They’ll Always Have Venice (and Each Other)

Dr. Neal Frederic Kassell and Meredith Jung-En Woo, best of friends for years, were ambivalent about marriage as recently as three months ago. But on Sept. 9, while sitting next to each other on an airplane in relative silence, Dr. Kassell leaned over to say something to Ms. Woo, who was reading a book.

“Hey, should we get married,” he asked her somewhere over the Atlantic during a flight to Italy.

Ms. Woo looked up from her book and softly said, “Oh yeah, sure,” before continuing to read.

And just like that, they were engaged.

“First you laugh about the idea of getting married, then you get a little more serious about it and you talk about it some more,” said Dr. Kassell, 75, the founder and chairman of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, based in Charlottesville, Va.

Dr. Kassell, who previously served as a co-chair of neurosurgery at the University of Virginia, met Ms. Woo, 63, after she was hired as dean of the university’s College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in May 2008.

“I first met Meredith when she arrived at my house with a friend one day for dinner,” he said.

“I was struck by how beautiful she was,” added Dr. Kassell, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, from which he also received a medical degree.

“When Meredith opened her mouth, I understood she was not just another pretty face,” he said. “She was arguably the smartest and best-informed person I had ever met, and she had a great sense of humor and an enormous appreciation for all the fine things in life, particularly food and wine.”

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They had many things in common, including the fact that they were both married to other people at the time.

“We became really good friends, and it remained that way for 10 years,” said Ms. Woo, now the president of Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

By November 2018, both Ms. Woo, the mother of a teenage boy, and Dr. Kassell, the father of three young girls, were divorced. Later that year, she accepted an invitation to Dr. Kassell’s annual New Year’s Eve party.

“We waited 10 years,” Dr. Kassell said. “But I was ready to go out with Meredith from the minute I met her.”

Asked if she felt the same, Ms. Woo said “no comment,” before adding, “I think that when you marry your best friend, it’s the best way to get married.”

The author and editor of seven books, including “Race to the Swift: State and Finance in Korean Industrialization” and “The Developmental State,” Ms. Woo said, “I felt comfortable around him despite all of his eccentricities,” which include Dr. Kassell’s twice yearly trips to Venice, where he has been more than 50 times. (Ms. Woo has accompanied him on several visits, including the trip in September when they became engaged on the flight while en route.)

They were married Nov. 4 at Dr. Kassell’s house in Charlottesville, where the couple lives. Mark Warner, a U.S. Senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia and a friend of the couple who has known the groom for more than 25 years, officiated.

There were no guests.

“Hopefully, along the way, I helped him become a better, kinder and more gentle person,” the bride said of the groom, “and hopefully he has done the same for me.”