How much did the McDonnell wedding cost, after all?

May 1, 2013

Ah, weddings! So stressful, so expensive. Cailin McDonnell and fiancé Chris Young had notions of picking up the tab for their June 2011 nuptials at the governor’s mansion.

“She wanted to pay for her wedding,” explained Gov. Bob McDonnell on WTOP Tuesday. But when a family friend offered $15,000 to pay the catering bill, they accepted. “The decision really, ultimately,” he said, “was my daughter’s.”


The McDonnell family. Back row, left to right: Jeanine, Sean and Bobby. Front row: Bob, Maureen, Cailin and Rachel. (Courtesy of the McDonnell campaign.)

That pricy wedding gift, of course, is now part of the FBI probe into the governor’s relationship with Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams. But how much did the whole 200-guest shindig cost?

“A nice wedding in season?” asked Richmond wedding planner Windy Jennings. “I would say you could do it for $40,000.” That’s for an upscale venue in the state capital; decent but not lavish food and booze; plus the obligatory accessories of the industrial wedding complex — flowers, photographer, limos, music, cake, invitations, etc.

The college sweethearts wed on a Saturday afternoon in June. Unclear if they paid a fee to use St. Patrick’s Catholic Church; some churches waive the fee based on the relationship with the families involved.

The bride walked down the aisle in a white strapless satin Maggie Sottero dress with lace embellishments. The governor’s office originally said the gown (average retail $1,000) was purchased from Maya Couture Bridal Salon in Virginia Beach. But owner Maya Holihan later said she didn’t charge a dime. “It’s because it’s the governor’s daughter,” she told our colleague Rosalind Helderman earlier this month.

Another perk: Access to the historic executive mansion, where they erected a tent on the lawn, rather than renting an event space. “They saved $3,000-$5,000 right there,” estimated Jennings.


Crews erect a tent in the garden of the Executive Mansion on Capitol Square in preparation for the marriage of Cailin McDonnell and Christopher Young. (Joe Mahoney/The Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The bill from Seasonings Fine Catering, the company operated by the governor’s then-chef, was paid for by Williams. The menu of jumbo shrimp, grilled London broil, stuffed chicken breasts, salad and smashed-potato bars was personally approved by the governor, who signed the contract and put down a deposit. Cost? $30 a head — discounted from $50— plus servers and rentals fees. So how much did Cailin and Chris have to pay out of pocket? Colleen Cook, another Richmond event planner, estimated they would have been left with a bill of about $20,000, based on what average couples are charged.

If he had it to do over, would the governor let the kids accept the $15,000 again? “It’s caused a fair amount of pain for me personally,” he told WTOP. “I’m a governor, but I’m a dad and I love my daughter very much.”

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