Meagan Van Buren & Jackson Brasher

June 23, 2012 • Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Richmond 

When Jackson Brasher decided to ask Meagan Van Buren out for their first serious date, he picked a nice Italian restaurant in Charlottesville for their evening together. And then, it turned out the restaurant was booked for a private event. They ended up eating ribs at the chain restaurant Chili’s, which didn’t faze Meagan. “I love Chili’s ribs,” she laughs.

If that date set the precedent for a theme that would repeat itself during the more than five-year journey to their marriage in August 2012, it was this: Things didn’t always go as planned but, in the end, turned out well anyway.

“I think that says a lot about our relationship,” says Meagan. “Casual, laid-back, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Meagan, who grew up in Norfolk and attended Norfolk Academy, and Jackson, who is from Nashville, met in October 2006 as undergraduates at the University of Virginia, introduced by mutual friends at a birthday party. Jackson had already noticed Meagan around campus, “Mostly at a distance,” he says. “I think my interest was piqued fairly early.”

As for Meagan, she knew who Jackson was also. But he was two years older, a senior to her sophomore. He was, she says, “the older guy I wouldn’t really have approached until we had that interaction at the party.”

Still, they hit it off right away, and by spring they were definitely a couple. But however Meagan might have imagined an important next step in a growing relationship—introducing Jackson to her parents—it certainly wasn’t the way things ended up unfolding: Meagan wasn’t even in the room. She developed an ear infection requiring surgery. When Jackson went to the student health center to see her, she was already being prepped for the operation. Jackson found himself in an unplanned tête-à-tête in the lobby with Katie Van Buren, Meagan’s mother.

“I sat there for two hours with her mother in the waiting area,” says Jackson. “I can’t remember a thing we talked about.”

Later in the day, with Meagan still groggy and laid up in bed, Jackson had to hold his own with the rest of the family as well, including with Meagan’s father Billy, a commercial law attorney who is chairman and president of his firm, Kaufman and Canoles, P.C. and a past president of the Virginia Bar Association.

“I’m sure her dad’s first thoughts were, ‘What are you doing with this guy who is two years older? You’re too young for him,’” says Jackson.

“He’s used to grilling, asking question after question after question to find that true intention,” says Meagan.

Jackson passed the test and, when he graduated in the spring, any worries that he and Meagan might find it difficult to continue seeing each other were alleviated when Jackson, a political science and history major, took a job as a health care consultant only two hours away in D.C. Two years later, when Meagan, an economics major, graduated with a job of her own at an economics consulting firm in Washington, the two were very much still a couple. Meagan found an apartment with friends two blocks from Jackson’s apartment, and while the next two years passed amid a buzz of work and a growing circle of D.C. friends, Meagan and Jackson grew ever more certain that marriage was in their future.

As the two of them spent every weekend of the late winter and early spring in 2011 hunkered down together in a library or at a Starbucks studying for the GMAT—both were planning to apply to business school—Jackson hatched a plan. He would propose early in the summer, after the pressure of the GMAT was behind them, but early enough not to take the focus from Meagan’s sister Caitlin and her fiancé, who would be getting married in July.

Jackson carefully worked out all the details for his June proposal. He purchased the ring and set up an elaborate subterfuge to get Meagan alone at a waterside restaurant in Annapolis, one he’d picked out after spending days on Google Street View trying to select just the right location. The day would be a Thursday; Jackson was taking the GMAT in the morning and figured Meagan would never suspect he’d ask her to marry him that night. His parents would fly into Norfolk, where Meagan’s parents lived, on Friday for a celebration with both families. Only Jackson, his parents Rick and Nancy, Meagan’s father, and two friends who helped him set up the Annapolis restaurant plan were in on the secret.

Then, that very week, a terrible loss befell the Van Buren family with the death of Mrs. Van Buren’s mother, Meagan’s grandmother, who had been in failing health. The funeral was planned for the Friday Jackson had hoped would be a day of celebration.

“I knew her grandmother was very sick,” says Jackson, “and I had been trying to hurry up the engagement, hoping her grandmother would be able to celebrate with us.” Adds Meagan: “I was very close to my grandmother, and she really loved Jackson.”

Jackson turned to Meagan’s father. What would be the best decision? Should Jackson call off the plan, to give Meagan, her mother and the rest of the family time to grieve? Or would an engagement help assuage the sadness with joy? “I was probably on the phone with her Dad five times every day trying to make the right decision.”

