CARIBOU, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins married longtime Senate senior staff member and consultant Thomas A. Daffron in a small ceremony attended by about 50 people on Saturday.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Bentum performed the ceremony at 11 a.m. at Gray Memorial United Methodist Church, the church long attended by Collins’ father, Donald.
The bride wore an off-white, sleeveless, full-length gown festooned with antique lace that observers admired for its class and simplicity, while the groom, escorted by University of Maine athletic director and former Collins chief of staff Steve Abbott, wore a navy blue suit.
“You look beautiful! Oh, yes you do. Have lots of pictures taken,” shouted one onlooker as the newlyweds stood outside the church after the half-hour ceremony and another 45 minutes of wedding portraiture. “Lovely dress!”
“Thank you,” Collins said with a blush.
“I’m so happy to be married in my hometown,” Collins added before the newlyweds headed to the Caribou Inn and Convention Center, where the wedding reception was held. Collins and Daffron are scheduled to leave Saturday for a honeymoon at an undisclosed location.
Though U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted Collins ’ engagement party and all 17 female senators and former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended the women-only bash, only family and some longtime family friends attended the nuptials, said the Republican senator’s spokesman, Kevin Kelley.
“It was beautiful, simple but meaningful,” Kelley said.
Rumors abounded that Clinton or Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would attend the wedding. Several residents marveled at the lack of big names, but Collins never seemed to consider the wedding anything more than a family affair. The 59-year-old Collins told the Bangor Daily News when the couple announced the engagement in February that she was debating holding the ceremony in Bangor, where she lives now, or her hometown.
“What matters the most to me is to have my family there and Tom’s family there,” Collins said in February.
Mainers have made her wedding plans a constant topic of conversation with Collins since she and Daffron announced their wedding plans in February, Kelley said. About two dozen residents waited in The Dollar Store parking lot across the street from the church, some with cameras, during the ceremony.
“I think that Susan has made a good name for herself, and that all of Caribou is proud of her,” said Duska Franklin, a Caribou native who said she babysat the Collins girls when the family lived on Coolidge Avenue and Harvest Road. Susan was about 5 then, Franklin said, and a very cheerful and energetic young girl.
The Collins’ have always been a political family centered around Caribou. Collins’ mother, Patricia, and her husband were both mayors of Caribou. Donald Collins also served in both State Houses for many years. The church is within sight of S.W. Collins Co., a family-owned lumber business.
Franklin gave Collins serious props for her choice of wedding dresses, calling the gown “very sophisticated. She’s a very slender bride. She looked to be about 25 years old. She looked beautiful.”
Collins’ niece and goddaughter, Annie Collins, said she picked up a few pointers for the wedding she hopes to have someday. Annie Collins said she was bowled over by the simplicity and restraint of the selected readings and her aunt’s dress.
“I really liked how it was laced and it was simple and classy,” Collins said. “Not too much.”
Collins said she loved that her aunt selected a Shakespeare sonnet, No. 116, and John: 15:9-12 as her readings. Often referred to as “The Marriage of True Minds,” the sonnet is Shakespeare’s take on the depth and heights of love, while the Book of John reading speaks of the eternal nature of love.
Collins looked forward to a wedding surrounded by family and close friends, Kelley said.
“It means a lot to her to have her wedding in her hometown and to share this day with those whom she loves the most,” Kelley added. “It has also been incredibly challenging for her to plan a wedding while carrying out her day-to-day duties as a United States senator.”
The 73-year-old Daffron is the chief operating officer of Jefferson Consulting Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, where he oversees day-to-day operations. Before joining that business, Daffron held several senior management positions in government and the private sector.
Originally from New York City, Daffron has served as chief of staff to former Sens. Bill Cohen of Maine and Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He also served as chief of staff to Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and was the national campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Elizabeth Dole.
He met Collins when both worked for Cohen in the late 1970s, but they didn’t develop a more personal relationship until the last few years, Collins has said.
Collins’ sisters, Kathleen Wiesendanger and Nancy Collins, served as matron of honor and bridesmaid, respectively. They wore blue dresses that were not identical.
The senator carried a bouquet of ivory wedding tea roses and discovery blue iris. Her sisters carried the same bouquet, but smaller — and those colors were echoed in the decor of the church and reception hall.
Collins will keep her maiden name, Kelley said. This is Collins’ first marriage and Daffron’s second. Collins chose the wedding date partly to avoid conflict with senate sessions. Collins, who has never missed a Senate vote, cast her 5,000th consecutive in July.
Follow BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. on Twitter at @NickSam2BDN.