By Ashley Shuler
INDIANAPOLIS – Davey Neal met Heather Willis on his first day on the job.
It was the summer of 2001. He was fresh out of college. A Wabash graduate.
Davey and Heather Neal chat amongst themselves in the Statehouse atrium. The couple was married in the building nearly 11 years ago after meeting while working in Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy’s office. Photo by Ashley Shuler, TheStatehouseFile.com
He was getting the grand tour of Secretary of State Sue Anne Gilroy’s office where he’d be working. He got introduced to her senior staff.
“And Heather was one of those people,” Davey said.
Davey and Heather will be spending Valentine’s Day this year at the Statehouse, applying their trade.
Davey, who was once the Secretary of State’s chief of staff and the executive secretary for the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission under Mitch Daniels, now lobbies at the Statehouse for a legal practice that focuses on alcoholic beverage law. Heather is most well-known for her role as legislative director under former governor Mike Pence and left her government job to do consulting and lobbying in the private sector a little more than three years ago.
Through the years, the pair often worked together in politics but didn’t hit it off until they started working on Todd Rokita’s Secretary of State campaign together in February 2002.
It was a convention race, so they didn’t have a ton of money or a large campaign staff. The pair worked their day jobs and often volunteered for the campaigns in the evenings, making campaign calls and going around the state together.
Davey made the first move when he got free tickets to a Firebirds game, an arena football team the city used to have. He had helped out a woman who was involved with the team earlier that day.
Davey called Heather and asked if she’d use his second ticket. She said yes.
“This was really kind of a forward step for me,” Davey said.
So they went to Conseco Fieldhouse and picked up the tickets.
The Neals are captured in a moment of tears—or maybe laughter—during their Statehouse wedding. This one of of Heather’s favorite wedding snapshots. Photo provided by Davey and Heather Neal
“I feel like I’m a really big deal because someone left me tickets at will call,” he said.
They walked up. He said his name. The box office attendant hands him the envelope.
On the envelope, the woman he had helped out earlier in the day had written: “I’m saving these tickets for this kid who helped me out today.”
“Kid. Like, in giant Sharpie,” he said. “Not a great first move.”
They left the game early and headed to The Pub Indianapolis on Georgia Street for drinks, sit down at the bar, and hand their IDs to the bartender.
“Without even skipping a beat, the bartender says: ‘Do you know you are FOUR YEARS older than he is?’ to Heather,” Davey said.
“And then he kept offering you milk,” Heather added. “I’d order a glass of wine, and he’d say, ‘Would that be regular milk or chocolate milk?’”
“So that was our first date,” Davey said.
A lot of their dates that summer were at political events, bartending at fundraisers and the like.
And when Rokita took office after a successful campaign, Heather became Davey’s boss.
In August 2005, they got engaged with a custom ring using the diamond from Davey’s great-grandmother’s ring from 1896.
“I had known for a while that I was going to propose,” he said. “The ring had taken a while to develop. I had put a lot of time into it.”
“He puts a lot of time into everything like that,” Heather added.
The jeweler called Davey and said the ring was ready. He picked it up.
The Neal wedding party poses. The group shot was a recreation of a photo on the promotional TV poster for “The West Wing” Davey had in his office at the time. Photo provided by Davey and Heather Neal
“All of a sudden, it was like it was on fire, burning a hole in my pocket,” he said. “I was like, ‘I have to do it right now, or I’m going to lose it.’”
They sat down to eat in the kitchen of the new house they had moved into a week or two before. They had a long night of painting ahead of them. They were wearing ratty t-shirts.
Davey’s was a paint-stained “My Man Mitch” shirt. Heather’s was her favorite Franklin College tee, nearly thread-bear with holes.
“We ate leftovers,” Heather said. “Day-past-the-day leftovers. We had no business eating them. But we wanted to get to painting, and clearly he had other plans.”
Davey proposed. There on the kitchen floor, down on one knee.
“No friends. No special dinner. No chocolate mousse,” he said.
“It was very romantic,” Heather joked.
Promptly eight months later, in April 2006, they officially became the Neals when they got married in the Statehouse.
Mike Keele, a judge in Marion County, married them. Their former, mutual boss Sue Anne Gilroy did the prayer. The then-State Republican Party Chair crashed their wedding, drinking from the open bar and dancing.
“Our professional lives, our personal lives, our relationship has kind of always revolved around politics in some aspect or another,” Davey said.
The Neals had their first child just under a year after the wedding and now have four children, all under 10 years old. They try to instill the lessons they’ve learned at the Statehouse in them.
Mike Keele, a judge in Marion County, marries Davey and Heather Neal inside the Indiana Statehouse. The couple got married in April 2006 and had many political guests. Photo provided by Davey and Heather Neal
“What’s been great for us, as we’re rearing our children, is any time they come home with something they’ve heard at school or things they’ve heard on the news, we really are quick to give them both sides, both perspectives,” Heather said.
Each of their children have godparents that work or have worked in the Statehouse. While working in politics, Davey and Heather took turns strolling the babies around the building’s glossy floors while the other was talking to legislators.
When former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence became vice president of the United States, their nine-year-old told everyone she knew him personally and once interviewed him for a kindergarten report. Pence even drew her a picture for her birthday.
“To them, these are normal people who are doing a public service,” Heather said. “It’s just part of our lives.”
The Neals recently started a screen printing t-shirt and bag business ran by just them and their children—something that may, eventually, pull their careers and relationship away from the Statehouse walls.
Ashley Shuler is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.