Mother knows best in matters of the heart

A local attorney is thankful that Mom didn't butt out of his love life.

Published June 9, 2006


Meeting Hadley McBee set off Debbie Rivera's maternal matchmaking radar.

"I knew right away she would be great for my son, Hector," Mrs. Rivera said.

Her first attempt to connect them, both now 27, was the night before Hector, a Stetson University College of Law student, left to study international law at Universidad de Granada in Spain for two months in 2002.

"We met up at Stump's in Channelside, but it was mainly just, goodbye and have a good trip,'' recalled Hector, an only child who "mostly appreciates'' his mother's good intentions.


"Every time I called or e-mailed, she'd mention Hadley," he said. "We didn't have class on Friday so we'd go on three-day side trips. I'd get back and want to tell my parents where I'd been, and they'd talk about Hadley.

"It got kind of annoying."

His mother and Hadley met at M's, a now closed South Tampa boutique where she was a store partner while studying at the University of South Florida. Mrs. Rivera came in to see if the store would carry her lines of handbags, jewelry and hair accessories.

Hadley and her roommate, Lindsy Johnston, who also worked at M's, realized they knew the woman's son, Hector, and many of his Jesuit friends. After work, Mrs. Rivera invited them to join her for a drink with her husband, Dr. Hector Rivera, a family physician in Town 'N Country.

Hadley never suspected she was meeting her future father-in-law.

Like Hector, Hadley is an only child and also close to her parents, Fred and Kathy McBee of Lutz. How they met and wed always inspired her.

"My dad fell off a horse when he was 16 and is quadriplegic," she said. "My mom was 20 and a physical therapist during his rehab."

They married in 1966, and he became an English and logic professor at USF. In 1984, he co-wrote Continental Quest about two wheelchair athletes who crossed the country from Los Angeles to New York.

Two days after Hector returned from Spain, his mother brought Hadley to dinner at Charley's Steak House.

"I hoped he would like her as much as I do," Mrs. Rivera said.

With a nudge from mom, Hector offered to drive Hadley back to where she'd left her car. That's when they discovered they had many mutual friends, including her two roommates. The two sat in his car for nearly an hour, talking like they had known each other forever.

"Between my friends and his parents, I felt like I already knew him," she said.

Hector drove off and his phone rang.

"Well?" his mother asked. "What do you think?"

He thought she should relax and let him take it from there.

She did and he did. Soon the pair were enjoying sports events, cooking and playing gin rummy. Hadley left M's and became an elementary education major at USF. A substitute teacher at the Academy of the Holy Names, she also started a business, Hadley LLC, embellishing tank tops with crystal logos. Hector went to work for Barr, Murman and Tonelli as a personal injury attorney.

It was obvious Hector's parents would be happy to have Hadley in the family. Hector's godchild, his cousin Joseph Cannella, helped clinch the idea.

"He was about 8, and we took him to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. He looked over at Hadley and gave me a thumbs up," Hector said.

The youngster had never liked Hector's other girlfriends, "so that really told me something."

He proposed on Christmas Eve 2004.

Parental influence extended to wedding planning, too. Hector's mother left no detail overlooked when the couple married March 18 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City. A wedding party of 40 - a dozen bridesmaids and groomsmen, 10 children and six ushers - accompanied them. Dinner and dancing followed for 500 guests at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel.

After a honeymoon in Los Cabos, Mexico, the couple returned to their townhouse off Swann Avenue. Dr. and Mrs. Rivera are frequent guests.

"She's not only a daughter-in-law to us; she's also one of our best friends," Mrs. Rivera said.

Have an interesting wedding story to share? Let Amy Scherzer know at www.sptimes.com or 226-3332.