AMBER RIDINGER & DUANE MCLAUGHLIN
April 6, 2013 in Dorado, Puerto Rico
“When I find myself in a predicament, I leave it up to chance; I leave it up to God; I leave it up to fate,” says Duane McLaughlin, whose initial encounter with his “soul mate” hinged on a coin toss. “Thank God it landed on heads,” the actor and singer says of the decision to attend his cousin’s manager’s birthday party. Amber Ridinger was ill, but her dad coaxed her to the celebration for his older daughter on his yacht in New York City that July night. When Amber’s eyes met Duane’s, “there was an instant connection,” she remembers, although they “spoke very few words.”
They stayed “on the phone for hours” a few nights later, and since: “We haven’t been apart,” Amber shares. Although he didn’t have a ring, Duane had “a wake-up call” three years later, when his mother asked where Amber fit into his aspirations, then imparted: “I love Amber because Amber loves you as much as I love you.”
On a late Miami-bound flight, the young couple quibbled “about something so stupid.” Determined to “square it,” Duane explains: “We sat in the airport; there was nobody there.” When Amber questioned, “Where are we going?” he got on his knee. “That moment,” Amber says, “showed we were strong and were going to move forward through the rest of our lives together.”
They planned to wed in July in the Bahamas, but on 12/12/12, “We found out we had a little bambino on the way,” says Amber. They chanced upon Dorado Beach, a 1,400-acre Ritz-Carlton Reserve coincidentally opened on 12/12/12, and booked the Puerto Rico resort’s first wedding.
“Everything was falling into place,” says Amber. Jacob Luppino and Anthony Pittorino “were complete geniuses,” who accelerated creation of her bead-encrusted, 80-pound gown. Then, five weeks pre-wedding, confidence in their wedding planner faltered. Her mom, Loren, cautioned: “Don’t get your hopes up.” But Amber dialed Preston Bailey and was face-to-face with the legend by 3 p.m. the next day. From that moment, planning became “a happy, magical process,” Amber says.
As 180 guests assembled, Duane donned his late grandfather’s uniform: Carl Brashear, immortalized in Men of Honor, was the Navy’s first African-American Master Diver. Duane’s childhood friend, Giancarlo Pattugalan, officiated, and emotions intensified as “every thought and every feeling came out at the altar,” Amber remembers. “All I could think about was how blessed and thankful and happy I was.”
An airplane hangar-sized tent became a mystical world, where a Ray Roman film starring the couple was screened, and JR Ridinger entrusted Duane with Loren’s and his “most valued treasure” in a moving speech. Alicia Keys congratulated her friends via video as they danced to “If I Ain’t Got You.” Mary J. Blige and her band played, and The Party Crashers backed Maxwell, King Charlton, Fat Joe and Marc Anthony. “Not only did they perform, they shared personal stories of moments we’ve shared,” Amber says. At 4 a.m. on the beach, hundreds of glowing lanterns were launched with heartfelt wishes.
The McLaughlins honeymooned in Paris. As they await baby, Duane says: “We’re excited to share our love and our life” and “all we’ve learned from our parents.”
Whether it’s where to dine or weightier matters, they navigate on trust in the decision-making tool that sealed their fate. “We still live by our coin method,” Amber admits. “We’re always searching our pockets for change,” says Duane.
> Written by Kim Knox Beckius