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Wedded: Ashley Valis and Jim Gillis

Baltimore bride celebrates a Kentucky Derby-themed wedding

By L'Oreal Thompson, The Baltimore Sun

11:24 AM EDT, June 14, 2013

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Wedding date: May 4, 2013

Her story: Ashley Valis, 31, grew up in Baltimore. She is the assistant chief of staff for Gov. Martin O'Malley. Her mother, Beth Russell, is a director of marketing and sales, and her father, Jim Valis, is a sales director.

His story: Jim Gillis, 31, grew up in Baltimore. He is an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore County. His mother, Kay Gillis, is retired, and his father, Dr. David Gillis, is deceased.

Their story: Ashley and Jim met in July 2006 at an event for then-Mayor O'Malley's campaign for governor.

The proposal: Jim proposed on May 26, 2012, in Duck, N.C., at his family's beach house with an antique cushion-cut diamond engagement ring from Nelson Coleman Jewelers in Towson.

The venue: About 225 guests attended the ceremony at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore and the reception at Cold Saturday Farm, a historic estate in Finksburg.

"We'd planned the whole wedding around the Kentucky Derby," says Ashley, an avid horse rider. "My mom's from Louisville, and my family was traveling from there, so I wanted to make it fun for them."

Her dress: Ashley wore a V-neck fit and flare silk taffeta gown from the Betsy Robinson Collection in Pikesville. She also wore a pearl necklace from her grandmother.

Bridesmaids' dresses: The bridesmaids wore gray-blue dresses from J. Crew with mint wedge heels and matching necklaces.

Men's apparel: Jim and his groomsmen wore gray Vera Wang tuxedos from Men's Wearhouse and bow ties featuring racehorses from online retailer Collared Greens.

Flowers: The couple selected white roses, dusty miller and baby's breath from the Wegmans in Columbia. The centerpieces contained antique books and mint julep cups filled with flowers.

"We wanted to keep it simple because Cold Saturday is so beautiful and it didn't need a lot of decorating," says Ashley, whose bouquet was wrapped in a handkerchief from her college roommates and featured a special pin from her grandmother, who had passed away.

Cocktail hour: Guests were able to watch the Kentucky Derby on a projected screen in a restored barn and sip mint juleps during the cocktail hour. There was also a bourbon-tasting bar.

Ashley's grandfather hired the Bill Elliott Trio from Baltimore to play during the cocktail hour. During the welcome toast, her grandfather passed out song sheets to the guests and instructed the band to play songs Ashley's grandmother had sung to her as a little girl.

"It was a really nice surprise, it was the sweetest thing," says Ashley. "He wanted my grandmother to be with me on my wedding day."

As a special wedding gift to Ashley, Jim hired Sam Robinson, a professional portrait artist, to paint a "live scene" of the reception during the cocktail hour.

"We were familiar with Sam's work from steeplechase races where he paints portraits of the races unfolding, but I had never thought of asking him to paint something to capture our wedding," she says. "When I showed up to the reception and saw him creating a piece of art that will hang in our house forever, it was an awesome surprise from Jim."

Dessert: Ashley and Jim chose a variety of desserts, including homemade Derby pie, baked by Ashley's mom, and Key Lime pie from Baltimore Cakery. The bakery also designed a traditional tiered coconut wedding cake.

Favors: In keeping with the theme, the couple gave their guests signature mint julep Derby glasses and horseshoes that served as the placecard holders.

"It was perfect," says Ashley. "It was the best day of our lives."

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