Hillary Peckham felt a different kind of pain when Maren Hall-Wieckert, whom she had been dating for four years, decided in August 2016 to leave New York to attend the University of Colorado, where he would begin a doctoral program in learning sciences.
“I was stunned and really hurt,” Peckham said. “This happened just after my sister’s wedding, and at a time when I thought Maren and I were about to move in together.”
It also happened at a time when Peckham, who was an avid horseback rider and runner, was still dealing with the excruciating pain that followed a failed hip surgery in 2009, which left her walking on crutches and in physical therapy for two years.
“There wasn’t a specific moment when I got hurt,” Peckham said. “But I had a labral tear and my psoas muscle was almost severed due to a structural abnormality in my hip. It wasn’t pretty.”
As Peckham slowly began to recover, there was yet more pain to endure. Her grandmother, Frances Keeffe, was suffering from a long and agonizing battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In the spring of 2012, just weeks before Hall-Wieckert came into Peckham’s life, her grandmother died.
“My mother was my grandmother’s caretaker, and a doctor had suggested that she try and find medical marijuana to comfort my grandmother while she was declining in health,” Peckham said. “Though there was no legal way to procure it, my mom and I went ahead and started doing all sorts of research on the subject.”
Peckham and her mother, Amy Keeffe Peckham, considered creating their own medical marijuana business. “We had both experienced firsthand how pain management could be mismanaged,” Peckham said. “We knew that medical marijuana was an alternative that could provide for quality of life in many situations.”
Peckham and her mother began putting together a “highly skilled and knowledgeable team of industry experts” to apply for a license in New York State to grow and distribute cannabis.
Their team included physicians, horticultural experts, pharmacists, manufacturing engineers and Hall-Wieckert, who was living in Brooklyn at the time and working as a researcher for the Graduate Center Advanced Science Research Foundation of the City University of New York.
“I was spending my weekends writing sections of the license application, it became a second job,” he said. “I learned right away that the Peckhams are doers, and I was very excited and extremely motivated about being a part of their vision.”
Peckham, now 28, and Hall-Wieckert, 27, met in June 2012 at a 21st birthday party for Peckham and her twin brother, J.D. Peckham, who brought along Hall-Wieckert, a friend from Oberlin College in Ohio who was about to enter his senior year. The party was held at the Peckham family home in the Bedford Hills area of Katonah.
They began dating, spending long hours on the phone and in their cars, with each making the 14-hour round-trip drive from Oberlin to Hamilton at least once a month.
“Maren was the first person that could turn Hillary’s head,” her mother said. “They made each other laugh, which is what made them work so well together.”
Hall-Wieckert learned that Peckham was one of four children born to Amy Peckham and John Robert Peckham, the owner of a construction company in White Plains who described his daughter as “a very hard-charging person who has always been very focused and aggressive about pursuing goals and challenges.”
Peckham received a business certificate from Dartmouth after graduating from Hamilton with a degree in music and a minor in biology. As a lover of animals from the time she was a child, she had dreams of becoming a veterinarian, though her injury and subsequent interest in medical marijuana led her down a different path.
“Growing up, we had four dogs, a pig, a few dozen chickens, rabbits and reptiles,” Peckham said. “I know I would have enjoyed a career being around so many different animals, especially those that needed my help.”
Hall-Wieckert, the oldest of two children born to Karen Wieckert and Rogers Hall, was 10 years old when his father, a professor of learning sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, moved the family to Nashville to take on a similar role at Vanderbilt University. Hall-Wieckert’s mother soon became a Nashville-based independent software design contractor.
In July 2014, 14 months after the Peckham team applied for a license to sell medical marijuana products, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Compassionate Care Act, legalizing medical marijuana and giving birth to their company.
Peckham’s mother, who is of Irish descent, named the company Etain, after an Irish goddess, and it became, and still remains, the only family-run, women-owned medical marijuana company in the state of New York.
By July 2016, Peckham, her mother, and her older sister, Keeley Peckham, a certified horticultural therapist, had grown their business into a 50-employee operation that included four medical marijuana dispensaries in Manhattan, Syracuse, Yonkers and Kingston, and on-site pharmacists at each dispensary. The company also constructed a cannabis manufacturing plant in Chestertown.
Though Team Peckham’s vision had come to fruition, Hall-Wieckert’s decision to leave the team to study for a doctorate was something that Peckham did not see coming.
“It was our moment of uncertainty, and a particularly kind of devastating moment for me,” she said. “I tried to appear not to be so upset and be supportive of Maren, but I don’t think I did a good job, and things got a little bit rocky from there.”
“We talked about it at length,” she continued, “and I finally told him that if he didn’t come back, I didn’t think the relationship was going to work.”
Though Hall-Wieckert had completed a full semester of classes by the spring of 2017, he also began “feeling pretty miserable,” he said, regarding the emotional and geographical distance that he had put between himself and Peckham.
“Hillary was my best friend — the person who helped turn me into a better version of myself, a more social, outgoing, motivated and courageous person,” he said. “I knew for sure that I had made a mistake.”
He told her as much in April 2017, at a rendezvous in Budapest, where Peckham and her family was visiting her younger brother, Gregory Peckham, who was enrolled in a study-abroad program there.
Hall-Wieckert decided to forego the rest of his doctoral studies in Colorado and returned to New York the following month to be reunited with Peckham, and resume his role as Etain’s director of information and technologies.
They The couple married Aug. 17 in an outdoor ceremony at the Bronx Zoo, an ode to a little girl’s love for animals.