The moment she became engaged, Joanna Watson Walling knew who her wedding planner was going to be: her mother. Having previously planned the weddings of Joanna’s three sisters, Donna Watson was duly suited to take on the wedding of her last daughter.
What Joanna did not know was that her engagement was going to be an elaborate plan calculated perfectly by her soon-to-be fiance, Joseph Walling. Joanna and Joseph met their freshman year in college at the University of South Carolina; he was from Bristol, Virginia, and she grew up in Columbia. Upon graduation, Joanna moved to New York City to take a job in a top advertising firm, while Joseph moved back to Bristol.
About two years ago, Joanna decided to take a break from the intense hustle and bustle of New York City and move to Atlanta, Georgia, with two friends from high school to continue her career in advertising. A year later, Joseph made the move to Atlanta as well, with the intention of living in the same city as Joanna and building on their relationship.
When it came time to consider engagement, Joseph planned to propose to Joanna in The Big Apple, knowing what a special city it was to them both. Joseph arranged for members of his and Joanna’s families and many of their friends to be in New York City for the surprise weekend. While friends and family gathered at a nearby restaurant, Joseph took Joanna to Washington Square, a favorite spot of theirs, and proposed. Donna hired a photographer to discreetly take photos of the proposal. The couple then joined their family and friends in jubilant celebration.
The planning for the October ceremony and celebration quickly began. “This is my fourth daughter’s wedding, so I planned it, as I had her sisters’,” says Donna. “It’s kind of my thing. I love to do it. If I weren’t an accountant, I would be a wedding planner!”
It was important to Joanna to hold a nuptial Mass that would include all of the special rituals of her Catholic faith. The wedding was held at the family’s church, St. Joseph Catholic Church. On the special day, sounds from the church’s glorious choir filled the air, while Cliff Barrineau and Amanda Steck sang “The Prayer” for the couple.
The wedding party was grand in size, totaling 32. With 12 grandchildren already in the family, ranging from 3 weeks to 11 years old, Joanna wanted many of the little ones to play a part in the ceremony. Eight of the children, serving as junior bridesmaids and groomsmen, ring bearers and flower girls, as well as readers, walked down the aisle. In addition, Joanna and Joseph had 11 bridesmaids and groomsmen, respectively.
Joanna’s commitment to creating a meaningful experience that included friends and family was even evident in the “save the date” communications. One of Joanna’s friends, graphic artist Tori August, created a watercolor of the couple’s favorite engagement photo from Washington Square to serve as the backdrop for the couple’s “save the date.” These special touches and attention to detail were common threads sewn through the ceremony, the reception, and all the events leading up to it.
The ceremony radiated with the love of family that covered many generations. It was particularly special for Donna, as her parents were able to attend the ceremony. Joanna’s late paternal grandfather was a prisoner of war who received a Purple Heart, so she carried the Purple Heart in her bouquet in his honor. She wore her maternal grandmother’s diamond bracelet and an opal ring of her mother’s from when she was a young girl. That ring served as her “blue.” Donna says, “Joanna put so much thought into ways she could incorporate family into the ceremony. It was so meaningful.”
As all of her sisters had done, Joanna wanted to wear her mother’s veil but was the first to wear the blusher. Her Monique Lhuillier gown was timeless — simple satin emphasized by gorgeous lace at the top. Joanna wore her great-grandmother’s mink with fox trim as she arrived and left the church, adding more glamour and elegance to her appearance. The bridesmaids wore navy blue, while the mothers’ dresses fortuitously complemented each other: Donna wore emerald green and Joseph’s mother, Susan, wore black with an emerald undertone.
The flowers on the altar were provided by the church, as is customary of St. Joseph Catholic Church. Sarah Shell with Fern Studio Floral and Event Design created the flower arrangements for the pews and the attendants. Joanna wanted minimalistic elegance, with only green and white flowers for the bouquets as well as for the reception.
After the ceremony, guests were treated to an elegant reception at the South Carolina State Museum. Guests mingled throughout both floors of the museum, enjoying fare from Jack Brantley’s Aberdeen Catery of Camden. A Camden native, Donna has retained Jack to cater all of her daughters’ wedding receptions. Joanna and Joseph are both foodies, so having exceptional cuisine was essential. The menu consisted of many of Jack Brantley’s specialties, such as a crab and shrimp claw tower, a carving station, quail and grits, Brie and Virginia ham, and other tasty items.
Joanna and Joseph also considered their love of great food when planning the honeymoon; they spent three weeks in Europe, with the search for exceptional food high on the agenda.
The wedding’s band was one for the books, according to the couple. The Atlanta Showstoppers, a group of more than 10 members, lived up to their name, playing for four hours without taking a break. “They were phenomenal!” says Donna.
Joanna’s father, Mitch Watson, had but one request for the evening — that the cake come from Publix. Anyone who has ever tasted a Publix cake surely understands! Sarah and the team at Fern added green and white decorations to the cake in keeping with the evening’s color palette. The reception also featured another special dessert, a birthday cake for Donna. Joanna’s mother insisted no fuss be made over her birthday, which just happened to fall on her daughter’s wedding day, as she wanted the focus to be on Joanna. However, Joanna had other plans. She had a cake flown in from her favorite bakery in New York and surprised her mother with a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday” serenaded by the guests.
Mitch also regaled the guests with a humorous toast, telling Joseph that he had only two expectations of his sons-in-law: to clean his gutters and to never take his girls out of Richland County. He was quick to point out that Joseph was lucky because Mitch had just had a Gutter Guard installed, but Joseph, an accountant, and Joanna, who currently works remotely for an ad agency, are honoring the second request, at least for a few months, while they reside in Columbia until their long-term employment situations are determined. As Joanna and Joseph began their goodbyes, it quickly became apparent that Joanna’s brother-in-law, Aaron Dupree, had forgotten an important task, which was to confirm the Rolls-Royce that he had lined up to take the couple away. Aaron quickly asked brother-in-law John Anderson Thompson, III, to bring around his pick-up truck. Joseph and Joanna jumped in the back, said their goodbyes, and were driven to the back of the museum, where they joyfully hopped into a Uber vehicle and took off for their future together. Out-of-town friends and family were not quite ready to leave Columbia, so dozens of them met the next day to tailgate for the University of South Carolina football game and continued to celebrate Joanna and Joseph’s union.
Ceremony: St. Joseph Catholic Church
Reception: South Carolina State Museum
Caterer: Aberdeen Catery
Florist: Fern Studio Floral and Event Design
Hair: Blue Orchid
Videographer: Jon Warlick Media
Photographer: Caroline Lima, Virginia
Dress: Joan Pillow, Atlanta, Designed by
Tuxedo Rentals: Granger Owings
Reception Rentals: Party Reflections