Nearly five years ago, Missie Mahoney and Rick Ryder were united in their grief following the sudden death of Ryder's wife and Mahoney's best friend, Mary Ellen McMahon. A friendship, that had actually started years earlier in high school, blossomed, and three years after they started dating, Mahoney and Ryder are getting married.
Fittingly, Ryder proposed just before the dinner dance on Saturday. They are both dedicated volunteers. Ryder is a 29-year firefighter and a former assistant chief, and Mahoney is a 12-year member of the .
Ryder's late wife was also a long-standing volunteer. In fact, McMahon became the first female firefighter in the fire department in 1992 and was a leader in the ambulance corps. Posthumously, one of the ambulances was named for the critical care EMT and instructor.
When Ryder got down on one knee, dressed in his Class A uniform, at their house on Saturday evening, McMahon was very much on their mind.
"I think of her always," Mahoney said on Tuesday.
While Mahoney knew the proposal was coming (they picked out a ring), she didn't know when. She said she didn't think anything of her children and friends gathering to see the couple off to the annual fire department party. Ryder proposed in front of Mahoney's three children — Chris Cafiero, 21, Sariah Cafiero, 18, and Calli Cafiero, 13 — and Mahoney's three best friends, Denise Schoen, Astrid Edwards and Linda Wheeler.
They all took pictures and videotaped the proposal.
"They were all crying — I was just trying not to ruin my makeup. So, I joked, 'I don't know. Should I say yes?,'" Mahoney said.
It didn't take her too long to say yes.
Ryder said he had just picked up the ring. "I didn't want to wait any longer," he said.
"It was more perfect than I thought it could have been," Mahoney said of the proposal.
Ryder and Mahoney had met back in high school when they were both engaged to other people. Mahoney graduated from in 1987. Ryder, who grew up in Sag Harbor, moved with his family to Florida before returning to the area and later marrying McMahon, his wife for 13 years.
McMahon, who died at 56, was a retired as an East Hampton Village dispatcher before joining Mahoney as a bus driver in the . Ryder works for Sag Harbor Village at the wastewater treatment plant.
During the proposal, "He thanked me for giving him the family he always wanted," Mahoney said, adding that Ryder has become a big part of her children's lives, always making it to their sporting events to cheer them on.
Ryder and his late wife are Calli's godparents. When McMahon died on April 17, 2007, from a heart blockage caused by Lyme disease just hours after being released from the hospital, Mahoney tried to step in to help her friend get through the grief.
"I wouldn't have gotten through it without her," Ryder said. "Friendship turned into love," he said. "She's a beautiful lady inside and out."
In keeping McMahon's legacy alive, Ryder even joined the ambulance corps two years ago as a driver and answers calls alongside his soon-to-be wife.