everyone. We wanted one venue where we could do both the ceremony and the reception – and since we were planning three months out, we had limited options! We were happy to do it wherever, but it was beyond our wildest dreams to have it at Brooklyn Winery – we couldn’t believe it was available, when we would’ve chosen if we had the pick of any venue!
Your ceremony in three words. Intimate, personal, perfect.
Who officiated your ceremony? How did you choose him/her? Reverend Richard Huleatt. He is the father of one of my brother’s good friends, and he officiated my brother’s wedding to his wife in 2008. James and I are not religious and so didn’t want a religious ceremony. He did a beautiful, non-religious ceremony for my brother and it was perfect, so I wanted him to do ours as well. It was nice to have a family friend officiate. The ceremony was wonderful.
What were your ceremony readings? e.e. cummings’ I carry your heart with me (i carry it in), and a quote from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: “Lying under such a myriad of stars. The sea’s black horizon. He rose and walked out and stood barefoot in the sand and watched the pale surf appear all down the shore and roll and crash and darken again. When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different.”
What were your vows like? We wrote our own, then also said traditional vows.
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? His written vows to me. They made everyone cry. He’s an exceptional writer and he put me to shame.
Read Virginia & James’ beautiful, personal vows right here! (You definitely don’t want to miss these!)
What was your ceremony music? I walked down the aisle to From Little Things Big Things Grow by Paul Kelly, an Australian Folk singer. We exchanged rings to The Stable Song by Gregory Alan Isakov. We walked back up the aisle together to Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? People underestimate the importance of the ceremony. There’s a tendency to rush through it because it’s perceived as boring or trite. But don’t rush through it and spend time thinking about and planning for the kind of ceremony you want. Because it’s likely going to be the only time the two of you get together – close enough to touch and hear one another at a whisper – and that’s what the day is all about. Really, the whole ceremony was my favorite part of the day, because it was the only part of the day where James and I were standing next to each other, holding hands, looking at one another and speaking to one another. The rest of the day was hectic – getting ready, partying with everyone, etc. Weddings are supposed to be ways to share and celebrate with all of your loved ones, which is great. But the ceremony really felt like it was just for James and me.
How did you go about planning your reception? I asked my family to plan basically everything, since they were in Brooklyn and I was in Australia. The only things I organized was my dress (which I bought in one weekend), the cake (which was Army-themed, as a surprise to James), the photographers (James and I Skyped them and loved them immediately), and the DJ. James organized the flowers, since he’s sent me flowers almost every week for the entirety of our relationship.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? James loves flowers so he didn’t need any inspiration! He worked with Seaport Flowers to make the most extraordinary bouquets and centerpieces. (Everyone kept coming up to me all night complimenting me on the flowers, thinking that it was my work!) He specifically identified each flower he wanted (as well as flowers he didn’t!) and gave the florist strict instructions!
How would you describe your reception? Fun and relaxed. After the ceremony, everyone had champagne and cocktails and delicious antipasti and mingled before dinner. After that we had family-style dinner which was set up as long tables. This facilitated mingling and great conversation. And the food was great! Most wedding food isn’t exceptional, so we didn’t have high expectations, but everything was absolutely delicious.
What type of cake did you serve? Army cake! I’m not particularly creative, but I guess my contribution was the cute camo cake with the green Army men crawling up it, like they were storming the beaches of Normandy!
We love Virginia’s honesty about what she would do differently if she had their wedding again. Even though she looks so lovely, she tells us “I would’ve kept my hair straight, as it is naturally. I made a last-minute, impulsive decision to do the Hollywood glam 1920s curls (because I hadn’t given any thought to how I was going to do it until the day-of and my hair stylist said it looked good!) and – even though he did a great job and the hair was beautiful – I wish I looked more like myself.”
She also tells us “I’d break away from mingling a few more times to seek James out in the crowd.” So important to remember!
What was your wedding menu? Salad: Frisée and Asian Pear Salad // Entrees: Baked Fluke / Hanger Steak // Sides: Grilled seasonal veggies / Horseradish smashed potatoes.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? The speeches. They were all short and sweet (as we instructed everyone – James and I had recently gone to a wedding where speeches went for almost 2 hours!) and hilarious! Everyone made the whole party laugh, which was awesome. But specifically my brother Ben’s speech was perfect.
Along with their wedding cake, the couple served three flavors of cupcakes. Virginia says “I think we chose Red Velvet, Sweet and Salty, and Classic Birthday Cake. Of course, I didn’t get to try the cake or the cupcakes. No dessert for me haha, I was having too much fun!”
What was your first dance song? Father/daughter or mother/son dance? Ray La Montagne’s You Are The Best Thing. James and I danced to this for a minute, then I grabbed my dad and he grabbed his mom. Then everyone started dancing. It was really fun. The DJ was great, so almost everyone was on the dance floor throughout the night.
Do you have any budget tips for other brides? If you have to spend money anywhere, choose only two things where you’re willing to blow the budget. One of those things should be the photographer. We had Ryon:Lockhart, the best photographers on the planet who gave us the most exquisite photos we could’ve dreamed of. These will be lasting memories, whereas everything else is gone. The second thing should be something that is special and important to the two of you. Something that symbolizes who you two are as a couple. Maybe it’s an amazing band or a particular venue. For us, it was the flowers.