Around Valentine’s Day last year, Jenna Bush Hager, host of NBC’s “Today with Hoda & Jenna,” embarked on a mission: to help her friend and colleague Elizabeth Harrington Leist, who goes by the name Libby , to find love.
“Jenna was reporting on love in the pandemic and how people were doing,” said Ms. Leist, senior vice president of “Today” and senior vice president of NBC News. “I was looking to meet someone.”
Ms Leist, now 43, had been single for years then – “since I was 30”, she said. “I had been arranged with a million people who weren’t working.” She had also recently been promoted from her previous position as senior executive producer of “Today,” which meant she no longer had to go to bed early and wake up at 3:45 a.m. The change in lifestyle has opened up new opportunities for him to meet. “I was in transition and gained a new perspective,” Ms. Leist said.
Although she had discussed her love life with Mrs. Bush Hager, Mrs. Leist had never been tricked by her. To research potential suitors, Mrs. Bush Hager contacted her fraternal twin sister, Barbara, and two friends. One of them was Emily Fisher, a fine art photographer, who had met Mrs. Bush Hager years ago through “Sunday Today” host Willie Geist. Mrs. Fisher quickly responded with a suggestion: Sayan Ray, her husband’s best friend.
Like Ms. Leist, Mr. Ray, 48, was going through a period of transition. In the summer of 2020, her previous marriage of 12 years ended in divorce. But he wasn’t as keen on meeting new people. A father-of-two – daughter Shailey, 12 and son Kieran, 9 – Mr Ray said after his divorce ‘making sure my kids were okay was my priority’.
His first reaction to Mrs. Fisher’s overture was that he wasn’t ready. “Then she sent me a picture of Libby and I thought she was really beautiful and had a lovely smile and I could tell she was a good person,” he said. “So I accepted.”
After Ms. Hager Bush introduced the two via email, Mr. Ray, the creative director of Harrison and Star, a healthcare marketing agency in New York, invited Ms. Leist on a date. She suggested they meet virtually, on Zoom, but he persuaded her to meet in person. “I wanted to get out of the house,” he said.
Their first date, Feb. 21, 2021, started in Central Park, where they strolled around the reservoir. A coffee at Consulate, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, followed.
As they spoke, Mr Ray said he found Ms Leist ‘smart, solid and down to earth’. When he brought up his divorce, “she just listened,” he added. “I found that comforting.” Of her impression of Mr. Ray, Ms. Leist put it this way, “Jenna really delivered.”
Weeks later, they met for a second date on March 6. Ms. Leist traveled from her Manhattan apartment near Gramercy Park to spend the day with Mr. Ray, who had planned an itinerary of activities for the two near his home in Danbury, Conn. .
The nine hour excursion started with coffee and pastries at Hayfields Cafe & Florist, North Salem, NY Then came a two hour walk. Next, they visited the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and went shopping for antiques. Their final stop, in North Salem, was for dinner at Purdy’s Farmer & the Fish, Mr. Ray’s favorite restaurant.
“It was a lot to do, but it was nice of him to show me” his area, Ms Leist said. “He put a lot of thought into everything.”
Mr Ray was delighted to see Ms Leist, whom he described as “a busy city girl with a busy job”, enjoying his slower-paced life. When the two met, he had wondered about the compatibility of their different lifestyles. “But showing her and that she is receptive to my area” made him more confident that a relationship would work out, said Mr Ray, who had started falling for Ms Leist before their second date was over. .
It took Ms Leist three more outings to have a similar epiphany. After their fifth date in late March, she recalled thinking, “Wow, I’m going to marry this man.”
That summer, Ms. Leist met Mr. Ray’s children at a Fourth of July barbecue hosted by Ms. Fisher and her husband, Murray Fisher. “I knew in my heart he was a great father,” Ms Leist said, “but now I have to see him.”
“It became very clear that Sayan had a whole life that existed ahead of me and I had to figure out how to be part of it,” she added.
As they continued to spend time together, slowly a family unit formed. “I always wanted kids,” Ms Leist said. “The more we got together, the closer I felt to winning this.” Her weekends, which had previously been spent on SoulCycle and having coffee with friends, as she put it, quickly became spent doing things with Mr. Ray and his kids.
