Stephen & Heather French Henry
 
Text by Holly McAlister
Photography by Mark Kidd Studio
Heather & StephenBridal Gown by Sherri Hill
Bridal Tiara on loan from the British Government
Hair by Mickey Hobbs of Mickey’s Signature Salon
Bridesmaids’ Gowns by Albert Angelo from Fancy Dress
Wedding Venue: The Cathedral of the Assumption
Reception Venue: Seelbach Hilton
Photography by Mark Kidd Studios
Cake by Artistry in Cake
 

Imagine growing up, as any other little girl would do, dreaming of your fairy-tale wedding, practicing your wedding vows on the playground with the obliging next door neighbor, and all the other dreaming and planning that goes through the minds of little girls everywhere. So it was for this Augusta, Kentucky, little girl who just couldn’t wait to find Prince Charming and to have her dream wedding. But when Heather finally found her true love, wedding plans weren’t quite as she had envisioned all those years ago. When notoriety and politics step into a situation, they can turn even the most well-planned events upside down. When the bride-to-be is the reigning Miss America, traveling twenty thousand miles a month, and the groom is the Lieutenant governor of the common-wealth; plans can become a little more chaotic than for most couples.

The months leading up to the bride’s and groom’s union were anything but typical and anything but quiet. Hectic and busy, true love had carried this couple through press conferences, ethics review boards, public opinion, and speaking engagements, as they poured their heart and soul into each task in anticipation of finally being together after it all was done. Lieutenant governor of Kentucky Stephen Henry had won the heart of Heather French, Miss America 2000 and founder of the Heather French Foundation for Veterans–an organization committed to the homeless and disabled veterans of America–and they weren’t about to let a little public scrutiny get in the way of their love.

Heather and Stephen met in 1995 at the Old Governor’s Mansion in Louisville, when he had the difficult job of hosting all of the Miss Kentucky contestants for a brunch during competition. Miss Lexington at the time, Heather hit it off with Stephen from the start, and Heather just knew that she would someday marry this man. Sure enough, they began to pursue a relationship together in 1999. After dating for about six months, they began talking more seriously about being wed. Just beginning her Miss America tour, Heather purchased her first bridal magazine while in New York in December of 1999 and started shopping around for a bridal gown in anticipation of an engagement and wedding not yet solidified or announced.

But, as often is the case for those in the public eye, questions began to surface among the public, and many misunderstood comments or actions painted a picture not necessarily altogether accurate. Information and plans began to leak. Take their engagement, for instance. While visiting Heather at one of her speaking engagements in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on her Miss America tour in January 2000, Stephen was told that the news of their engagement was to be broken the next day. What engagement? Stephen and Heather had yet to become officially engaged, and it was to be the talk of Heather’s scheduled Miss America press release the following day? Stephen called Heather and told her, “They’re breaking the news,” to which she replied, “What news?” “That we’re engaged, Stephen said. Heather was shocked; “but we’re not engaged!” Heather and Stephen knew the press enough to know that all eyes and cameras would be on Heather’s ring finger the next day, and it was currently bare! They had to act quickly.

A frantic whirlwind began as Stephen tried to get Heather’s ring in time, having the jeweler send the unfinished jewelry immediately from New York. Being in Augusta, Georgia, at the time, Stephen asked the jeweler to send the ring to Augusta, which he did… Augusta, Kentucky, Heather’s childhood hometown. Finding this out, Stephen frantically called a friend of his, vice president of Delta Airlines, and begged him to help. The ring was flown on a Delta airplane to Atlanta, where Stephen quickly grabbed the box from a Delta representative and made his way to Heather’s hotel in Augusta, GEORGIA. Heather’s Miss America travel companion left them alone for ten minutes as Stephen dropped to one knee and proposed to Heather, saying “I would be honored if you would be my wife.”

Of course, Heather accepted, and just in time for a scheduled press conference for the opening of a homeless veteran’s facility. The next day, the ring was glistening away as Heather made her planned statement and answered questions from the press. Heather remembers more cameras being on her hand than on her face. Following the press conference, several networks broke into their current lineups in order to discuss the value, the description, and the quality of Heather’s ring, even inviting professional jewelers and diamond experts to the studios to evaluate the ring. Heather laughs as she remembers that, because the ring was still unfinished, it was not even clean, making it impossible to determine the color and clarity of the diamond, but the experts evaluated away, regardless of the futility of the task. Thus began the ten-month preparations for a fairy-tale wedding, complete with bagpipes, fireworks, carriages, and royal tiaras. Eagerly accepting an offer from Donna Maloney, a mutual friend, to help them coordinate the wedding, the ten-month ordeal began, as plans began to take shape, from invitations, to guest lists, to wedding locations, to reception details.
Heather, bearing a Masters Degree in Fashion Design, was very excited to help in the design of her bridal gown. Finding nothing that she completely liked in the stores, she knew that she could work with a designer to create exactly what she wanted, with no detail left undone. Sherri Hill, renowned designer for pageant dresses and for Heather’s Miss America evening gown, was called upon to make Heather’s gown. A “white as white” silk peau de soi gown with hand-beaded Austrian crystals and pearls, it was designed in collaboration between Nashville and New York designers and seamstresses, perfectly fitting Heather and making her feel like a the exquisite bride that most girls dream of being. The corset was hand beaded and accented by yards of white tulle layered around the shoulders and draping to the floor to give the appearance of walking on clouds. The layered skirt was also hand-beaded and accented with a cathedral train beaded with small fleur-de-lis.

