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1,000 weddings later, Charlottesville's mayor-turned-officiant Dave Norris still loves a good love story

“How did you meet?”

That’s the question Dave Norris likes to ask couples who are preparing to get married.

There’s a reason Norris inquires about their love stories and he’s especially fascinated when two people first connected by chance.

“All the factors that went into that, all the different coincidences that brought them together at that moment, and now they’re married,” Norris marveled.

Norris has worn many hats since moving to Charlottesville in 1995: city councilor, mayor, founder of multiple nonprofit groups and even director of the city’s parking lots and garages for a time. But he’s so interested in hearing how couples fall in love because of another hat he wears: part-time wedding officiant.

Seeing couples married, he said, is one of his life’s joys. And getting to know a couple before the big day helps him tailor wedding ceremonies so that each one is special, he added.

“It’s such a great honor to be part of that moment and to share in the experience of two people joining their lives together. People still believe in love. They believe in possibility, and they’re excited for their future. That’s what keeps me going. The spirit of optimism prevails,” he said.

Just as serendipity plays a role in many couples’ love stories, it also played a part in Norris’ decision to begin officiating weddings.

When he was serving as mayor of Charlottesville from 2008 through 2012, couples would ask Norris to marry them. He said that in the beginning, many were friends of his who thought it would be cool to have the mayor marry them. But the requests kept pouring in, and more and more prospective newlyweds said they didn’t just want a mayor; they wanted Norris.

That became especially evident after Norris left office and requests kept coming in.

“I thought after my days in office, that my marrying days, just as my mayoring days, were going to be over, but people kept asking me, so that’s when I decided to take it on as a little side business,” said Norris.

Norris had two children getting ready to head to college at the time he left City Hall. He said he saw the wedding gig as an enjoyable and meaningful way to make a little extra income for him and his family.

As of this Valentine’s Day, Norris reported he has officiated 1,010 weddings.

One of those couples in particular has a true Charlottesville love story.

It was three Februarys ago during a snowstorm that Rene Branson and Tim Corcoran exchanged their vows by the grand staircase in New Dominion Bookshop on the city’s Downtown Mall. Because it was the middle of the pandemic, only Norris and two friends joined the newlyweds.

But for Branson and Corcoran, both avid readers, the setting, the day and the officiant made it a moment to remember.

“It was very romantic,” recalled Branson. “This is a second marriage for us both. Neither of us was expecting a romance. But it truly is never too late to find love.”

Norris would serve as their officiant one more time later that summer.

“He married us again in July of that year when we were able to have our friends and family celebrate with us at Chisholm Vineyards,” Branson said. “I couldn’t imagine having anyone else marry us. Dave has been one of my best friends since I moved to Charlottesville in 2011 and one of the first people I talked to about Tim when we started dating.”

Married in a bookshop, Branson and Corcoran now share a large library at home as a married couple.

Despite a recent Pew survey showing many people are postponing their nuptials and an increasing share are forgoing marriage altogether (a quarter of all 40-year-olds in the U.S. have never been married), that’s not obvious when you look at the Charlottesville region, said Norris.

With its abundance of beautiful natural scenery, multitude of expansive wineries and historic houses of worship, and deep pool of professional photographers, musicians, wedding planners and more, Charlottesville has become a wedding destination. “People come from all over the U.S. to marry here,” Norris said. He’s already booked weddings for several weekends later this fall — probably one of the more popular seasons to wed, Norris said, because of the colorful autumn leaves.

Many of those weddings will take place outdoors, taking advantage of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, or at one of the area’s award-winning wineries. But Norris has also officiated in front of several local landmarks in Charlottesville. Miller’s bar, where musician Dave Matthews got his start, is popular for DMB fans.

Some couples just want to make the marriage legal, and that can happen anywhere, Norris said. He’s even held a ceremony in the waiting room of an auto repair shop for a couple whose car broke down en route to meet him.

One wedding location especially moved Norris as he recalled the memories. The bride’s father’s dream was to see his daughter get married, but the night before the wedding, Norris said, the man was rushed to the hospital at the University of Virginia. He was having a heart attack. They held a small intimate ceremony in his hospital room wearing gloves and masks to make his dream come true.

“Love prevails. That’s a very tangible example,” said Norris.

Norris said he is also proud of his work officiating same-sex weddings in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states in 2015.

“That was special to give those relationships the dignity they deserve in the eyes of society,” he said.

Every couple he’s met and every location where he’s served as officiant he cherishes. But for Norris, the Clifton Inn holds a special place in his heart.

It’s where he officiated his first wedding.

So what kind of advice can Norris offer those who may be thinking about proposing this Valentine’s Day?

Though he does not do premarital counseling, his role as officiant means he works closely with couples to design their dream wedding and make their love official in the eyes of the law. Working with those couples, he’s gleaned this from the ones that have lasted:

“They have a strong friendship with each other that helps them weather the storms; the couples have each others back; they appreciate each other. That is vital,” said Norris.

The reality is, not all marriages will survive, even with hard work, but when he’s officiating at a wedding, Norris said he still believes and hopes the couple believes that love can last forever.

“When couples start their marriage on that high note, we should be encouraging that and welcoming that spirit of optimism. Hopefully, in the process of embracing that, it will help them get off to a good and successful start to their marriage,” Norris said. “We want couples to think of this as a lifelong commitment, even if it doesn’t end up becoming a lifelong commitment. We should be optimistic. So many times, love does prevail.”


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