In a city government building basement known for development review board meetings, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller did something he’s never done before.
He performed a marriage ceremony.
Albuquerque’s highest-ranking elected official presided over the Monday afternoon nuptials of Lily Mueller, 89, and Don Vesta, 91, who pushed up their wedding date from fall 2022 because they did not want to wait any longer to make their commitment official.
“Everybody thought we were going to croak, so you do it in a hurry. … That was the real problem – is there going to be a funeral first or a wedding first?” Vesta quipped in an interview prior to Monday’s ceremony.
Added Mueller, “We looked at each other and said, ‘Well, why are we waiting?’ And there was no reason.”
Mueller, who knows some of the mayor’s in-laws – she once lived in the same Washington, D.C., building as first lady Liz Kistin Keller’s late grandmother and was once a patient of Liz’s physician father – wrote a letter asking Keller if he would do the honors.
It was not the first time Keller has received such a request, though it is the first time he accepted.
After fact-checking Mueller’s story with Liz’s family, he went online to get ordained through the Universal Life Church’s quickie process. He said the familial connection and the fact that Mueller and Vesta are of different faiths – as are he and Liz – piqued his interest.
“I was like, ‘OK, we are making this happen,'” he said.
Mueller and Vesta met last October through OurTime, a 50-plus dating website. Vesta, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who is twice-widowed, joined only at the urging of his daughter-in-law, who even wrote his profile.
Vesta was skeptical about the whole thing. But then he saw Mueller.
“Her profile jumped out at me,” he said. “She’s got a great sense of humor.”
Mueller, a retired nonprofit manager and longtime civil rights activist, said she was cautious at first, refusing to give Vesta her real name or real email.
“How did I know he wasn’t an ax murderer?” she said.
But the two proceeded to have a lengthy phone conversation, which led to a date.
Since Vesta was living in Fort Worth, Texas, their first date required him driving about 600 miles to Albuquerque. He spent the time rehearsing the words to a Rumi poem Mueller had shared with him, hoping to recite it back to her when she opened her door: “I will soothe you and heal you. I will bring you roses.”
“I was going to be very dramatic, and I (accidentally) blurted out ‘I will spook you,'” he recalled. “She said ‘great first impression.'”
But it turns out it was.
Mueller said love struck in a matter of about “five minutes.”
“I never thought I’d want to get married again, but there’s something about him. How do you know? You just know,” Mueller said, explaining the connection.
“I still don’t know,” Vesta joked in response, eliciting a hearty laugh from Mueller as he described how he’d planned to drive himself to the ceremony. “Just in case, I can take off in a hurry.”
But the pair carried on as planned Monday afternoon, exchanging vows, rings and a kiss in front of a couple dozen friends and family gathered in the Plaza del Sol building.
“You and I are like those lovers who didn’t choose at all, but were chosen by something powerful, and uncontrollable, and beautiful. And maybe even unsuitable,” Mueller said during the ceremony. “And here we are. I have finally found the one special person I’ll want to pester the rest of our lives.”
The proceedings garnered applause, laughs and even a few tears from the audience.
Keller said he was honored to be part of it.
“For my first wedding,” he said, “this was incredible.”