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Attorney General Pam Bondi's Cayman trip wasn't a wedding; many wonder why

TALLAHASSEE — It looked like a wedding.

Sixty or 70 guests at a luxury Caribbean resort, including the governor and a former Tampa mayor. A beaming bride in a white dress with a flower in her hair. A photographer flown in to take pictures of the smiling couple with aqua water behind them.

But Attorney General Pam Bondi says no ceremony took place at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman on Saturday. And many questions remain about when and why Bondi made the last-minute decision not to get married.

Did Bondi bow to conservative critics who felt her jaunt across seas was politically tone deaf? The 46-year-old now says she will be wed in a small, private ceremony at a Tampa-area Baptist church.

Did leaks on gossip blogs and social media sites cause the couple to shy from the publicity? A photo of Bondi serving cocktails during the plane ride to the Cayman Islands quickly made the rounds online.

Or is something more personal and heartbreaking involved? Bondi and her fiance, 62-year-old ophthalmologist Greg Henderson, spent the weekend entertaining family and friends and are still on vacation together. But that hasn't stopped people from wondering whether one of the two got cold feet or if there was a prenuptial disagreement.

From vacation, the couple emailed the Times/Herald to say the speculation is inaccurate. Said Henderson: "We are enjoying a happy and blessed trip and are deeply in love with each other."

This will be marriage No. 3 for Bondi after two divorces. She wed Garret Barnes in 1990 at age 24; they divorced 22 months later. Her second marriage to Scott Fitzgerald in 1997 ended just shy of six years.

Henderson is a widower. His wife, Kathy, died in 2002 at age 50. They had been married for 26 years and the couple's four children — Kristen, Greg Jr., David and Matt — are grown.

Bondi has been planning her wedding to Henderson for months. In November, she told the Tampa Bay Times that she was hoping for a spring affair. Political insiders eventually caught wind that a destination wedding was planned for Memorial Day weekend, but details were limited and the guest list was exclusive.

The first details discussed publicly came from an unlikely source: state Sen. Paula Dockery, who coincidentally was on the same commercial flight to the Cayman Islands on Thursday. She snapped a picture of Bondi serving cocktails to the wedding party and posted it on her Facebook page.

"She looked so happy and I asked permission to take a picture and post on FB," Dockery told the Times/Herald in a Twitter exchange. "My intent was to share her joy with others."

South Florida blogger Jose Lambiet caught wind of Dockery's post and followed up with a call to the Ritz-Carlton. He said a staffer confirmed the details.

"She said the wedding was at 5 o'clock on Saturday and they were at rehearsal" during the time he called Friday, Lambiet said.

Things changed the next day. Hotel staff denied Bondi or Henderson were guests when Lambiet called again and there was no longer mention of a ceremony.

"Saturday I got to thinking, there is something cooking there," he said.

Bondi confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times on Saturday that the wedding was postponed for a few weeks but wouldn't say why. She described the weekend as a "celebration of upcoming nuptials."

Even some of the guests invited to join the couple in Cayman didn't know about the change in plans as they embarked for the Caribbean. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said he isn't sure when he learned there wouldn't be a wedding, perhaps on the plane ride there.

"Some knew, and some didn't," said Greco, who traveled with his wife, Linda McClintock. "But everybody knew before Saturday."

There was still partying and even kind words for the bride and groom, but no formalities, Greco said. "They had a prayer and a couple of Bible scriptures and said that is what they had decided to do."

Greco said he understands if the couple agreed that a ceremony in a church close to home would be more fitting.

"That doesn't surprise me knowing Greg for as long as I've known him," Greco said. "He's a person who lives his religion."

The exclusive invite list included Gov. Rick Scott and his wife, Ann. None of the other Cabinet members or the lieutenant governor were mentioned among the guests.

Many of the friends and associates contacted by the Times/Herald declined to comment. Asked whether he thought a wedding was going to take place, Scott answered vaguely on Wednesday: "I went for Pam's celebration."

As Scott spent Saturday in the Cayman Islands, Tropical Storm Beryl threatened northeast Florida. Scott's staff said he monitored the storm closely and returned to Florida for scheduled events on Sunday and Monday.

"I stayed on top of it the whole time," the governor said. "As soon as we went to a level 1, I was here."

Bondi has faced the most criticism over the weekend, not only for the secrecy surrounding her wedding plans but the details themselves.

Greco, who has had his share of the spotlight, bristled at some negative comments strangers directed at the attorney general. Her initial decision to get married at a Caribbean resort instead of a Florida church was personal, not political, he said.

Dockery, who is still vacationing in Cayman, also said she was shocked at the reaction and called it "absurdity." She removed the picture from her Facebook wall, but it has already been copied onto various websites.

"If I had known this would be anything other than a very joyful and lighthearted moment for Pam, I certainly wouldn't have shared even with her consent," said Dockery, a Lakeland Republican.

However, Lambiet believes Bondi created what he considers a public relations disaster. She was naive to think that Floridians wouldn't be curious about her wedding, he said, and should have been more forthcoming about what she planned.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist got it right in his highly publicized 2008 wedding to Carole Rome, according to Lambiet. Curious citizens gathered outside the St. Petersburg church to cheer on the couple, and Crist made sure the media got all the photos they wanted, the blogger said.

"I think she failed miserably at a potential PR coup," Lambiet said, making note that Bondi's name has been floated as a future gubernatorial candidate. "And if you can't handle this, how can you handle a campaign?"

Other than the couple's email late Wednesday night, Bondi has not been seen or heard from. We know she is on vacation with Henderson but not much else.

Still, one thing is clear: It's not a honeymoon.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's Cayman trip wasn't a wedding; many wonder why 05/30/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 31, 2012 7:43am]
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