In the end, Jackson and Mr. Van Buren agreed that Jackson would go ahead with the proposal. Friday would now be focused on the funeral, and Saturday Meagan and Jackson would announce their engagement.

On the drive to Annapolis, however, the weather delivered a detail Jackson hadn’t planned for: pouring rain. “There was no way I could convince her to go for a stroll on the dock in a downpour,” he laughs.

“He was driving around the parking lot for five minutes, and the parking lot was empty,” says Megan. “He was really mad it was raining.” She couldn’t understand what the big deal was. “I had no idea. I was clueless.”

Finally, he parked. Meagan was fumbling with her umbrella and with getting her things together to get out of the car as Jackson walked around to open her door.

“I turn around,” says Meagan, “and there he is, on his knee, in the parking lot, in the rain, in his really nice slacks. And there is this sparkly ring. I don’t remember a thing he said.” She said yes.

Although the week was a “rollercoaster of emotions,” says Meagan, the announcement of their engagement proved for everyone in the family an affirmation of the future even in the midst of loss.

The year that followed was more of a rollercoaster, busy with graduate school applications and wedding planning but also clouded by uncertainty. What if they didn’t get into the same school? What would they do then? And more seriously, there was another sadness: the death of Mrs. Van Buren’s father. It was a difficult year, Meagan says, but one that helped keep things in perspective. “You realize,” says Meagan, that many of the myriad decisions couples have to make, such as what shade of white the wedding-reception table linens ought to be, are “so trivial.”

Instead, Meagan and Jackson focused on making their wedding a celebration of and a thank-you to their families and their wide circles of friends from Norfolk and D.C., from Jackson’s hometown of Nashville, and from UVA. “We wouldn’t be the couple we are without the support of all of them,” says Meagan.

The thank-yous included a very personal touch: 400 mason jars handed out as favors at the reception, each filled with spicy mustard sauce, made from a secret family recipe, that Meagan and her family spent the week before the wedding making, batch by batch by batch. “Each batch filled only eight jars, and each took 30 minutes of constant stirring,” says Meagan. “I said, ‘At least I’m working on my bride arms!’”

Other personalized details weren’t quite as much work, but made the wedding very much Meagan and Jackson’s. Old blue mason jars that had belonged to Meagan’s grandmother were used for some of the flower arrangements. “We also had a display of framed photographs of each of our grandparents and parents from their weddings,” says Meagan, “and Jackson, his brothers, and Dad each wore a piece of lace from Jackson’s mother’s wedding gown wrapped around their boutonnières.” The food served at the reception blended their two hometown cultures, with a mix of seafood and Southern cuisine.

Their wedding celebration ended up spanning four days, beginning with a beach party at the home of a friend of Jackson’s mother (who attended college and graduate school in Virginia) and ending with a Sunday brunch at the home of Van Buren-family friends, where the surprise entertainment was a slide show of pictures from the wedding, which the hosts put together. The inevitable unplanned detail—a Friday-night deluge that swamped the Norfolk streets during the church rehearsal (the wedding planner’s car flooded)—didn’t dampen the rehearsal dinner or the after-party that followed. And the day of the wedding dawned to perfect June weather.

An early-afternoon wedding at Sacred Heart Catholic Church—where Meagan’s parents and her sister Caitlin were married as well—was followed by a cocktail party and then a reception: First with a bluegrass band playing during the cocktail hour, then with a feather boa-wearing ’70s funk band that played during the reception, both at the waterside Norfolk Yacht and Country Club. It was the kind of wedding you hope to be invited to—relaxed and enjoyable, with the dance floor filled and the bride and groom clearly having a good time along with their guests. “It was really, really fun,” says Meagan. “One of my favorite parts was looking out over the dance floor and seeing my Dad dancing with my friends from college and our friends from D.C. dancing with our friends from Nashville.”

The couple motored away from the reception and into the June evening on a 1964 Egg Harbor wooden cabin-cruiser, Meagan wearing a vintage emerald green cocktail dress that had belonged to—and which she had chosen to wear in memory of—her beloved grandmother, while more than 350 friends and family stretched along the pier to wave them farewell.

“It was really wonderful,” says Meagan, “driving away from the pier and seeing everyone there, and then having that time, just the two of us, to reflect back on everything that had just happened and to wind down together after an amazing reception.”

A honeymoon in Greece was their last chance to relax before returning to move their two D.C. apartments into one new home in Durham, North Carolina, where they began classes last fall at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business—together, and ready for the next unexpected twist in their story.

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