For the first time in Flagler County’s history 16 couples were married and five couples renewed their vows en masse on the steps of the county courthouse just past noon today in a moving inaugural ceremony Clerk of Court Tom Bexley plans to make an annual event.
The skies may have been a little gray, but no grayer than the sort of Parisian skies couples in love invariably find when they honeymoon in that city. So on this Valentine Day, when most people wish they were in Paris, the wedding ceremony outside the Kim Hammond Justice Center could at least claim a Parisian dome, though the colors below were all red and white as Bexley presided and a string ensemble played weddingish music from the old continent.
“Spread the word for next year because we intend to do this on an annual basis to celebrate one of the more positive things we do here at the Clerk’s office,” Bexley said just before conducting the vow-renewal ceremony. He invited the couples renewing their vows to stand around him in a semi-circle, read out the vows and elicited the “I will” from husbands, then wives, then had them kiss. One couple had been married 60 years, the others 50, 25, 45 and 16. “Any of you folks out there having problems, these are the ones you want to talk to,” Bexley said.
Among those renewing were Pam Richardson and her husband Mike Zack. “How could I miss this opportunity? I didn’t know what I was going to do for my 25th anniversary. It was a dare. We made it,” Richardson said. Getting married wasn’t so much a dare, she clarified, but “people dared us to stay married. Oh, you’re not going to stay married to him.” They were wrong. “Best decision I ever made.” Being a fan of Bexley’s, she couldn’t resist being part of the first ceremony and marking the occasion “with the people in our community. They’re all my friends,” Richardson said. She found out in front of the courthouse that one of her friends, Robert Erickson, was also getting married today, to Mary Klemonsky.
“Two of the people up here are a little bit more special than the others to me, nothing personal,” Bexley said as he continued the vow-renwals. “Their names are Bill and Carol Bexley, they’re my father and mom. I mentioned earlier that marriage is the beginning of a grand adventure. No one expresses this more than my parents, Bill and Carol, they have truly experienced life to the fullest, and I guarantee they are the textbook of what a happy, long-lasting, fulfilled marriage should be. I’m happy that you’re my parents and my friends.”
“Very well done, just the way I wrote it,” his father yelled out.
Bexley’s parents met in a condominium in Tampa—on Davis Island—in 1966. Bill was dating Carol’s roommate at the time, Carol was dating Bill’s roommate. Then they realized what pairing made better sense. “We just knew we were right for each other,” Carol said. Tom gets his politics from his father, who’d always been involved in politics but never as an actual public servant or elected official. When Bill found out Tom’s plans to hold a mass wedding, Bill was first to volunteer for the vow-renewal. “And you know where I found out about it?” Tom says. “Palm Coast Observer. He didn’t tell me.”
For the occasion Carol wore Bill’s great-grandmother’s wedding band. “She was going to wear the ring that her great grandmother had,” Bill said, “but she buried it in Atlanta when Sherman came and burned Atlanta, she buried it to keep the Yankees from getting the gold.” So the ring, fragile as it’s become, is not wearable anymore.
That was then. The vow-renewals done, the main event began.
“Now the serious stuff is upon us,” the clerk went on: time for the actual marriage ceremony. He cued the music. The Flagler Youth Orchestra ensemble played Mouret’s famous Rondeau, which at least a few couples had to recognize as the theme to PBS’s Masterpiece Theater.
And so out came the brides from a door at the west wing of the courthouse, walking single file, bouquets in hand, their last few dozen steps as single women, toward the grooms who’d lined up at the top of the steps. Any similarities with the victims of a firing squad were purely coincidental. And there was just enough of a breeze to ruffle the men’s pants a bit, so if knees were shaking and feet were turning to clay in there, you couldn’t see it. At any rate, none of the men ran.
Brides and grooms were paired, and the Rondo ended just as Bexley was ready to pick up his part of the ceremony again.
“Marriage is a sharing experience and a cooperative venture in every way,” Bexley said. “It is a relationship based on love, respect, and a determination on the part of both wife and husband to adjust to each other’s temperaments and moods, in health or sickness, joy or sadness, ease or hardship. The marriage of these couples means the creation of a new home and a new family. For all of us it is important to recognize the significance of a devoted and affectionate family life.”
The rings found the proper fingers, the vows were exchanged, couples kissed, and just like that, Flagler County gained 16 new couples to cheers, a couple of hurrays and a crescendo of strings. And later, cupcakes and fizzy drinks (but no champagne, this still being county grounds.) And with the lunch-hour ticking its last, the grounds began to empty and courthouse employees return to work.
Bexley beamed. “We could have streamlined it, we will next year,” he said, “but I think for a first shot it turned out great. People I think felt good about it, we certainly did. My whole team, everybody in the office pitched in from doing little table decorations to making the little pins we’re wearing.” Reddish hearts, of course.