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Sacramento Mayor Johnson, Rhee marry quietly in Tennessee

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 19, 2012 - 7:22 pm

It was the most anticipated union in recent Sacramento history. But in the end, Mayor Kevin Johnson slipped off to Tennessee and got married with barely a soul here even knowing.

Almost a year to the day after Johnson and education reform advocate Michelle Rhee had originally planned to wed in an elaborate affair, the couple were married Saturday in a small ceremony in Tennessee under a steady rain.

Joined by about 40 friends and relatives, the couple wed at the Blackberry Farm resort, tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains and 2,500 miles from the backyard of Sacramento mega-developer Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, who had agreed to host the couple's wedding last September.

Even some of the mayor's closest aides were unaware of the plan. It wasn't until Tuesday morning, when the mayor showed up at City Hall wearing a wedding ring, that news of the nuptials began to leak out.

"We had a small ceremony with an intimate group of family and friends and are thrilled to be starting our lives together," Johnson said in an email to The Bee. "We want to thank everyone who has sent us well wishes, as we are so appreciative of the support."

The guest list included the mayor's mother, Georgia West, and some of his long-time advisers from before his days as mayor. Johnson's brother Ronnie West was the best man.

Rhee, 41, and Johnson, 45, decided on Blackberry Farm because they had spent a weekend there a few years back. Travel + Leisure magazine said the resort is "like a south of the Mason-Dixon Line edition of a Currier & Ives print: ribbons of white fences, a pond stocked with catfish, and houses constructed from Tennessee fieldstone."

The resort is also close to much of Rhee's family. Rhee, the former head of the Washington, D.C., school district, now runs an education advocacy organization based in Sacramento. But she splits her time between Nashville and Sacramento so her two daughters – Starr and Olivia – can be close to their father, Rhee's ex-husband, Kevin Huffman, the commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Education.

Officiating at the outdoor ceremony was Bishop Alexis Thomas, who was Johnson's pastor back when he played for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA.

The mayor wore a light-colored suit and Rhee wore a gown designed by Monique Lhuillier, a Los Angeles-based designer whose couture bridal creations cost as much as $10,000. It was the same dress Rhee had planned to wear when the couple first scheduled a much larger wedding for Sept. 4, 2010.

This time around, the couple opted to keep their plans a secret. There were no luxurious invitations wrapped in silver bows – and no media intrigue.

Instead, guests quietly flew out to Tennessee on Friday evening for a rehearsal dinner, followed by the Saturday ceremony. Guests departed after brunch on Sunday.

The secrecy is not surprising, given how closely Johnson guards his personal life, particularly his relationship with Rhee.

The couple had delayed their first wedding last year after a copy of the invitation was obtained by The Bee. At the time, Rhee and Johnson said they were surprised by the level of public interest in their plans.

As for the honeymoon, Johnson is keeping that a secret, saying he is planning the getaway now but plans to surprise Rhee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ryan Lillis



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