Jack Magee met Eleanor Shriver at the Assembly in 1999 and was instantly smitten with her easy, unassuming nature. “There was one point I specifically remember when we were dancing and she just rested her chin on my shoulder,” he says, looking back on the traditional society ball, “and this warm feeling went down my back. It was a great feeling.”
Jack had to investigate to find Eleanor the next day at her parents’ home in Butler. She would soon be returning to Chestertown, where she is head coach for the women’s soccer and lacrosse teams at Washington College. But the hunt paid off: a friendship that began on that first date, a stroll on the Northern Central Rail hike and bike trail, grew into a long-distance romance. The two were a perfect yin and yang: Eleanor, 30, favors the straight and narrow; traits that 45-year-old Jack, an interior designer, balances with his creative nature.
Recalling his proposal 19 months later, Jack now laughs at the “total debacle” it was. He had purchased an estate ring of square-cut diamonds and sapphires that Eleanor had admired at a jeweler in Chestertown, but word spread quickly through the small town, and Eleanor received notice that the ring was ready before she heard anything about it from Jack. Then, on Halloween night, when Jack visited Eleanor’s parents to ask for her hand, they were so excited, they immediately called her up. “I was at home on trick-or-treat duty when I got this call,” says Eleanor. “They were all basically celebrating and I said ‘Wow, this is all great, but shouldn’t I be around for this?’ It was just a very funny scenario.”
Jack made it absolutely official on a beautiful day in November on the Washington College Campus. He dropped onto bended knee on the Samuel and Eleanor Shriver Memorial Field to pop the question. Named for Eleanor’s grandparents, the athletic field was the perfect place for her to answer with an enthusiastic “Yes.”
The self-proclaimed hands-off bride left most of the wedding planning to her mother, Margot, and family friend Liz Nuttle, who acted as party-planner and floral designer. Within two weeks the two had secured a location (the Greenspring Valley Upper Club), a caterer (Carlton & Co. Caterers), and a minister (the Shrivers’ longtime family friend Jane Mykrantz, a retired Presbyterian minister).
The entire wedding was planned to be outside at the 200-year-old Upper Club, also known as the Greenspring Valley Hounds, where the event could easily be moved under a tent if it rained.
The rain did fall, but only on the rehearsal dinner, A barbecue-style event featuring a steel drum band, in the formal gardens of Jack’s friend and then-landlord in Butler. “It rained cats and dogs,” says Jack. “It was like a monsoon and it was chilly. I had wanted it outside, and we decided to take our chances and let the chips fall as they may. It actually turned into a great time because everyone had to be close-knit under the tent and people really got into it.”
The next morning, Eleanor rose early and returned to the site of her first date with Jack, the hiking trail. This time her companion was her sister and matron of honor, former tennis star Pam Shriver. “I just felt like I needed to get some exercise on my wedding day,” explains Eleanor, ever the coach. “Nothing strenuous, but I wanted to get outside. And it was a good chance for Pam and I to spend some quiet time together.”
Soon afterward, the wedding day was in full swing, and she was at the club slipping into her gown, a comfortable, simple floor-length dress with a cinched waist, an open back and pearl details. The eight bridesmaids wore off-the-rack Ann Taylor dresses in periwinkle blue. Groomsmen were dapper in poplin khakis and blue blazers with dashing regimental stripe ties Jack had custom-made at the Ben Silver Haberdashery in Charleston, S.C.
A harp and flute played as Eleanor and her father walked down the lawn from the reception tent to where Jack was waiting beneath an arbor of pastel roses that framed a beautiful view of the countryside surrounding the Upper Club. Jack says he will never forget the look on Samuel Shriver’s face as he handed over his youngest daughter. “It was an emotional mix of joy, sadness and hope for the future,” Jack recalls.
Throughout the wedding, Jack and Eleanor made it a point to honor their families. “I thought it was important to maintain a connection with Marion throughout the day,” says Eleanor of her oldest sister, who died of cancer in the fall of 1997. “In the program, we had something to honor both my sister and Jack’s father, who died in 1985. Choosing the Upper Club was very important to me because Marion was very connected to horses, as was Jack’s father. Every time I looked over and saw a horse moving in the pasture I thought ‘There’s Marion.’”
Nuttle slipped some lily-of-the-valley into Eleanor’s bouquet and Jack’s boutonniere; it’s a flower her mother and both of her sisters had carried on their wedding days. In yet another salute to family, Eleanor researched the Magee family crest and had a signet ring made for Jack as his wedding band.
Although both the ceremony and reception were held at the same venue, Nuttle used flowers in subdued shades of white and cream at the ceremony area and bright colors in the tent to give the impression of two separate spaces. “I’ve known the Shriver family for over 20 years,” she says, “and I know their personalities. They aren’t formal people. I wanted to create the feeling of an early summer garden wedding.” She covered tables in vivid tones of pink, orange and blue, then added a chiffon overlay in an oversized check and arrangements of zinnias, roses and other bright blooms.
The 250 guests helped themselves to buffet stations serving rack of lamb, soft-shell crab, petit filets, chicken and pasta. They danced to big band and swing tunes, left words of advice for the newlyweds in a special guest book, and took home decoy Christmas ornaments hand-carved and signed by nationally known carver Gary Starr.
The couple made a quiet exit from the reception in Eleanor’s car. “We drove down to a point where we could look through the field to the tent and it was glowing like an oceanliner,” says Jack. Eleanor continues the memory: “We rolled down the window and listened to the band playing and watched the images of people dancing as we slowly drove away. You just say to yourself, ‘That wasn’t just any party we just left, that was a party honoring us.’ It’s really humbling that people want to come share in your important day.”
Invitations, Pleasure of Your Company, Green Spring Station, 410-821-6369
Flowers, Liz Nuttle, Secret Garden, 410-821-1945
Caterer, Carlton & Co. Caterers, Baltimore, 410-484-6110
Wedding music, Flutist Betsy Garry, 410-254-2658, and harpist Jan Holland, 410-437-3686.
Reception music, Gene Donati Presentations, 301-294-1600
Wedding dress, Gamberdella, Towson, 410-828-7870
Tents, Loane Bros., Baltimore, 410-686-9200
Tent lighting, Innovative Accents, Linthicum, 410-859-4146
Linens, Table Toppers, Baltimore, 410-769-9339
Photography, Cappy Jackson, Monkton, 410-472-3670
Bride’s hair, Gisela Stone, Moving-A-Head Salon, Lutherville, 410-821-9080