An Island Affair

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A Sea Island couple ties the knot at their “happy place.”

By Lilibet Snellings  Photography by Laura Negri

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In the foyer outside Sister Edge and Bill Ward’s wedding reception, two old photographs sat atop a table covered in hydrangeas, garden roses and candlesticks. The photographs were of the bride and groom as chubby-cheeked infants—Sister sitting in the south Georgia sand and Bill smiling poolside—with captions that read: “Sister’s first trip to Sea Island” and “Bill’s first trip to Sea Island.” Though the pair both spent summers at the coastal resort throughout their childhoods, they didn’t meet until their freshman year at the University of Georgia—at a fraternity’s bowling event.

“We were best friends all through college,” Sister says. “We didn’t start dating until senior year, when we figured out that we liked each other [as] more than friends.” After college, Sister moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Congressmen Lynn Westmoreland and Nathan Deal. Two years later, though, she returned to Atlanta to work for Deal as governor. “And to be closer to Bill,” she says. “We used a lot of SkyMiles in those two years!”

Happy Days

After a Christmastime engagement in 2011 the couple, now 28, knew exactly where they would be wed. “If you ask anyone in my family where their favorite place in the world is, they will say Sea Island. It’s our happy place,” Sister says.

This past October, the Georgia natives—he’s from Atlanta and she’s from Newnan—kicked off their three-day wedding weekend with a traditional Southern low-country boil aboard a shrimp boat to celebrate the 30th birthday of the bride’s older brother, who introduced the couple. This was followed, on Friday, by a rehearsal dinner and after-party complete with the old Southern country club atmosphere with views overlooking the golf course supplied by Retreat, one of Sea Island’s three world-class golf courses. On Saturday, the ceremony took place at Wesley United Methodist (where a gospel choir sang “Oh Happy Day” as the couple exited the church), and an elegant black tie reception was held at The Cloister for 435 guests. “We invited 600,” Sister says, with a laugh, and adds: “I’m from a small town.”

Bathed in the early evening glow of the grand hotel, guests enjoyed cocktails and butler-served hors d’oeuvres—roasted New Zealand lamb with stone ground mustard, crab and avocado on brioche, crispy lobster “pops” with honey mustard (a true Southern specialty at Sea Island), and chilled shrimp in cucumber cups—under the Spanish moss-draped live oaks that cloak The Cloister garden. Because of their late-October date, the bride and her mother made contingency plans. “We had planned for everything inside,” Sister says. “But with Sea Island, everything is so beautiful that even your back-up location is an amazing option.”

The weather gods were good to them, however, and they were graced with a sunny, 70-degree day. “It was the most beautiful day we could have possibly imagined,” she says. At sunset, a bagpiper led a procession from cocktail hour to the ballroom, along the Black Banks river walk, lined in candlelight.

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Fun and Family

The garden party vibe continued in the ballroom. Melissa Ippensen, event design manager at Sea Island, remembers how Sister loved the feel of a Southern event with a garden presence. “We incorporated terrariums in some of the centerpieces to give a nod to the gardens of The Cloister but still keep the event regal and sophisticated,” she says.

And regal it was. In classic, Old South style, the groomsmen wore white dinner jackets and pocket squares in lieu of boutonnieres, while the bride, 5 feet 10 inches tall, looked statuesque in a Rivini gown and flat sandals by Jimmy Choo—her look completed by a Belgian lace veil, which was worn by her late grandmother in 1954, and again by her mother, in 1981. The bride carried a lush, loose bouquet of white peonies, while her bridesmaids, donning kiwi Amsale gowns, carried ivory garden roses, white ranunculus and lisianthus, passion vine and David Austin juliet garden roses. The arrangements were created specially for Sea Island by Kelly Revels of The Vine Floral Design.

“The team did an amazing job of capturing exactly what I had envisioned—even better actually,” Sister says. “We wanted to use colors and flowers that we knew would be classic 20 years from now.”

