Mary Covington and Cole Fowble are the true definition of high school sweethearts. As long-time friends during their time together at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, the two began dating when they were 16. Their relationship turned long distance while the two were in college: Cole at the University of Georgia and Mary at Wake Forest University; but it only strengthened during that time. After graduating from college, both moved to Washington, D.C., to embark on their careers.
Having dated Mary for 10 years, Cole began concocting a months-long plan to ask for her hand in marriage — and their families were all in on it. “I thought my family was coming in town for Easter,” says Mary. (“Little Mary,” as she is known to family and friends. Her mother is affectionately known as “Big Mary.”) “I was so focused on the visit and making sure my sister’s boyfriend, who had never been to D.C. before, had a great time that I never became suspicious.”
A self-proclaimed planner, Mary had sent her family an itinerary outlining all of the details for the weekend, including dinner at one of her favorite restaurants, Fiola Mare, however, some surprise changes were made. As Mary walked in, she was greeted with a beautiful tablescape, atop which sat the ring nestled in a silver basket that Cole’s grandmother had given the couple.
“Cole did a wonderful job organizing his plan, and his parents were fantastic in helping him,” says Big Mary.
Cole’s mother, Lizzy Fowble, even made a secret trip to D.C. to help Cole run through all elements of his proposal. That Sunday, with the couple newly engaged, the family attended church at National Cathedral, one of the few events on Mary’s itinerary that actually occurred, which was certainly a very special way to cap off the memorable weekend.
As the wedding planning began, both were keen to hold a destination wedding. Asheville, North Carolina, and Kiawah Island, South Carolina, became the two primary contenders. They had always loved their trips to Kiawah with Cole’s parents, Lizzy and Coleman, so they decided it would be the ideal place for their nuptials. Mary chose to work with Haley Horsfall at WED, a wedding planner in Charleston. While Big Mary agreed to engage the planner, she still wanted to handle a few factors herself, such as the save-the-dates and invitations. “The invitations were very important to me,” she says. “It was our invitation to everyone to celebrate our daughter. I wanted them to be special, to be beautiful … and they were.”
Mary called on the expertise of Martha Morris for the invitations. Because Mary wanted a memorable save-the-date card, Martha recommended using an artist from Richmond, Virginia, to create an original piece of art depicting the River Course at Kiawah for the backdrop. “I love the watercolor that Caroline Connell, the artist, created,” says Big Mary. “Mary’s favorite color has always been blue, so we chose blue paper for the piece. When the artwork came, it was just a beautiful complement to the paper. That set the tone for me.” All other printed pieces, such as the invitation, itineraries for welcome bags, and programs, were printed on the same paper, creating a lovely framework for the events to come.
Having a planner on site was critical for both Marys. “My mom and I are both busy, and having our planner, Haley, in Charleston was so helpful. She knew the people, the location, the vendors … She was so graceful and easygoing in her efforts, and it made all the difference,” says Mary. Haley doubled as the planner for the rehearsal dinner as well, working seamlessly with Lizzy and Coleman to create a wonderful evening at the Ocean Course to kick off the wedding festivities.
Mary and Cole, both lovers of the outdoors, knew they wanted to get married outside in a natural setting. They also wanted the person officiating at the ceremony to be close to them. They immediately thought of their middle school chaplain from Heathwood Hall, Raven Tarpley, who was a mentor to the couple. Raven opened the ceremony by reading a special saying that Mary’s grandmother, Nola Covington, would recite to her and her sister when she woke them in the mornings when they were growing up. The special adage was printed on the program. This was but one of many ways family was infused into the weekend.
During the ceremony, Cole’s grandmother, Libby Bernardin, an accomplished and published poet and professor at the University of South Carolina, read a poem she wrote specifically for Mary and Cole. “She wrote the most beautiful poem and read it with a cadence and style that only she could deliver,” says Mary. “It was so special.”
Talent runs deep in both the Covington and Fowble genes. Mary’s cousin, Powers Burnette, a talented pianist who attended Furman University on a piano scholarship, played all of the music during the ceremony. “We were able to practice over Christmas and had so much fun,” says Mary. “Powers wanted to time everything to ensure he was hitting the right notes at the right time. It meant a lot to me that he would be playing during the ceremony.”
