On paper, they didn’t seem like a match. “Like so many other people, I too had my shopping list when I started dating,” says history teacher Grace McMillan. “And I might have overlooked Pete were it not for a colleague.”
In the summer of 2009, Pete Vanderburgh was the new tech specialist at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Maryland. It was Grace’s seventh year at the school, and she wasn’t paying much attention when Pete was introduced to the faculty.
Matthew Lipman, though, was paying attention. His first thought was of the broken printer in his department, which he hoped Pete could fix. His next thought was of Grace, his intellectual and cosmopolitan colleague, who was a Harvard graduate and an adventure traveler. “Matthew also knew that I was 37, single, and wanting to get married,” says Grace.
“It’s hard to explain why I thought Pete and Grace would make a good match,” says Matthew. “They just seemed to be compatible. In the short time I had gotten to know Pete, who is six months older than Grace, he seemed like an incredibly helpful guy who would do anything for anyone, and I knew Grace was like that too.”
Yet Grace had a hard time reconciling the fact that Pete was a tech guy, as she was usually attracted to guys in the humanities
Still Matthew was undaunted. “Sometimes laissez-faire is better, but in this case it was clear that some nudging might be helpful.”
Pete and Grace began noticing each other’s profiles on match.com. At school, they also noticed but did not acknowledge each other. “It was like being back in junior high,” says Pete, “not as faculty but as young students.”
Grace was an uber hostess – she loved having her friends for dinner on Shabbat and holidays. When she made her invite-list for Rosh Hashana, 2009, she included Pete. She asked him to come early so they would have some alone time before all the guests arrived. Pete grabbed the moment and invited Grace for drinks later that week.
The holiday meal lasted more than four hours. At some point, Grace’s friends gave Pete the thumbs up. They concurred that he was “good enough” for Grace – their amazing friend, who took care of everyone. Pete stayed to help clean up and before he left, the couple sealed the evening with a New Year’s kiss.
“Grace is a wonderful friend,” says Pete. “She’s a ball of energy, enthusiastic and passionate.” Does it bother him that he’s shorter than Grace? “I’ve always dated taller women,” he responds.
And Grace liked shorter guys. But most of all, Pete’s kindness appealed to her. “He’s sweet and gentle in all the ways that make him just right to bring out the best in me.”
She continues: “I also appreciate the fact that he follows his passion, but knows when to move on. Before Rockville, he worked as an actor for ten years in and around New York City, and now he’s in a tutor training program.”
When the couple left for their summer vacation in Australia and the romantic Fiji Islands, there was some buzz in the air that they might return home engaged.
But it was only after their trip that Pete proposed to Grace in their apartment, “between a pile of dirty laundry and a very full trash can.” Grace was elated: “I like it better this way because it was very him and very genuine. The instant he was able to feel sure that he wanted to marry me, he asked, without second thoughts.”
The couple was married on July 10, 2011 in Grace’s home state of Oregon.