A Perfect Match

The wedding of tennis star Pam Shriver and attorney Joseph Shapiro was a celebration of similarities - and differences.

June 06, 1999|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN STAFF

It was a celebrity wedding. Brady Anderson was there, and Chris Evert and Billie Jean King, along with Hollywood directors and producers. But behind the big names and glitter was a story of love and loss, second chances and taking chances.

In a ceremony held at La Quinta resort in Palm Springs, Baltimore's own Pam Shriver -- a former professional tennis player once ranked as high as No. 3 in the world -- married Los Angeles law professor Joseph Shapiro.

Wearing a hand-beaded and embroidered silk sheath with a sweep train, the bride recited her vows in a simple 20-minute ceremony presided over by Jane Mykrantz, a Presbyterian minister and an old family friend.

Shriver's younger sister Eleanor was maid of honor. The bridesmaids were Liz Smylie and Baltimorean Elise Burgin, both former tennis stars. Missing was Shriver's older sister Marion Shriver Abell, who had died of cancer a little over a year before.

For Pam, who was close to her sister, the glorious day had an edge of bittersweetness. The engagement ring she wore originally belonged to her sister, and tucked in Pam's bouquet was a sprig of rosemary in remembrance of Marion.

Although it was a star-studded celebration, it also was an intimate affair, which Shriver recently spoke about publicly for the first time.

How they met

She was brought up in the Episcopal church; his heritage is Jewish.

Pam Shriver, at 36, is still a world-class athlete. As a TV commentator and chairman of a local tennis event that earns money for children's charities, she continues to be very much involved with the sport. Her parents, Margot and Sam Shriver, live in this area; and until recently Pam considered Baltimore her home.

Joe Shapiro is in his early 50s. Once a high-powered lawyer for Disney, he gave up his career to concentrate on his battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Now he's teaching business law at California State University, Los Angeles. At 5 feet 8 inches, he's considerably shorter than his 6-foot-1-inch bride.

"Until I was more mature, height was a prerequisite in a boyfriend," Shriver admits with a smile. "Now it's simply not an issue."

The two were brought together over dinner by Liz Smylie and her husband, Pete, at their California home in August 1996. They had already met once, five years before.

"But I was in full touring mode," Shriver says. "And he was in full Disney mode."

Liz Smylie and Shriver are close friends, even though Smylie and her doubles partner were the ones who stopped Shriver and Martina Navratilova's winning streak at 109 matches.

"When she and her husband brought Joe into my life," says Pam, laughing, "I finally forgave her."

The proposal

The two found they had more in common than some might think.

"We have comparable senses of humor," says Joe Shapiro. "And our life experiences are actually somewhat similar. We both spent 20 years of our lives running around the world in airplanes in a very competitive business."

As their relationship developed, they visited each other in their home cities. Sometimes Shapiro was able to travel with Shriver to tennis tournaments because he wasn't back working full time. Marriage wasn't really discussed.

The subject came up a month after Shriver's sister died.

"I was more willing to take a chance with a cancer survivor than some might be," she says, "Because I had seen how well my sister and brother-in-law did. Whatever challenges we had as a couple, I realized we could handle it."

Although no one could accuse Pam Shriver of being old-fashioned, she does, she says, cling to some traditions. She asked Joe to talk to her father before he talked to her. It took him several months, but in February 1998 he called Sam Shriver from Los Angeles and asked for his daughter's hand in marriage.

"As soon as he hung up the phone with Dad," says Shriver, "He came into the room, got down on his knees and proposed."

The diamond engagement ring -- and the sapphire and diamond band used in the wedding ceremony -- had been her sister's. Irvin Abell, Marion's husband, offered them to Pam after Marion's death. In return, Shapiro made a contribution to the school where Marion had taught, Jemicy in Owings Mills.

Wedding plans

When you're Pam Shriver and 36 years old, you get to have exactly the kind of wedding you want.

The couple decided on a date, Dec. 5 (before realizing it would fall on Joe's birthday). Pam had two criteria in choosing the location: First, she wanted someplace where the weather was nice. Second, she wanted something different from Marion's wedding.

"My sister had a big, beautiful hometown wedding at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. In the family's mind, she had gotten through her cancer. It was six months after her surgery."

The two also wanted a "neutral" site -- in neither's hometown. And they liked the idea of a really nice destination spot, so they could enjoy a long weekend with friends and family. They settled on La Quinta, a luxury resort built in the 1920s.

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