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From Sun Magazine: A marriage made in Annapolis

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, newly single, was lunching with an old friend. She wanted to know if he was dating. Nope, he said, too busy — why, did she know anyone?

Karmen Walker, she suggested. The willowy government relations liaison for Comcast was a familiar face around Annapolis. Brown knew her work, that her husband had been killed in a car accident, that she was a single mother.

"No way," Brown said. "She's got to be in a relationship."

If his friend could confirm Walker's availability, Brown agreed to call her. Five minutes after lunch, his phone rang: Confirmed.

And so began the lieutenant governor's pursuit of the woman who on Memorial Day, in an elegant ceremony before family, friends and state officials, became his wife and Maryland's second lady.

Just days after the wedding, not long before they jetted off to honeymoon through Spain, Walker caressed Brown's hand lightly with her fingertips. His arm was slung easily around her shoulder. Even in the diffused executive-suite light, her new diamonds glistened as she reached over to adjust his tie.

In Maryland's State House, with its cold marble, sober appointments and endless policy-talk, love, it seems, is now on the agenda.

And it all started with a shot of Brown bravado.

Right after setting his sights on Walker, Brown spotted her at a National Harbor event, walking across the room. He figured he had only seconds to gather himself. But Prince George's CountyExecutive Rushern Baker intercepted her, and Brown lost his groove. When Walker finally turned to him, he could muster only pleasantries. Nothing about a date.

But as she started walking away, Brown flung caution to the wind and blurted, "I'm going to ask you out." Surprised, flustered and, yes, pleased, Walker stammered back, "OK."

He was dialing her number before he left the parking lot.

Brown planned that first date with a degree of military precision one could only expect from an Army veteran. He didn't just phone in a reservation. He scoped out Crofton's Sly Horse Tavern in advance, reconnaissance-style, assessing the tables, previewing the menu, parking his car there so the trooper who usually chauffeurs him to events wouldn't be hovering outside during the meal, waiting to deliver him home.

In the end, none of it mattered.

"On a first date you wonder if you'll be able to talk for 90 seconds," Brown says. "As soon as we sat down, it was pretty obvious to me it would last 90 minutes — and it might last 90 years."

Walker might not have been so sold. But their chemistry couldn't be denied. Lost in conversation, they closed the place down.

Over the months, he made her his famous glazed salmon and they burned through phone minutes. Eventually the two began to realize that if they were going to get any closer, it was time to introduce each other to their children — as Walker put it, a big, big deal.

Brown has two children — Rebecca, a teenager, and Jonathan, who's almost 12 now — with his former wife of 16 years, Patricia Arzuaga, from whom he was divorced in 2009. Walker's husband, Prince George's County police Cpl. Anthony Walker, died on the job in a car accident in 2003. She has a son, Anthony, who's a few months older than Brown's son.

"My son was without his father since before his fourth birthday," Walker says. "I'd been a guarded mother, and I did not want to bring anyone into his life until I felt like they were going to be around."

So they moved slowly. First Anthony met Brown over dinner at his place. Then Walker met Brown's kids during an outdoor excursion. They fished, shared rides to camp, cheered on D.C. United. They bonded.

One day last year, Brown pulled Rebecca and Jonathan aside and told them he intended to ask Ms. Karmen, as they called her, to be his wife. As much as his kids had embraced Walker, he wasn't sure whether they were ready to hear that.

"You don't know what it's going to be like for children to hear their father is getting married," Brown says. "You want to make sure you do it in a way that's sensitive to their needs and emotions. But you can read your children, and any fear I had was vanquished in 30 seconds."

It was Jonathan who came up with the proposal strategy. He thought his dad should hide the ring inside a DVD case.

"He concocted some story about how he couldn't find the video," Walker says, laughing. "I said I saw it over there. I open it up, and there was a ring. And they all yelled, 'Will you marry us?'"

They exchanged traditional vows on Memorial Day at the University of Maryland, College Park chapel before nearly 400 guests, including many of the state's political heavyweights, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and U.S.Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip. Bridesmaids wore deep red. Hydrangeas decorated tables draped with gold linens. A singer who's performed the national anthem at Ravens games sang two songs at the ceremony.

Walker's son walked her down the aisle.

"I don't think I could have envisioned it, as wonderful as it was," Brown says. "A joyous union of families."

And within days, the newlyweds were launched deep into the realities of life in that union.

"My lifestyle," the lieutenant governor says, "is not for the faint of heart."

He can go two months without a full weekend off, entire weeks without making it home for dinner even once. In a single day he can log hundreds of miles, crossing the state to hit event after event.

One recent Friday afternoon, Brown's itinerary included a drive to the Eastern Shore to give a speech and a drive back west to hit Hoyer's bull roast, which Walker also planned to attend. In between the two, Brown hoped to catch at least an inning of his son's baseball game in Severna Park.

But Walker knew what she was getting into. As Brown says: "She's familiar with this environment, this world, this career, the mixing, the mingling, the gripping, the grinning, the schmoozing."

"I understand a lot about what he's doing, his commitment to serve," she says, adding that it's the man she loves, not the position. And when he finally does get home, she sees what few others can — his soft, vulnerable, romantic side. "I fell in love with that."

Things might improve this month when the couple moves into the home they bought together in Prince George's County — Mitchellville's Woodmore South neighborhood. But if Brown runs for governor in 2014, as many expect, the family won't be truly relaxing anytime soon.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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