How the New York Times’ ‘Perfect Wedding Announcement’ came together

Ada Laurie Bryant and Robert Mitchell Haire set a high bar for media coverage of future weddings in Hockessin, Del., this year: Not only was their union written about by The New York Times, but the Times’ announcement charmed writers at Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post and even science blogger Mark Hoofnagle. It also made Gawker.

One line of Margaux Laskey’s “Weddings & Celebrations” column in particular turned these presumably hard-bitten writers to mush: “The bride, 97, is keeping her name.”

“That’s just our standard wording,” Laskey said when Poynter reached her by phone. “I know it came across as charming, but it’s just the way we do things.”

Laskey’s been writing about weddings for the Times for two years. She said the Bryant nuptials landed on her desk because another staffer knew Bryant’s daughter Jane Bryant Quinn, who is a noted financial columnist. “Ada was not interested in us doing a ‘Vows’ column,” Laskey said, because those require a Times reporter to attend the ceremony.

The announcement’s first few paragraphs follow a familiar structure: wedding details, family lineage, education and job histories; then “you have a little more room to play,” Laskey said.

Bryant and Haire met in a retirement community where Bryant, a widow, became friends with Haire’s wife. After Jean Haire died, Bryant and Robert, who is 86, became close. They dated, he wrote her a sonnet (“I can attest that it doesn’t get easier even in advanced age” he told Laskey about courtship), he proposed, she refused. “There’s a great difference in our ages,” she explained. He wrote her another sonnet, and eventually she accepted his proposal.

“Their story is just amazing,” Laskey said. “I feel like I can’t take a lick of credit for it.”

Laskey worked on the announcement for about a week, she said. She interviewed Bryant by phone once and Haire twice and spoke with Jane Bryant Quinn as well. She did not speak with Jane’s stepdaughter Martha Quinn, the former MTV VJ who tweeted ecstatically after Laskey’s piece appeared.

 

“We actually didn’t know that,” Laskey said of Bryant’s connection to ’80s music history. In most cases, she said, the Times speaks only to direct descendants for weddings columns.

She said she was surprised when a friend sent her Gawker’s writeup of her column, which saluted its “each perfect and heartbreaking line that celebrates the couple without trivializing or infantilizing the elderly.” Gawker, Laskey noted with amusement, once poked fun at her own wedding announcement, which ran in the Times in 2010.

Laskey’s job as senior news assistant on the society desk also requires her to do Web production for the paper; she was gathering string for another piece about a bride who is 69 when Poynter reached her.

“I’m trying to convince them to let me do a backstory,” she said. “When a couple has so much life experience behind them … there’s something different about it. They’ve seen pain and this couple they’re still very positive and optimistic.”

Laskey said she sent the Bryant announcement to her own grandmothers, both of whom are single and in their ’90s. “I said, ‘Look, Grans, it’s not too late!’”

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  • Bob Bryant

    Ms. Laskey’s article captured the right tone for this wedding, a union of loving companions who wanted to stand beside each other in good times and bad. Other media outlets presented the story as cute or funny because of the ages of the individuals. The Today Show quartet laughed for several minutes, pausing only to note a “sweet” element. With their emphasis on humor, they seemed oblivious to the love and commitment central to marriages of couples of all ages. Over concern for this sort of reaction, Bryant and Haire declined requests from several national networks for interviews and live appearances. The marriage wasn’t “cute.” That’s the sort of demeaning talk seniors get from waitresses and doctor’s
    office receptionists who call them “sweetheart” or “honey” instead of
    the grown-up names adults are entitled to. Laskey sent the story to her grandmothers because it was inspiring, not because it was funny or cute.