While the evening was formal, the atmosphere was far from stuffy. “Sister and Bill have a zest for life,” says the couple’s wedding coordinator, Amanda Gould, Sea Island wedding manager. “They both love to have a good time and find laughter in any situation,” she says. “When I think of this couple, the first things that come to mind are family and fun.”

A Smashing Good Time 

And fun they had. “My dad got up on stage and sang ‘Brown Sugar,’ ” Sister says. “He is the biggest Rolling Stones fan. He killed it. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the night.” As guests danced along with inflatable saxophones and guitars, other family members followed suit. “My brother sang ‘Shout.’ My uncle sang ‘Let’s Groove’ by Earth, Wind & Fire. None of us are wallflowers.”

Perhaps big personalities come with unique names? “We all have strange names. I have been called Sister my whole life (her given name is Harriet Lynn after her grandmothers). It’s a Southern thing. My brother’s name is Skin—Skin the fifth. My dad and my grandfather are also Skin. My mom’s name is Bambi—that’s on her birth certificate,” she says, with a laugh.

This sense of humor was evident in the couple’s choice to have the groom’s cake specially designed in the shape of their dog, Casey Wa Wa, a corgi.

The real dog is a special part of Sister and Bill’s life. “I found the dog my sophomore year in college,” the bride says. “It was the last one in the box and I couldn’t stand it. I asked Bill if he wanted it because I was living in the sorority house and couldn’t have one. They had told me it was a Husky so Bill was psyched—he thought he was getting this big, cool dog but really it ended up being a hot dog,” she says.

Everything—edible and otherwise—went off without a hitch. During a strolling reception, guests enjoyed several elaborate displays of heavy hors d’oeuvres—a fresh seafood display of Georgia shrimp, snow crab and oysters; a trio of salads (among them the “Edge Wedge”); a carving station with blackened beef tenderloin and salmon encroute; an elaborate sushi assortment, and of course, in true Southern fashion, a grits station with all the trimmings: black-eyed peas, smoked cheddar, roasted corn, stewed tomatoes and okra, blackened shrimp, scallions, applewood-smoked bacon and andouille sausage.

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Painting the Scene 

Sister recalls that her most memorable moment was walking into the ballroom. “You don’t know what it’s going to look like exactly,” she says. “Everything you’ve worked so hard on for a year—the food, the flowers, the tablescapes—it was all so beautiful.

“Not to mention all the people you love most in the world all in one room,” Sister adds.

Other special touches included an on-site artist who painted the party in real time. “We got the idea from a wedding in New Orleans,” Sister says. “My mom had an artist friend who knew this guy. He said he had never done it before but he’d love to try. People loved it. He has gotten four jobs since then!” The finished product, an oil-on-canvas dance floor scene with the bride and groom at its center, hangs over the couple’s fireplace in Atlanta.

Another noteworthy addition: As favors, the couple gave jars of local Newnan wildflower honey. “I wanted to incorporate elements of my hometown,” Sister explains. “The idea came from a Victor Hugo quote: ‘Life is the flower for which love is the honey.’ Next to the jars were signs that said, ‘Please take a jar of honey, and spread the love!’ ”

The band led the enthusiastic group out for the bride and groom’s exit. As the newlyweds departed, their guests threw white biodegradable confetti into the air. “I had it in my mouth and all down my dress!” Sister says. Covered in confetti, the happy couple pulled away in a white Mercedes convertible as sparkler fountains exploded—a glamorously fitting farewell.

“Time went by so fast at the reception,” the bride says. “You see all the people you love and you want to spend time with all of them. Some brides get overwhelmed but I didn’t. I really had fun. And I really credit Sea Island for that. They make everything run so smoothly.”

Reflecting on the Wards’ big day, Gould says: “When the bride has a connection to Sea Island, you truly feel like you have become a part of that experience and thus a part of her life. You are helping to create what may be her favorite memory at Sea Island but certainly not her last!”

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