Monday, December 22, 2014

Pres and Donna Theresa Part Three: Donna Resurfaces

By Preston V. McMurry Jr. as told to Virginia Jones

Donna Theresa, Preston McMurry, Jr.’s wife, was horribly abused as a child in Agnone, Italy, the  a mountaintop village where she was born.  During their marriage the physical and emotional scars of her childhood torture played havoc with their life beneath matrimonial blankets.

More of the story is told in the preceding two blogs: Pres and Donna Theresa: The Love Story That Inspired A Nonprofit Combatting Domestic Violence and Pres and Donna Theresa Part Two: Pres Works on Healing From the Loss of Donna Theresa

Periodically, Donna Theresa left home.  At first, for a few weeks.  Each time she left it was for a longer period of time.

She was never able to explain why, but always announced her intended departure with the same words, “I love you. But, I am leaving.”

She heard the line in a movie the couple attended three nights before her first disappearance. 
Donna Theresa and Pres were deeply in love.  They sought help.  For ten years they attended weekly counseling sessions.  Eventually the therapist encouraged Donna Theresa to uncover the mysteries of her early childhood by seeking her roots

The couple traveled to her birth place in Italy.  Amazingly, within minutes of their arrival, they met friends and relatives.  Weeks later, they returned to their Phoenix, Arizona, home.  Donna seemed at peace.  She was, at least, unusually quiet.

Months later, after concluding a three day business trip, Pres arrived home late at night, exhausted.  He walked into his house. It was empty.

There was no letter, no note, no phone message, and no explanation why.  There was no warning of this disappearance.  Donna Theresa had simply left.

Descending into months of self recrimination and self loathing, Pres viewed suicide as a reasonable solution.  Friends, relatives, and Wayne, his psychologist, worried.  Since Pres was unable to communicate with his wife, Wayne suggested daily journaling as a substitute for connection. 
Pres penned conversational letters to Donna Theresa about his thoughts, emotions, confessions, and sometimes frightening fears.  The unsent letters read as though his mind was wire tapped.  Over two years nearly 300 letters accumulated.  Eventually he had an epiphany.  He was inspired to spend his life combatting child abuse and domestic violence.  To do this, he created a charitable foundation.  He named it Theresa’s Fund after Donna Theresa.

In time he healed enough to live with the pain caused by the loss.  He dated and eventually enjoyed a beautiful but brief love affair.  Fortunately the affair helped Pres realize there is life and success after the personal failure of his marriage to Donna Theresa.

Reconciliation

Years passed.  Then one evening in the shadow of Camelback Mountain while Pres was shaving in anticipation of connecting with a new friend he met through personal ads in the local weekly, the phone rang.

He toweled his face and answered, “This is Pres.”

An unfamiliar voice he knew he should remember spoke, “Hi Pres.  How ya doing?”

Pres didn’t know how to answer the question. There was a long pause on both ends of the line.

Then the voice said, “This is Donna.”

Pres had waited for this moment, thinking it would never come, through seven years of silence.
His first thought, which remained unspoken was, “Holy F@#%!”

He reached for the sink and steadied himself.  He was unable to speak, unable to answer Donna’s simple question.

Finally Donna Theresa said, “I think it’s time for us to sit down and talk.”

Later Pres remembered nothing, not a word of the phone conversation that followed -- a conversation he had longed for for seven years.  Nor for that matter, did Pres remember the details of the Friday evening date they scheduled during the phone call.

Eight days after the phone conversation Pres flew to Newport Beach, California, for the date.  As agreed, Donna Theresa was waiting for him at the John Wayne Air Terminal gate.

“My heart was pounding,” recounts Pres. “I wondered if the hammering could be seen through my shirt.”

Then, all of a sudden there she was -- the love of his life -- standing before him: Neat, trim, smiling broadly, dark eyes alight, and looking exciting in heels and a tight fitting beige London Fog.  They stood, at arms-length, undecided, and then embraced as friends do.

