It had been seven years since they’d met on this very spot, new Mary Washington first-years eating sherbet and mint chocolate chip on the president’s lawn. That day, during the annual ice cream social for freshmen, Caroline Deale ’17 made a wish. Last month, it came true.
“Your youth may fade away, but your smile will always remind me of the time I first saw you on that sunny day,” she promised John Bentley ’17, MSGA ’19, as they wed beneath the weathered and wise Brompton Oak.
The tree that had seen so much Civil War suffering “got to witness pure love and joy,” UMW President Troy Paino posted on social media that afternoon. As a rare favor during an unprecedented season, he officiated the socially distanced wedding outside his front door.
The event was among two sets of alumni nuptials at Brompton this fall – Isabelle Perrin ’17 and Nathan Dawes ’14, MSGA ’17, married on the seldom-available historic site in October. Both ceremonies were reimagined, with shrinking guest lists and pandemic-related gifts. But COVID-19 couldn’t stop them.
May these UMW love stories – and all the magical bonds formed at Mary Washington throughout the decades – shine a beacon of light on the end of a tumultuous year.
Caroline and John
Caroline Deale was fresh from field hockey practice when she found herself eating ice cream at Brompton with Bentley. It was love at first sight.
“I remember it to this day,” she said, “seeing him and knowing that I couldn’t leave his side, because if I did, I was terrified we’d never talk again.”
To Deale, who hails from Crozet, Virginia, UMW seemed large. To Bentley of Fairfax, it was small. For both, it felt right. She studied business, ran track and traveled the world with Semester at Sea. He was a rower and geography major, with a minor in environmental science and a certificate in GIS.
Their Mary Washington journeys instantly merged – study sessions at Simpson Library, coffee at Blackstone. But the two remained “just friends” until a senior-year hug turned into a kiss and “everything fell into place.”
With all her extracurriculars, Deale had missed Mary Washington milestones, so Bentley set out to change that. By May, they’d hit Devil Goat Day, Winter Carnival, Ball Circle barbecues, even the Underwear Run, and splashed in the Palmieri Fountain. And they had a new president; Paino had taken the helm in July.
“He jumped into our lives,” Deale said. “His Commencement speech was amazing.”
Fast forward two years. Bentley had earned a master’s degree in geospatial analysis at UMW and begun a career in the field. Deale had dipped into the travel and health industries. From their Charlottesville home, they took a chilly fall daytrip to Mary Washington. At the top of the Willard Hall stairwell, where they shared their first kiss, Bentley proposed.
But COVID-19 came along, making their wedding nearly impossible to plan. “We just wanted to get married,” said Deale, who finally reached out to Special Assistant to the President for University Events Susan Worrell.
With campus locales like the Heslep Amphitheatre and Jepson Alumni Executive Center off-limits – and with Paino’s permission – she offered up Brompton. Last month, in front of only immediate family, Deale donned a dress she’d picked up on sale – she’s saving the real one for a much larger crowd next November – and brought her first meeting with Bentley full circle.
“Having the chance to do an intimate ceremony was the silver lining,” Deale said. “Our whole relationship is wrapped around UMW.”
Isabelle and Nathan
No two Mary Washington love stories are written the same.
Isabelle Perrin and Nathan Dawes were nearing the end of their UMW journeys when their tale began. They lived just blocks apart on William Street, but it took a dating app to bring them together.
Perrin was closing in on a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Dawes, who’d earned a bachelor’s in historic preservation in 2014, was completing master’s coursework in geospatial analysis. With graduation looming, they each felt they’d stumbled across something special and “dove in head first with a lot of trust,” Perrin said.
She’d minored in linguistics, worked at the Center for International Education, and joined the coed service fraternity Alpha Mu Sigma and the “Where’s the Line?” sexual assault awareness campaign. He’d run cross country, held internships and served as an ROTC Army cadet.
Now, as a couple, they practiced the iconic Mary Washington activity of “bench-sitting” and explored downtown Fredericksburg. And Perrin brought coffee to Dawes during long study sessions in Monroe Hall. But the budding relationship was about to be put to a long-distance test.
A commissioned Army officer, Dawes was stationed in Kentucky, then Arizona, then South Korea. Perrin served an abbreviated stint in Peru with the Peace Corps, then went home to New Jersey and nursing school. She finished in May, joining Dawes, now stationed in North Carolina, and taking a short-lived position in COVID-19 critical care.
With the pandemic raging, the couple planned – and re-planned – their wedding, finally landing on their alma mater as the venue. Perrin messaged Paino on Instagram, requesting use of his yard, and he referred them to Worrell. A month before Deale and Bentley were married at Brompton, Perrin and Dawes said their own vows on the site, beneath that same towering oak.
The path to their union was far from straightforward, but it seemed only fitting. “Mary Washington holds so much significance for us,” Perrin said. “It was our home for such a long time.”
On his morning run the day of their wedding, Dawes passed the grounds where they would marry. The stately brick building and Brompton Oak were cloaked in a hazy, gray mist. But by 3:30 p.m., when they promised their love to only each other, the October day had grown into a beauty, warmed by the sun, with a sea-colored sky.
“This whole process was unexpected and didn’t go the way we planned, but when we reflect on our wedding day, it was everything we could have asked for and more,” Perrin said. “So special and intimate.”