Family and friends line street to welcome new bride and groom after COVID-19 slashes guest list



BURLINGTON, N.C. — When Helen Powell and Paul Bode’s wedding invitations were sent out, they went to 500 people.

Few of them said they couldn’t come. But Helen, who’s a doctor trained to be part of a COVID-19 Medical Emergency Team, soon came to realize that her guest list was about to be shortened. Significantly.

“She has been the wedding planner,” said Helen’s mother, Anne. “We have not had a wedding planner. It’s been Helen.”

The plan was for Helen to be married in her hometown of Burlington at her hometown church. The reception was going to be at the Inn at Elon, which is a new, 4-star, 80-room boutique hotel located within the botanical gardens of Elon University.

“We were the first wedding that was going to occur at the new Inn at Elon,” Anne said.

But, as coronavirus cases continued to increase, and restrictions were put in place, Anne and Helen started having to make changes.

“We went from 500, to 100, to 50 and then 25,” Anne said, of the guest list. “We called it somewhat of a burial as our dream died.”

The family had a rehearsal dinner for ten people at their home. The next day, they had a “pretty party” for four where they had their hair and nails done. As Anne put it, they had “bits and pieces” of every part of the wedding plan.

Pictures show Helen walking on the arm of her father, Jim, through Front Street United Methodist Church. There, they passed empty pews which would have been packed had it not been for COVID-19.

But the two most important people were there. Helen and Paul sealed their union with a kiss and walked out of the church.

In September, Anne’s father requested that Helen and Paul ride in the back of his classic convertible from the church to their reception. He died just over a week later.

On Saturday, the couple got into the car on the way to their reception, which was also at Helen’s parents’ house. Before they pulled onto their road, the driver stopped and put the top down on the car. The couple sat up on the back seat and headed toward one of the greatest surprises either of them could have imagined.

“They turned the corner and found Briarcliff Avenue lined with cars,” Anne said. “Family and friends who had been rallied together by two special friends via a text thread that morning.”

Many of the people who could no longer go to the wedding were now positioned along the road at safe distances to welcome the new couple.

“It was just amazing, as we preceded them in our car, to see this community out throwing flowers, throwing confetti, releasing balloons, dogs decorated, cars decorated, golf carts decorated,” Anne said. “Screaming, shouting, yelling, blowing kisses, popping champagne corks.”

Anne says Helen told her it was like “driving through her life.”

“She said it was a ride through her life. Somewhat fairy tale-ish,” Anne said.

The family was not only affected by COVID-19, but they’re devoted to keeping people safe during the Pandemic.

Jim Powell is a Duke University trained pathologist and the co-founder of LabCorp, which is based in Burlington. LapCorp developed a COVID-19 test, which is now being distributed throughout the United States.

“He’s very proud of LabCorp, and the work that they’re doing for nation, for the world, and he was the most gracious father of the bride,” Anne said.

Helen will return to working as part of the COVID-19 Medical Emergency Team next week.

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