Here’s a Valentine’s Day story for you: Two palaeontologists meet at university, fall in love, and move to Alberta. Years later, one of them co-authors a paper about a ground-breaking dinosaur discovery that takes the world by storm. But secretly embedded within this published paper is a marriage proposal that captivates the hearts of people around the world.
Pretty good plot huh? Well guess what…it’s true and it all went down right here in Alberta!
Meet the people behind the story
Dr. Caleb Brown, Post-doctoral Fellow at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
As a child growing up in central Alberta, Caleb had been fascinated with natural history and biology. He was also surrounded by dinosaurs (well…dinosaur fossils) and quickly realized how interested he was in this field.
Dr. Lorna O’Brien, Head Technician in the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s preparation lab. She holds a PhD in palaeobiology.
Lorna grew up on a farm in Ireland where she had a particular interest in animals, but no real passion towards dinosaurs and fossils. That is…until her university years when she developed a love for geology and biology — and it just so happens that palaeontology is a good mix of both these subjects.
How they met
With both deciding to pursue a career in palaeontology, their studies led them to the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum where they would meet for the first time in 2009.
It was love at first sight! Well….not quite. But it was love!
Lorna and Caleb were part of a small palaeontology student group at the Royal Ontario Museum. After about six months of working together and developing a friendship, their relationship evolved into something more. Upon finishing their PhD’s and both graduating, the couple moved Alberta to begin their careers.
Hellboy, the big proposal and world-wide buzz
By the time 2015 rolled around, Lorna and Caleb had been together for nearly five years and had moved to Drumheller, AB working the jobs of their dreams at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It was sometime in the beginning of 2015 when Caleb decided he was going to ask Lorna to marry him. The only thing left to do now was decide how he would propose.
“I wanted to do something that was unique. Something that had some permanency to it,” says Caleb.
So he got creative.
For the past year, Caleb had been working tirelessly on a new species of dinosaur that had been discovered called Regaliceratops peterhewsi, or otherwise known as “Hellboy.”
“Hellboy” was discovered in 2005 by a member of the public in southeastern Alberta. Its nickname came to be due to the difficult excavation conditions, hardness of the rock surrounding the skull, and small horns the animal had over its eyes.
Caleb’s job on the project was to describe and diagnose the species, as part of a paper introducing the animal and discussing its scientific significance. A date was set for June 4 to officially release the paper and unveil “Hellboy” to the world. Caleb saw this as the perfect opportunity to ask Lorna to marry him.
Embedded at the end of the paper, deep in the Acknowledgements section he wrote the fateful words. On the weekend before the paper was to be released, Caleb asked Lorna to proof read it for him one last time.
“He really had to force me to read it,” laughs Lorna. “Because our work overlaps in terms of our field of study, I often do proof reading for him. I had read so many versions of this paper already.”
When Lorna got to the Acknowledgement section, she got quite the shock when she read words she’d never seen before: “Lorna, will you marry me?”
She said yes!
They did not believe what happened next.
“At first, I thought he had only put the proposal in the copy he gave me. I didn’t think he would put it in the paper that went to print,” she said.
And on June 4, when the world was introduced to “Hellboy” and Caleb’s co-authored paper on the species was released, it didn’t take long before the media caught the proposal.
The news around “Hellboy” spread through the scientific community, and the world, like wildfire — part of that was certainly due the unprecedented marriage proposal.
Soon after the extensive coverage on the discovery and its importance to palaeontology, headlines such as, “This is the Geekiest Marriage Proposal Ever,” and “This paleontologist just snuck a marriage proposal into his paper on a new dinosaur,” began popping up on websites including Vox, Vice and even celebrity gossip sites.
“It wasn’t my intent for this to become such big news,” says Caleb. “But it was definitely the result. The paper and the new species that was established will now always be linked to that proposal. I think the immortality in that is special.”
Where are they now?
Lorna and Caleb are happy to announce they got married this past Christmas holidays in a quiet ceremony surrounded by family and friends. The two are planning their upcoming reception in Ireland with Lorna’s family.
Sadly, there were no dinosaurs incorporated into the wedding.
As for “Hellboy,” you can view the massive fossil at the Royal Tyrrell Museum where it is currently on display as part of the Fossils in Focus Exhibit. Fossils in Focus provide visitors with the chance to learn about some of the most significant specimens in the Museum’s collections. Designed to be a space that evolves with the changing understanding of palaeontology, this rotating exhibit highlights some of the most remarkable and scientifically significant fossils from Alberta.
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located six kilometres northwest of Drumheller on Highway 838. It houses one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs and is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the science of palaeontology.