Wedding season is always an exciting time — the planning, the invitations, the details … yet sometimes, the stress can be overwhelming and take the joy out of the process. For one family, that wasn’t an option. Instead, the planning was effortless, the focus was on family and friends, and the end result was just perfect.
Emma and John Brett with The Reverend Charles Davis during their wedding ceremony at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.
Emma Manning and John Brett Campolong had known each other for more than 20 years, from when they attended Heathwood Hall Episcopal School together. The two weren’t in the same grade but had many mutual family friends, including Emma’s first cousin, Townsend Zeigler, and her half-uncle, Tennent Manning. As happenstance would have it, Emma was visiting some friends in Atlanta, Georgia one weekend — friends who were also friends with John Brett, and he joined them for dinner. Emma and John Brett had often seen each other on occasion during the holidays, however this was the first time they had been together without family as the conduit. They soon started dating.
A year-and-a-half later, John Brett spent nearly two months trying to get Emma’s father, Deas, alone so that he could ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Plans to go to the farm to “turkey hunt” or to get together in other ways continually fell through. “I eventually asked Deas if he thought John Brett might have something he needed to talk with him about, and he didn’t think that was the case,” says Chappy Manning, Emma’s mother. John Brett finally called the Mannings and asked if he could come over to speak with Deas, whereupon he received Deas’ blessing.
The approval came just in time, as the ring was soon to arrive. John Brett’s mother, Debbie Campolong, passed away when he was in college, and he had carefully reset her ring to give to Emma. His mother had left him a special letter along with the ring, ensuring that John Brett knew that asking someone to marry him would be the biggest decision of his life. He took that decision very seriously in honor and memory of his mother.
Emma with Deas, her father, as they head down the aisle.
John Brett asked Deas for Emma’s hand on Wednesday, and the ring arrived on Thursday — the day of the proposal. “I think the ring would have burned a hole in his pocket had he waited any longer to propose,” Emma says with a smile.
On the day of the proposal, John Brett went to Emma’s for dinner. While Emma talked on the phone with a friend and took her time getting ready, John Brett started the grill, eagerly filled the house with candles and set up his phone to record the proposal. A man outside, not knowing the house was filled with candles and the grill was going, immediately started screaming that the house was on fire. John Brett nervously yelled for the man to leave, afraid he was going to ruin the surprise. “To this day, we still don’t know who that man was, and we have not seen him since to apologize and let him know why John Brett was so anxious,” Emma laughs.
As Emma came into the room, John Brett got down on one knee and proposed. John Brett’s black lab, sensing the excitement, was pacing back and forth, being the only thing caught on video, although the audio was able to capture the words of John Brett’s proposal. One very important word it caught? “Yes.”
Top: Emma looking over at the centerpiece of flowers in the bride’s changing room at the church. Flowers by Julianne Sojourner. Below: Emma in the exquisite Johnston-family antique lace veil.
Emma and John Brett didn’t want a long, drawn-out engagement, so the planning began instantly. The two decided to get married in January, allowing them six months to plan and enjoy their engagement. The holidays fell during the planning process, which made the engagement seem that much quicker, as their focus turned to celebrating Christmas with family and friends.
Unlike many brides, Emma was happy to turn over much of the planning to Chappy and Deas. “I had no idea what I wanted, so I didn’t do much of the planning,” says Emma. “My parents have wonderful taste, and they can throw a great party, so I was happy to have them take the lead.”
Fortunately for all, Emma, Chappy and Deas are very agreeable people, so the planning was painless and easy — just as they wanted. “We purposefully wanted it to be low stress and most of all to have fun,” adds Emma. Mother and daughter were well aware of some weddings that hadn’t gone so easily, and they were determined Emma’s wouldn’t be one of those.
Emma comes from an extremely tight-knit family, one that has passed on old, special traditions that have been great blessings to everyone. It started with the dress. Before Emma even had a chance to think about where she needed to go to look for her gown, her aunt, Kaki Zeigler, showed her the wedding dress she wore that had also been worn by a family friend.
Kaki quickly shared with Emma that the brides who have worn the dress are still happily married. That was certainly incentive to wear it, but even more so was the beauty of the dress, the quality of design and the willingness of her aunt to allow her to remake the dress into one that appropriately fit her style. Emma joyfully accepted the offer and turned what was a long-sleeved gown into a short-sleeved one that still included the beautiful details, including the gorgeous buttons that were previously on the sleeves and were added down the back of the new dress. The entire back and bodice of the dress were a gorgeous, delicate lace, which had always been a favorite of Emma’s. New lace was added to the existing lace and a new — and still very stunning — dress was made! All of the careful alterations were made possible by Nick’s Tailoring.
Guests dancing at the reception at the Palmetto Club to music by 17 South. Emma and John Brett leaving the the reception as guests blow bubbles of good wishes.
In addition to the dress, Emma’s veil carried with it very special memories. Emma’s father’s godmother, Anne Johnston, was the keeper of a family veil that members of her husband’s family had worn since the early 1800s. She graciously offered the veil to Emma to wear. “The veil was just exquisite and looked so beautiful with the dress,” says Chappy. “We were very honored that Anne allowed Emma to wear it.”
Emma had two matrons of honor, only one of whom could attend. The other, Elizabeth Hipp Shackouls, lives in Houston, Texas and was eight months pregnant with her second set of twins. Emma’s attending matron of honor, Lynn Manning Cooper, wore a peacock blue dress — Emma chose the color, but she left it to Lynn to pick the dress that she liked best. The groomsmen wore their own black tuxes, while John Brett added a Brackish bow tie to his to ensure he stood out.
Chappy and Emma decided on the Palmetto Club for the reception, as it is always wonderfully appointed and was a quick drive or walk from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, where Emma and John Brett were married. Chappy and Emma wanted a classic look and chose greens and whites with a touch of pink, which were beautifully arranged by Julianne Sojourner.
“Having first had two boys, when Emma was born, her great-grandmother sent me two dozen pink sweetheart roses, so I have always associated pink with Emma and thought it would be special to have a touch of the color in her reception,” says Chappy. The flowers picked up on the colors, providing a beautiful elegance to the traditional setting of the Palmetto Club. An assortment of family photos were on display, echoing the love of family both the Mannings and the Campolongs carry so dearly with them. “John Brett’s late mother’s presence was felt and missed,” says Chappy. “She was very dear to him.”
Emma and John Brett cutting their wedding cake by Ally and Eloise Bakeshop.
Emma’s dad had one job. Find the perfect band –– and Deas did just that in booking 17 South. Every guest was on the dance floor, and they even had the opportunity to see Deas perform with the band on his harmonica. “Other than the wedding itself, this was the highlight of the night,” says Chappy. To this day, people still tell Emma it was the most fun wedding they have attended. And for Emma, the wedding cake by Ally and Eloise was the best she has ever eaten. She is counting down the days until she can break out the top layer and enjoy it on their first anniversary.
While Emma and John Brett hated to leave the reception, the night eventually had to come to an end, so they set out for their memorable exit — in a 1956 baby blue Corvette convertible. It was chilly, and they couldn’t put the top up because there would be no room for Emma in her dress, so they took a quick drive around the block as all of the guests joyfully saw them off.
There was an ending that could be seen as sad to some, but to the Mannings, it was simply bittersweet. Not 30 minutes after Emma and John Brett got on the plane to leave for their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, Emma’s grandmother, Chappy’s mother, Jeannie McLain, passed away. “It was so like her to wait until the wedding was over. We know it wasn’t a coincidence,” says Chappy. “In essence, she was passing on the torch.” One that Emma and John Brett will carry proudly forward as they make their life together.