Mary was the picture of elegance walking down the aisle. “I just wanted to feel like myself. I didn’t want to feel like the dress was wearing me,” she says. “I wanted a simple dress — no beading, no sequins, no lace, nothing shiny.” And most importantly, she wanted a dress that would enable her to incorporate the antique lace veil that originally belonged to her great-grandmother, Mary Woods, which was also worn by Mary’s mom and cousin. Mary wanted to wear her hair down, which wouldn’t work with the veil. Thus, she and her sister, Cleveland Covington, who works in fashion, went to a salon in New York to try out an idea: affixing the veil to the back of the dress. They realized from this trip that they could make it work. Mary then set out to find the perfect dress, which she did at Hayden Olivia Bridal in Charlotte, North Carolina. “My idea didn’t even phase them,” says Mary. The florist then took the unused cap portion of the veil and wrapped it around the bouquet. A special photo of Mary’s great-grandmother wearing the veil was on display during the reception.
Mary’s aunt, Martha Quinn, made the flower girl dresses from lace she had restored. “Both my sister and my mother had collected lace over the years for these specific major events in our family,” says Big Mary. “Since my mother wasn’t there, my sister was able to make the dresses. She is such a beautiful seamstress, and it was very special. Mary’s ceremony had so many treasured moments.”
The wedding party was also an elegant group. Cole and his 12 groomsmen wore white dinner jackets, while the 14 bridesmaids donned long black dresses of their choosing. “My one stipulation to my bridesmaids was, ‘If you’re not going to wear it in front of your own grandmother, don’t wear it in front of mine,’” says Mary. “They all have great taste, and I trusted them.”
Having the wedding outside with the glorious backdrop of the river, marshland, and trees created a stunning setting, one of which Mary wanted to take full advantage. “We really wanted to incorporate the sunset,” she says. “We had a defined time and worked backwards from the time of sunset. The ceremony was at 5:30 p.m. Sunset was at 7:34 p.m.”
Haley played a critical role in managing the timing. She organized the flow impeccably, ensuring that the liveliness of the party never slowed down. Cocktail hour immediately followed the ceremony. Then Mary and Cole shared their first dance, followed by Mary’s father, Preston, giving his toast and blessing the food. As the sun went down, the band began to play, the food stations opened, and the guests moved into the ballroom. The immense head table had seating for 47 to include the couple and their bridal party with their dates. “I always wanted a seated dinner,” says Mary. “We got to sit down with our family and friends for about 20 to 25 minutes, and it was wonderful. We got up, cut the cake, and danced nonstop for three hours.”
The three-tier cake featured alternating flavors of buttercream and coconut icing. Atop the cake sat a very special figurine. The previous Christmas, as Mary had been helping to set out her grandmother’s silver, she came upon a small figurine of a man and a woman. It was the topper from her grandmother’s wedding cake that she had kept for more than 60 years. “I said, ‘I have to use this,’” says Mary. “And they both had dark hair like Cole and me!”
Highlights from the dinner menu included short ribs, twice baked potatoes, fish accompanied with succotash, and lobster with butternut squash puree, the guests’ favorite. “Everyone told us they grabbed multiples of the lobster,” says Mary with a laugh.
In addition to the flawless ceremony and reception, the togetherness the family and wedding party experienced provided a highlight of the weekend. Mary’s parents graciously rented a massive beach house that could hold 25, ensuring all of the bridesmaids were together. Cole’s family did the same for the groomsmen. “Having everyone together made the whole weekend just that much better,” says Mary.
At first, Big Mary wasn’t so sure about having everyone together, as she wanted to spend this precious time with her daughter. “I was worried about that,” she says, “but it ended up being the most wonderful aspect of the whole weekend. We were all able to take in the weekend together. Every one of those girls has grown up with me, and it was so lovely having them share all of that time together. I cannot tell you how wonderful and amazing that time was. God showered us with the most glorious weather and a fantastic weekend.”