For her something borrowed, Heather chose a tiara once worn by Princess Diana, one set with fifty-two 2.5 carat diamonds, accented by 2.5 carat emeralds, and set in platinum, delivered by two security guards who remained by the bride’s side throughout the entire wedding service. As Heather searched for just the right headpiece, she knew that she wanted one of two things: a memento of her own to pass down to later generations, or something on loan that made her feel like an absolute princess for the day. But the pictures say it all: she simply wanted to be a princess for the day, exactly what most of us want for our wedding days, and she certainly was a princess for the memory books. Heather chose Mickey Hobbs of Mickey’s Signature Salon in Lexington, Kentucky, to style her hair underneath the borrowed tiara.

Heather selected seven bridesmaids to join her at the altar: maid of honor and older sister Gretchen French Moody, lifelong friends Mindy Hall and Jenny Fritz Lester, high school Choral clinic friend Marnie Hamrick, and pageant friends Stephanie Rimer Smith and April Thibeault. For the girls, Heather chose iridescent platinum taffeta strapless gowns by Albert Angelo, accented with matching stoles draped over the arms, provided by Treva Ford, of Fancy Threads in Maysville, Kentucky. The bridesmaids also wore delicate handcrafted pearl and crystal earrings and necklaces.

Stephen and his seven groomsmen wore traditional black tails with white ties and vests. He chose medical school colleague Ed Tillet as his best man, as well as childhood friend David Taylor, former Kentucky Chief of Staff Greg Shell, college friends Rick Kelly, Lewis Berman, and Steve Thorton, and Heather’s brothers Jeremy and Jamison French, as his groomsmen.

A larger, more complex reception than usual called for extra measures and planning. Additional preparations were made for the reception, including ones not usually necessary for the average bride: additional security for senators and other distinguished guests, an armored car for the wedding gifts, and the logistics of accommodating 1700 guests on three separate floors, making sure that each floor had all of the necessary amenities and provisions needed for the guests.

The day finally arrived, a crisp, cool Friday evening in late October. With the leaves changing and the fall air, the perfect backdrop was laid for the day of Heather’s and Stephen’s nuptials. With a Bach cello suite playing softly in the sanctuary, the wedding party proceeded down the center aisle of the magnificent Cathedral of the Assumption. John Rudder choral music filled the cathedral as the couple exchanged their vows before 1700 friends and family members. Photographer Mark Kidd, of Mark Kidd Studios in Lexington, Kentucky, captured the magical ceremony on film, while friend of the French family Marcia Williams, of Williams & Williams Photography Studio in Maysville, Kentucky, also captured several candid shots from a second point of view in the sanctuary. Television station Wave 3 aired the wedding in the Louisville area, while other networks also broke in from time to time. Because this was one of historic value to Kentucky, not in over a hundred years had a governor or lieutenant governor been wed while in office, Heather and Stephen felt it was their obligation to Kentucky to allow a recorded account of the wedding to take place. After exchanging their vows and being declared husband and wife, Lt. Governor and Mrs. Stephen Henry walked happily down the aisle and were joined in the streets by their guests and the joyful sounds of bagpipes. The guests were led by the bagpipers through the closed-off street to the historic Seelbach Hotel for an evening of celebrating.

Having to finish up photos after the ceremony, the wedding party was unable to walk with the guests to the hotel, but they arrived at the reception in their own special way. Pulling up to the hotel in horse-drawn carriages, they were greeted by fireworks above the hotel entrance, exploding in celebration of the couple’s union.

The reception, in Heather’s words, was “larger than life,” with no detail left undone. From the lamb dinner to the open bar, both provided by the Seelbach Hotel, guests were treated to an evening of enchantment and true high society. The cake was crafted by Artistry in Cake. Guests received framed and signed photos of Stephen and Heather as favors, all meticulously hand wrapped by Heather, Stephen, and several invaluable friends.

Heather and Stephen honeymooned in a condo resort in the Turks and Caicos, located in the British West Indies, specifically the island of Providenciales. Seeking anonymity, the couple chose the location in part because they were sure that they would not be recognized there. Upon checking in, however, the gentleman behind the desk said, “Oh, I saw your wedding on CNN!” Ah, well, there is a price that comes with public recognition, worth it in the long run when spending each day fighting for the causes dearest to one’s heart. Of course, duty still called from halfway around the globe, and Heather and Stephen could only spend five days in paradise due to their obligations to the Breeder’s Cup and other political commitments. Heather is still waiting on part two of the honeymoon, “Believe me, Stephen still owes me for that… even if we have to take the kids and a babysitter.” But the five day-long respite relaxing on the beach of an undeveloped island and visiting a conch farm was a dream, marking an end to the whirlwind involved in putting together a wedding for a former Miss America and a lieutenant governor in love.

Today, Heather and Stephen reside in Louisville, Kentucky, where Stephen practices medicine at the University Of Louisville Hospital and Heather heads the Heather French Foundation for Veterans, Inc. In addition to these already fulfilling careers, Heather and Stephen have also found fulfillment in one of the best careers ever: parenthood. In July of 2001, Harper Renee Henry was born, and Taylor Augusta Henry joined the family in July of 2003.

Brides Maids

Girl Playing Piano

Brides Gown

Heather Laughing

Heather & Stephen on stairs

Heather French Henry

Heather French Henry

Dancing

Heather & Stephen Dancing

Ice Sculpture

Heather & Stephen at the alter

Ice Sculptures

Heather and Stephen at the alter

Stephen kissing Heather

The Cake

Heather & Stephen Dancing

Carriage Ride

Coming out of the church

The ring

The wedding party

 

  The Cathedral Bagpipes

Lighting of the candle The media

The reception party Invitation

 
   
 
 
 
 
 
   
 

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