Not everyone loves a surprise, but when it comes to weddings, even the most die-hard planners can’t help but love the romance of an unexpected proposal. Olivia Schraibman McLean hoped her engagement would be a surprise, but, after eight years with Patrick McLean, she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off. “We’ve been together for so long and know each other so well, I knew it would be hard,” she says, “but he did it.”
And then some: when he proposed, Patrick had more than a ring in hand. He also had a wedding date and a venue booked and ready to go. All Olivia had to do was say yes.
Olivia clearly remembers meeting Patrick in high school. “We had a French class together and became friends,” she says. “I was in 10th grade, and he was in 11th. He asked me to prom before we started dating, but by the time prom rolled around, we’d been together for a bit.”
Lou Schraibman, Olivia’s mother, says that Patrick impressed her from the beginning with his calm steadiness and straightforward attitude. “He was so nervous when he got here the first time to pick up Olivia for a date,” she says. “Though he never met my mother face to face because she was unwell, he was so sweet in his tone and manner as he was introduced to her just by voice outside her door. I am so glad they spoke that day — timing is everything. My mom would have loved Patrick.”
Over the years, Lou says that Patrick blended easily into their family, taking on near-brother status with Olivia’s younger brothers, Will and George. “My husband, Gary, died when Olivia was 14, and Patrick was a positive presence for Will and George,” says Lou. “The three of them love hunting, fishing, and being outside. All along, Patrick has been a strong and kind role model for them both.”
Unlike some high school couples who use college as a way to explore the world on their own terms, Patrick and Olivia stayed together when Patrick graduated and moved to Spartanburg to attend Wofford College. A year later when Olivia got to Wofford, their relationship continued, stronger than ever. “We’re both good communicators, so we’ve always been able to talk through everything, whether we’re in the same city or not,” she says. “We realized that college is more than hanging out with the person you’re dating, so even though we were a couple, we pushed each other to have lives outside of our relationship.”
When Patrick graduated and moved to Washington, D.C., he and Olivia were forced to spend a year apart, but, as before, they took it in stride. “It was a good time to figure out ourselves and support each other to make friends,” says Olivia. “I think we both knew that we’d have our time.”
Though Olivia and Patrick had moved to Washington after graduation, Olivia always figured they’d get engaged in South Carolina. The question was when. Patrick had told Olivia that he would prefer to marry before fall 2022, when he would start law school. But as the weeks and months ticked away, Olivia began to feel a bit of stress. “In my head, I’m wondering, ‘Does he know how long it takes to plan a wedding?’” she says with a laugh. “I shouldn’t have worried.”
That’s because behind the scenes Patrick was deep in planning mode with both Lou and his mother, Jodie McLean. “As Patrick and I discussed timing, it became apparent that the window for a wedding was tiny,” says Lou. “I knew they’d want a mountain wedding, so I got on the phone and called Old Edwards Inn, which is in Highlands, North Carolina. Highlands is a special place for my family. My grandparents started going to Highlands when Main Street was a dirt road.”
Lou admits it felt odd making the call. “It went something like, ‘My daughter is getting married this summer but she doesn’t know it yet,’” she says, smiling. “It turned out only one date was available, so I snagged it.”
Meanwhile, Patrick and Jodie had their own strategy sessions going as they tried to figure out how to draw an unsuspecting Olivia to South Carolina for what they hoped would be a surprise engagement. They finally settled on wanting to gather the family at the beach for a holiday photo session. Afterward, Patrick, Olivia, and Fish, the couple’s beloved springer spaniel, would take a walk on the beach. At some point during their stroll, Patrick would propose.
The ploy worked. “I should have known something was up when our walk on the beach went on and on,” says Olivia. “I know now that they needed the time to get the rest of our family and friends from where they were hiding out to the beach house. When we got back, everyone was there. It was such a wonderful celebration. I’m so impressed that they were able to plan it and pull it off!”
