TAMPA — Bryan Pedersen started working at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club at 18. Promotion came swiftly, from server to bar manager to head of the formal dining room, as he pursued a career in private club management. • "It's not like working at a Panera or any restaurant," he says. "Club members become like family. You know everything about them." • Then Miranda Gilbert joined the wait staff and those "family" ties eventually would expand to include his future wife.
Gilbert lived in four states before she graduated from King High in 2000. Maybe moving so much prepared her for juggling homework, band practice and multiple after-school and weekend jobs. Toward the end of her senior year, she waited tables in the 19th Hole, the family dining room at Palma Ceia Country Club.
She couldn't miss the tall, lanky frequent visitor to the hostess stand. "Especially his gorgeous blue eyes,'' says Gilbert, now 27.
Pedersen, 31, had worked at the club since graduating from Plant High in 1996. The 1,200 members are so fond of him that general manager Bob Ley calls Pedersen the "poster child for Palma Ceia."
They especially appreciate his discretion. Like the times he has driven home people who drank a few too many.
On his days off, the model employee lets his adventurous streak loose, experiencing windsurfing, scuba diving and mountain rappelling. When he learned Gilbert was turning 21, he did his best to persuade her to try skydiving with him.
She declined, she says, "too scared."
But the invitation sparked her interest. She asked a co-worker to scope out Pedersen's status, not giving a thought to her co-worker being gay.
"It was in shock when this rather flamboyant man asked me if I was available,'' said Pedersen, still getting a laugh out of how he managed to answer "yes and no."
Pedersen got the fellow to reveal it was Gilbert who had sent him on the fact-finding mission. With that knowledge, he asked her to dinner that night in August 2001.
"That was our first first date,'' he said, explaining that she quit soon after and prepared to move to Texas with her mother. They parted as friends, neither interested in pursing a long-distance relationship.
Imagine his surprise three years later, seeing her in uniform and serving cocktails in the club ballroom.
"I never left Tampa," she said, instead taking a job as a bank teller. (Today, she is a private banker at Bay Cities Bank on Henderson Boulevard.)
"So we went on our second first date,'' Pedersen said. That evening began at the Fox Jazz Club and ended with a moonlit walk on the Palma Ceia golf course at 3 a.m.
"You could say the club brought us back together again,'' says Gilbert.
The relationship stayed professional whenever Gilbert filled in at holiday parties and special club events. It grew closer as they discovered similar interests, from movies to music, favorite color (orange) to hated foods (onions).
"Our thoughts are so alike it's almost creepy," she says.
The great leap forward came when Gilbert agreed to go skydiving. Any lingering fears flew away as she experienced the world from 14,000 feet with Pedersen soaring at her side.
The next step: renting a townhouse together in Town ’N Country.
By November 2006, as they planned a trip to Las Vegas, Pedersen privately planned to propose. He called the Cirque du Soleil office to see if they would make the couple part of the colorful preshow audience interaction. He was disappointed when they said there could be no guarantees.
"So the night we went to see Ka at the MGM Grand, I took an Ace bandage and taped the ring box to my calf," recalls Pedersen.
Just before the show started, he pointed out his new socks.
"What's that," asked Gilbert as he pulled up his pant leg.
"Why don't you see for yourself," he said.
The spotlight above their seats shone on the glistening diamond … and Gilbert's tears of delight.
Mr. and Mrs. Pedersen married Oct. 12, 2008, at Jackson's Bistro on Harbour Island. His uncle, Pastor Jon Pedersen of Wilmington, N.C., officiated at the waterside ceremony. The couple counted many club members among the 125 guests.
"One even lent us his condo in the Bahamas for our honeymoon," said Pedersen.
"Just like family."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.