Donna Theresa drove.  It was a gorgeous day.  Clear blue skies.  Fresh cool ocean breeze.  The conversation was measured, simple, unimportant, and about everything except what was on their minds and needed to be said and needed to be explained.

Donna chose a family restaurant.

“A good place for brunch.” she offered.

They poked and fiddled with their food, talked about friends, families, careers, and their homes, slowly getting comfortable with each other again.  Not knowing how the news would be received, Pres explained Theresa’s Fund, the millions of dollars raised for the Fund, and the shelters the Fund helped build.  Donna’s reaction wasn’t demonstrative, but Pres sensed she was pleased and accepted the cause for what it was -- a long term act of love.  Pres hoped, without saying so, that she felt honored.  It was after all, her name that was on the charity’s letterhead and on the buildings its work made possible.

The flood gates now opened, and Pres eased into the holy grail of questions for which he had sought an answer for seven years -- an effort that nearly cost him his life.

In a quiet voice he asked, “Honey, why did you leave?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I just had to go.”

It was the same response she had always given while leaving him.

Then she added, “Pres, I have always loved you, even when I left.”

Pres sobbed, hiding his face and his pain from curious diners.

Donna Theresa spoke at length about the therapy she pursued after their separation.  It was intense, she explained: Four hours a day, five days a week for more than a year: Regression therapy, massage, aromatic, and music therapy.  Sometimes she underwent all four at the same time.

“And the result?” asked Pres hopefully.

Donna Theresa reached out to hold Pres’ hands.  Pres thought he felt love.  Her next words were a gift, an awesome and healing vindication.

She said, “There was nothing wrong with you as a husband that I didn’t create out of the abuse of my childhood.”

Donna paused, before finishing, met Pres’ eyes, offered a kleenex, then asked if he would like to continue their conversation at her home.  There was something she wanted Pres to hear. 
They drove to Donna’s place.  It was a beautiful place: Modern, new, clean, and, as expected, a well-maintained home.

“Entering was a bit disquieting,” recounts Pres. “I don’t know what I expected.  But there was my furniture, our furniture really, plus our Italian paintings and mementos.  It was all there and was almost like walking into the house we once owned together in Phoenix.”

Acting as though the familiar accouterments had always belonged there, Pres smiled and said, “What a beautiful house,” 

Then Donna Theresa, her voice solemn, said “there’s something I want you to hear.”

She slotted the CD she was holding and pressed the power button.

“This is the music they were playing during therapy when I remembered events from my childhood in Agnone.” she explained.

It was an electronic symphony, a whining melody with an intermittent tapping: Curtink, curtink, curtink --- pause --- curtink, curtink, curtink.

Pres froze. He knew tools and recognized the sound.  Curtink, curtink, curtink was the rhythm of a coppersmith using a steel poker to stoke his furnace to metal liquefying temperatures.  The instrument of Theresa’s torture would have lain within arms each of her coppersmith father.

“They......,” rasped Donna Theresa accusingly, “bu-u-u-rned me!”

Pres was stunned.  He had expected something entirely different: Voices or the sounds of a happy child, perhaps sheep bleating or the bells of the nearby church, maybe the sound of hooves echoing on cobble stones.

Trembling, Pres turned, took the love of his life into his arms, and said, “I know, sweetheart.  I have always known.  I am so very sorry.”

It was a long, warm, loving embrace.  Pres cradled her face, kissed away her tears, and for the first time in forever, said, “I love you.  I always have.  I always will.”

They cuddled, happy and comfortable.  Talked for hours.  Went to dinner, then a movie which Pres no longer remembers fifteen plus years later.  When they came home from the movie, they built a fire in the fireplace and laid on the floor before the warmth, sharing a single pillow and fell asleep.

“It felt like Parasise.” Pres sighed, remembering.

