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Elopement coordinator ‘the most fun job ever’

VANCOUVER - Laura Watson’s business card says “elopement coordinator.”
But her real job encompasses so much more than that.

She is the umbrella holder, the Kleenex passer, pet handler, child minder, official witness and, on more than one occasion, the person who adjusts the back of a nervous bride’s gown moments before the vows are exchanged.

“It is definitely the most fun job I have ever had,” Watson said in a recent telephone interview from her office at the Wickaninnish Inn, on Vancouver Island’s dramatic west coast.

The 38-year-old former flight attendant first landed the unusual position at the hotel in May 2008 after she and husband Simon Watson made a life-altering decision to move to Tofino from Calgary.

The couple, both avid surfers, fell in love with the area during a weekend visit in 2007, catching the waves along the famed Long Beach.

“When we go on vacation, my husband and I would always talk about what it would be like if we lived here or there. We were doing that on our way home and, before we even got to Port Alberni, we just kind of came up with a plan,” she recalled.

“We fist-bumped on it and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

After taking some time to resettle in her new home, Watson soon set her sights on finding a new job.

Back in Calgary, she’d worked for WestJet, initially as a flight attendant before moving on to the operations control centre where she helped to oversee the day-to-day operations of the airline’s hectic schedule.

Her resumé quickly landed her a job at the Wickaninnish Inn in guest services and reservations. Within months, she found herself in a full-time role managing the business’s increasingly popular elopement services, catering to small wedding parties of two to 12 people.

“I wasn’t wedding crazy or anything like that,” she admitted of her initial attraction to the job. “But I felt my skills with attention to detail were a natural fit and it was something that just sounded interesting.”
It wasn’t long before she was completely hooked.

“It is so rewarding,” she enthused. “I feel really blessed to be a part of so many people’s special day.”

Since that first day on the job, Watson has gone on to organize 201 marriages.

Ceremonies range from simple “I do’s” amid the crashing waves out on Chesterman Beach to intimate parties held under the protective cedar canopy of a nearby old growth forest.

One bride and groom grandly flew their parents in by helicopter for the big day, while another honoured their native American heritage by incorporating traditional blessings into the service.

There have been young couples in gum boots and rain slickers exchanging vows for the first time and older couples taking the plunge for a second time, surrounded by their grown children.

It’s Watson’s role to ensure the day goes off without a hitch — from supplying the bouquet and wedding cake to arranging the photographer, dinner and even holding the video camera to capture the moment.

“All you have to do is show up and bring something to wear. We pretty much take care of the rest” she said of the package, which, according to the inn’s website, starts at $2,699.

As wedding season heats up again, work is already piling up. Watson has successfully organized two ceremonies so far this month, with two more scheduled and another seven parties seeking bookings.

If she had to pick a favourite, Watson said it’s still the simplest of ceremonies featuring just two people that really touch her. Often, she is the sole witness standing alongside the couple as they repeat their vows.

“I am a crier, I have to admit,” she said. “I won’t say it happens every time, but I am often choked up. I just really love it when you can see the connection between two people. You can just get really caught up in the moment.”

As for her own love affair with Tofino, Watson said she has no regrets. “I don’t get to surf as often as I like,” she said, but, no question, the move west “was the best decision we’ve ever made.”

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