love conquers all wedding contest

Kimpton Hotel, Love Conquers All, Mary Stanton & Matthew

I’ve never done a wedding quite like this one, to be honest.  On every wedding day, there’s that incredible sense of love and trust as two people take the ultimate leap and dedicate their lives to one another, but this one was, for many reasons, just a little different.  

Mary Stanton and Matthew have known each other since time out of mind.  They’re high school sweethearts, but each knew of the other in a peripheral sort of way even before that.  Anyway, in high school, they started dating, and they quickly realized that there was a spark of something powerful between them.  In so many love stories, that just about does it. The meet-cute, the development of a unique bond, marriage, kids… But life had something else in store for these two.

Mary Stanton was diagnosed in 2017 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and as part of her treatment, she went through 12 rounds of chemotherapy.  She and Matthew hoped for the best, but later that year test results showed that the cancer had returned. Her best shot for recovery at this point was a stem cell transplant, so she underwent both that procedure, new chemotherapy treatments, and a three-week stint in the hospital’s isolation wing.  This past February–a year after her stem cell transplant–new tests showed no cancerous activity, indicating that she is in remission.

In the midst of all the medical chaos and uncertainty, Matthew proposed.  He knew that this strong and resilient woman was the one for him, so he followed his heart and popped the question during a Christmas-light-peeping trip to McAdenville.  So, what next now that they were engaged? The answer is complex and kind of amazing.

Just after the engagement, Mary Stanton’s sister passed on the word about Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel’s “Love Conquers All” Wedding Giveaway contest.  In April of 2018, the couple heard that they had won (by a landslide) an all-expense paid 100 person wedding at the lovely boutique hotel in uptown Charlotte.  After giving the couple the news, the Kimpton put me in touch with Mary Stanton and Matthew. They knew my work and thought we’d be a good fit for one another.  I have routinely donated portrait packages for various causes, but never a complete wedding. However, after hearing their story, I was sure that theirs was a day I wanted to bear witness to and I coudn’t wait to begin getting to know such a unique couple.

The ceremony took place at Christ Episcopal Church.  They had joined the church and loved how active the community was, especially in their advocacy for young people.  Before heading to the church, Mary Stanton and her ladies got ready at the Kimpton, then headed over to Romare-Bearden park with me for some pre-ceremony portraits.  The fellas headed to the church with my second photographer, Emily. I absolutely love the exterior of Christ Episcopal Church. Hard to ask for a better backdrop. Once I wrapped up with the ladies in the park, we all headed to the church for Mary Stanton and Matthew’s first look. 

I’ll tell you, this is where the waterworks started for me.  I don’t know how many times I teared up that day, but it wasn’t just a few.  Mary Stanton and Matthew met each other for their first look in front of the church, in the circular drive.  Watching Matthew see her, this woman he’d been through so much with, for the first time…that was just it for me.  I was mush.  And then Mary Stanton had a first look with her Dad. I was wiping away tears with my sleeve at this point. It was such a touching moment.

After a delightful ceremony, we all headed back to the Kimpton for the reception.  What I recall most vividly about that night were the moments of gratitude–from pretty much every direction–that this event was even happening at all.  At one juncture during his toast, Jim, Mary Stanton’s dad, pulled onto the dance floor Mary Stanton’s medical team and employers who had cared for and supported her so faithfully through her illness.  He separately thanked and embraced each individual. The entire room was teary-eyed, particularly Mary Stanton. Gah! Can you even imagine?  

Other toasts, from Mary Stanton’s sister and from Matthew’s brother, touched on the gratitude each felt to be gaining such an amazing sibling.  The comments made about Mary Stanton’s strength, and about Matthew’s love for and unfailing dedication to her, were powerful beyond my ability to convey.  

While guests were eating and mingling about, I stole Mary Stanton and Matthew away for a few sunset romantics on the rooftop parking deck of an adjacent building. These are some of my favorite images of the day. Amazing what can happen in just a few minutes in perfect light.

When the party really got going, the dance floor was packed.  Sol Fusion was the chosen band, and if you’ve never heard them, they’re honestly just the best.  At the bar, you could order a vodka drink called “The Knox,” named after Mary Stanton and Matthew’s dog.  He made a brief appearance to rep his booze and to watch the first dance before retiring to their suite. Gotta love a dog-friendly hotel.   

At the end of every wedding, I understand that I’ll never get to do something JUST like this again.  Every story is different; every story is powerful. This one, however… I can’t possibly overstate the positivity of my wishes for these two.  I hope a long life together brings them all that they could possibly dream of. A sweet honeymoon in Greece must have been a nice start.

Thank you to the incredible vendor team that pooled their talents to make Mary Stanton and Matthew’s wedding dream into a reality:

Ceremony Location: Christ Episcopal Church of Charlotte
Reception Location: Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel
Wedding Coordinator : J. Leigh Events
Hair and Makeup: Lovely by Lindsey
Floral Design and Event Rentals: Clux
Cake Artist: Celestial Cakery
Paper Goods: Viri Lovely Design
Band: Sol Fusion
Video: Hart to Heart Media

Thank you to my second photographer Emily for her beautiful image contributions.

Be sure to check out Mary Stanton and Matthew’s engagement session, featuring their beloved pup, Knox, captured at the UNCC Botanical Gardens.

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