Few men would put as much time and effort into a marriage proposal as Richard Gaff. Popping the question to his then girlfriend, Danni Melita, was the culmination of three months of special outings, gleaned from conversations in which Danni told him about the fun experiences she hoped to have in her life.
During dinner at the Seafood Bar at The Breakers, Richard revealed his intention to surprise Danni by fulfilling five items on their collective bucket list, though she wouldn’t know which items or when they would occur. “The first was a visit to the Zoological Wildlife Foundation in Miami, where we played with baby lions and tigers,” he says. “The second was riding horses on Jensen Beach. The third was a visit to the Biltmore Estate [in Asheville, North Carolina]. The fourth was a helicopter ride over Miami. And the fifth was to propose to my best friend.”
Danni—who acts as senior IRB services coordinator at Advarra, an institutional review board that protects the rights and welfare of human research subjects during clinical drug trials—says Richard pulled off his surprise proposal and, thanks to his ingenuity, it’s one for the family history books. He ticked off the fourth item on the list (the helicopter ride) during a weekend trip to Miami, and quickly followed it up with the fifth. The chopper flew the couple over the beach and then on to a bird’s-eye view of the gilded-age Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
“Richard asked the pilot where Vizcaya was, and I mentioned that I had never been there,” she says. The next morning, Richard told her they were going to visit the museum and have brunch. “When we got to Vizcaya, I felt so overdressed, but he kept saying it’s because we were going to brunch after. We were walking all over the place, with me not realizing he was just stalling for time.”
When an alarm on his phone sounded, Danni figured it was an alert for an auction on eBay. Instead, it was a reminder for Richard to pop the question at precisely 11:11 a.m. on 11/11.
Why that particular month, day, and hour? “It’s where Veterans Day came from,” explains Richard, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the military police in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. “It’s the exact time that World War I ended, which became known as the eleventh hour. Originally it was called Armistice Day.”
Ever the planner, Richard—who now works as a private wealth advisor at U.S. Bank in Palm Beach—even thought to hide a photographer nearby to record the proposal. Given the grand scale of this project, he knew he couldn’t top off the well-orchestrated occasion with just any engagement ring. Beginning with an idea of what Danni liked, he set out to make it unique, purchasing a crisscut diamond at Sotheby’s in New York and resetting it with the help of Provident Jewelry in Wellington.
But long before the ring, the proposal, and the bucket-list adventure, Richard had to find his sweetheart. Originally from Indiana, he moved to Florida in 1998 with his parents. Though he and Danni attended the same high school in Wellington, they were three grades apart and didn’t know each other. Years later, they reconnected on Facebook. After battling cancer with Danni at his side, Richard says he “just knew” she was the one. For her part, Danni credits Richard’s smile as what initially attracted her; she counts his passion for everything he does and his devotion to friends and family as his most endearing traits.
The couple, who live in Palm Beach Gardens, are often seen out and about in Palm Beach and Wellington, attending equestrian events, enjoying dinners and cocktails around town, and supporting charities such as the American Cancer Society, KidSanctuary, and The Arc of Palm Beach County, which aims to improve the lives of children and adults with learning disabilities.
When it came time for the wedding on November 9, 2018, they returned to where Richard had put his proposal plan in motion: The Breakers. “It’s just a special place,” he says. “It’s one-of-a-kind and one of the last family-owned hotels. We had a lot of confidence in their services.”
The couple wanted to keep the wedding small, with an intimate and elegant vibe, says Danni. The guest list only numbered about 100, a difficult achievement for a pair with so many friends. The bride-to-be organized the event with help from Jeff Fowler, senior event sales manager at The Breakers, and opted to hold the ceremony in the Gold Room and the reception in the Mediterranean Room.
Richard says that although Danni was responsible for the lion’s share of the planning, he had some input. The cake, a towering confection Danni describes as “vanilla on vanilla on vanilla,” was his idea.
“Jeff asked what he wanted and he said vanilla,” says Danni. “What kind of frosting? Vanilla. What about the ice cream? Vanilla. Finally we got him to compromise a little with some raspberry filling and chocolate cups for the ice cream. It was so amazing. Richard keeps wanting to eat the cake topper, which is in our freezer, but I keep telling him it’s for our one-year anniversary.”
The other groom contribution was a deeply personal touch that represents his family history and continuity.
“My grandparents got married in a tiny church in Indiana—in fact, they met in that church,” he says. “My parents got married in that same tiny church. Ten years ago, they remodeled the church and I bought one of the stained glass windows. I knew a tiny church in Indiana was not going to work for our wedding, so I brought in the stained glass window, and we set it on a little table for the ceremony.”
The couple’s close friend Aaron Menitoff officiated the ceremony. Singer-songwriter Summer Gill performed as Danni walked down the aisle and again during cocktails, while DJ Rey Verges provided the music at the reception. Xquisite Events in Delray Beach coordinated the decor—a simple but elegant white theme, with white candles, orchids, and lilies.
“We were in such a beautiful setting, I didn’t want to overpower it with the decor,” explains Danni. A uniqu
e memento for the bride and groom came from artist James Charles Burge of Fine Art Palm Beach, who set up his easel to paint the ceremony and reception.The wedding went off without a hitch, a feat Danni credits to the professionals she worked with to carry out her vision. It’s also partly due to her attitude.
“One piece of advice I was given that I remembered was to stop, take it all in, and enjoy every moment,” she says. “In the end, it was just the two of us.” «