Olivia laughs when she thinks about what happened right after the proposal. “I started asking about when and where and Patrick said, ‘Um, we sort of already have that planned. Your mom has booked Old Edwards Inn,’” she says. “I’d never even been there! But it turned out to be just beautiful.”
Though the venue had been booked, hundreds of decisions awaited. “There’s so much to planning a wedding,” says Olivia. “All those little decisions!” Fortunately for Olivia, Lou, and Patrick, almost all of them were blissfully easy, starting with the cream-colored, deckle-edged invitations that Lou and Olivia chose with the help of stationery and invitation designer Martha Morris. Engraved in a subdued gray script, they were traditional but not staid. Olivia’s wedding gown, a sleek, strapless design with a fitted top that flared into an A-line skirt that allowed it to swish as Olivia walked, was also an easy — though entirely unexpected — choice.
“We went in looking at satin and lace,” says Lou. “They were gorgeous but none of them really glowed the way I thought they should. We noticed a simple strapless gown, and on a whim Olivia tried it on. It was like a light switch had been turned on. We knew we’d found her style.”
Though Olivia and Lou adored the dress, they decided to keep looking, just in case they found one they liked even better. It didn’t take long: at the next shop, they found the perfect wedding gown. “I’m not sure what I expected, but this experience was wonderful,” says Lou. “Finding a veil with just the right amount of lace took a bit longer, but in the end we found one that perfectly complemented the simplicity of Olivia’s gown.”
Lou was afraid that the flowers might be a challenge, but they turned out more beautiful than she could have imagined. “Olivia couldn’t decide between all white or all pink,” explains Lou. “Julianne Sojourner of My Friend’s Garden found a way to use both. The flowers at the ceremony site were almost exclusively white, but along the walk to the reception, the color of the flowers gradually deepened, first to pale pink, then a little darker, and finally to a bright, springy shade,” she says. “It was stunning and so creative.”
Olivia and Patrick’s rehearsal dinner was held on a lawn rimmed by the mature trees and formal hedges outside Old Edwards’ historic Piermont Cottage. Guests were greeted by a large mosaic of photos depicting highlights from Olivia and Patrick’s eight years together. “Jodie came up with the idea as a way to celebrate all those special memories we made,” says Olivia. “It also honored all the people who have made such an impact on our lives.”
The seated dinner was designed to feel like a garden party. “We used monogrammed napkins with mix-and-match vintage china and sterling,” says Jodie. “After dinner, as the tent was being reset for the welcome party, we retired to the side yard for a bourbon tasting led by Olivia’s Uncle James. We finished the night with scrumptious desserts and a bluegrass band.”
The next day, Olivia and Patrick said their vows at Old Edwards’ Orchard House in front of a wooden cross bedecked with white roses and greenery. Behind the cross, a wall of windows looked into the sun-dappled mountain forest. Olivia was preceded down the aisle by 10 bridesmaids dressed in pale pink gowns; since her father, Gary, had passed away, Olivia was escorted by her brothers. “The ceremony was a beautiful blur, but I will never forget how special it felt the moment I saw Patrick for the first time as I walked down the aisle,” says Olivia.
Entering the reception to the sound of an instrumental trio, guests found themselves surrounded by Julianne’s elegant arrangements of pink and white roses, sweet peas, hydrangeas, and tulips, which dotted tables, filled the mantel of the stacked-stone fireplace, hung from light fixtures, and spiraled around the five-layer wedding cake that topped an etched silver stand. Outside, a covered stone patio opened onto a blooming garden surrounding a lush green lawn. Though they had briefly considered a sit-down dinner, Olivia and Patrick followed Southern tradition and held a stand-up reception that allowed friends and family members to mingle throughout the evening. They danced as well to the high-energy sound of the Atlanta Showstoppers.
“I’m so thankful we met when we did,” says Olivia. “It allowed us to be where we are now, which is just where we need to be.”