Throughout their courtship, Ms. Leist and Mr. Ray always kept Ms. Bush Hager and Ms. Fisher informed of any progress. “No detail was too small,” Ms. Leist said.
Their matchmakers appreciated every update. “There’s energy to put two people together, especially someone I love like Libby, who’s funny, brilliant and a great friend,” Mrs. Bush Hager said. Ms Fisher described the twinning as “one of my proudest accomplishments”.
Although she was not involved in the couple’s presentation, Savannah Guthrie, presenter of “Today” and friend of Ms Leist, also applauded the development of their romance. “We were texting all hours of the night,” she said of herself, Ms. Bush Hager and Ms. Fisher. “Everyone was hanging on every development. It was like high school. »
Mrs. Guthrie had tried to trap Mrs. Leist several times, but had never succeeded. “During the delivery, I consulted with the anesthetist to see if he was right for her,” she said. “It became my mission,” she added, but “Jenna beat me to it.”
In the fall of 2021, Ms. Leist and Mr. Ray, who had started discussing marriage months earlier, were both ready to take the next step.
‘It’s amazing how your mind can change,’ Mr Ray said, describing how he went from thinking ‘I’ll never marry again’ to feeling like he couldn’t live without Ms Leist . “I needed her in a way that I didn’t expect,” he added.
Of their bond, Ms Leist said: ‘It’s rare to find that, to have a deep, honest relationship with someone,’ adding: ‘I didn’t know I could feel that.’
Mr. Ray proposed this November for the New York City Marathon, which fell on his birthday. To carry out the proposal, he had appealed to Mr. Fisher and Mr. Geist of “Today”, who participated in the race.
About two miles before the finish line in Central Park, Mr. Fisher handed Mr. Geist a bag of Dunkin’ munchkins. Inside was also a small box containing a citrine and a diamond ring. Mr. Geist then walked five blocks with the bag, before handing it to Mr. Ray, who was waiting with Ms. Leist and a few friends near an entrance to the park.
To prevent her from becoming suspicious, Mr Geist said she was not only asked to hand over the bag to Mr Ray, but also a line: ‘Someone in the crowd gave me this, can you throw it away?”
After the transfer, Mr. Ray and Ms. Leist walked through the park, returning to a place they had passed on their first date. Stationed nearby to take pictures was Ms Fisher, whose presence did not go unnoticed by Ms Leist. “I couldn’t finish everything I had to say because Libby saw Emily taking pictures in the bushes and asked why she was there,” Mr Ray said.
Despite his haste, he still had time to get down on his knees and ask her to marry him. Ms Leist immediately said yes, and the two then celebrated their engagement at Sona, an Indian restaurant near Gramercy Park, with a small group that included the fishermen, Mrs Bush Hager and Ms Guthrie.
On June 4, the couple were married at Grace Church in Utica, NY, in front of Reverend Christine Williams-Belt, an Episcopal priest, and 145 guests. Mr. Ray’s son was best man and his daughter was a junior bridesmaid. Following the ceremony, a cocktail reception and seated dinner were held at Ms. Leist’s parents’ home in New Hartford, NY.
At the reception, Mrs. Bush Hager and Mrs. Fisher gave a surprise speech, during which they read an excerpt from a book they had created. Its pages were filled with the many text messages exchanged between their larger group of friends during the couple’s courtship.
“There must be a thousand texts between all of us,” Ms Bush Hager said, before quoting a message she sent to Ms Fisher on April 19, 2021.
“I really think that’s it,” she said, adding, “and it was.”
When June 4, 2022
Where Grace Church, Utica, NY,
The reception The bride’s parents’ home in New Hartford, NY
High marks The ceremony included music and voices from a pianist, tenor and opera singer. During cocktail hour and dinner, guests were entertained by singer Troy Ramey, who performed “My Love Is Your Love” as the couple had their first dance. The evening ended with a set by DJ Spider.
just children During dinner, the newlyweds sat at a table with 13 children, including those of Mr. Ray and those of Mrs. Bush Hager and Mrs. Guthrie. “We feel very close to all these children – they feel like family,” Ms Leist said. “It was so joyful to see them enjoying the wedding and it was a chance for us to connect during the wedding.”