They woke when the fire cooled and went to bed.  Pres chose the guest room, not wanting to rush intimacy and perhaps fuel fears of sensuality and maybe rejection.  There would be plenty of time for making love he reasoned, and was satisfied in the belief Donna Theresa would wholeheartedly agree.  
Pres returned to Mission Viejo the following week.  It is a cozy Friday.  Again, Pres chose the guest room.  He was drifting to sleep when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder.

“Come,” Donna whispered,

She took Pres’ hand and led him into her bedroom.  It was a very romantic, beautiful way to end the day.  There was just one problem.  It was not a physical difficulty, but rather a psychological one.  The relationship, the intimacy Pres once desired more than life itself, now, finally within reach, was still beyond his grasp.  Pres was unable to consummate the moment.

In time he came to understand his unconscious mind was committed to protecting his life.  His id was not about to allow him to be put into a position where he contemplated suicide as a reasonable medication for the hellish pain of unexplained abandonment.

The unconscious mind, as so often the case, was ignored.  Every other week for months, the couple flew into each other’s arms; Donna Theresa to Phoenix, Pres to Mission Viejo, California.  

They returned to Italy too.  Jenny, Donna Theresa’s dearest cousin and a cancer patient, joined them on the tour that proved, as expected, to be her first, last, and only opportunity to visit the land of her ancestors.

The three visited Rome, of course, Spoleto’s 1000 year old bridge and the Roman aqueduct spanning the river 260 feet below, Florence -- the birthplace of the Renaissance, Pisa and the incomparably gorgeous Ligurian coast, Santa Margherita’s palm shaded avenues, and enjoyed a gelato in photogenic Positano harbor.  They drove the lazy country roads through vineyards to lunch in Siena and dined amid Santa Gimignano’s tower battlements.

They found their way in Milan by following planes flying overhead towards Malpensa airport.  Once there, Pres connected with his return flight to Phoenix.  There was happiness in a vacation well-traveled.  After saying goodbye to Pres, Donna and cousin Jenny continued on to Venice, the living museum of glorious art and architecture, quiet canals, church bells, and mystery.   Italians call Venice “La Serenissima”, because it is the most serene city in the world and queen of the seas beyond.          
But they did not visit Agnone or Donna Theresa’s relatives who lived there.  Pres was saddened but not surprised.  When they returned from Italy after their trip of discovery seven years earlier, Pres had encouraged Theresa to stay in touch with relatives by writing to them and sending them a subscription of the beautiful Arizona Highways Magazine.  But Donna Theresa was not interested in returning to the town where she was born and so horrendously abused.

After the trip to Italy, Pres and Donna Theresa continued dating.  She was anxious to see the centers Theresa’s Fund helped to build and the process which helped raise millions in her name.  Delighted, Pres obliged her desires.  He took her to visit The East Valley Child Crisis Center in Mesa, the Sojourner Center located in Phoenix, and then the West Valley Child Crisis Center to see the building and rooms named after her.  She was pleased.  Pres was delighted.  After all, more than anything, he wanted to make Donna Theresa happy.

Some months later, Donna returned to Phoenix, choosing to stay at a Scottsdale resort.  She had one purpose in mind.  After a candlelight dinner and a long wonderful conversation they returned to Donna’s suite.  She opened the door, stepped inside, turned to face Pres, blocking the doorway in the process.

“Pres,” she proposed, “I will do anything in the world if you will marry me.  I love you, and I always have.”

Pres’ response was quick, decisive, and he hoped, not without feeling.  It was, he realized, an enormous compliment, and said so.  Still the answer was final.

He loved Donna Theresa.  But in his heart of hearts he knew, or at least feared, the next time she disappeared he might not be able to keep himself from committing suicide.  They weren’t angry at each other.  They were in love, but they both recognized the impossibility of the situation and slowly drifted apart.

The letters they wrote and phones calls they made to each other diminished with time to only holiday greetings.  

Those lovely cards speaking of their mutual affection were always signed, “Love, sempre e per sempre,” or, in English, “Love, always and forever.”

One more time Pres journaled his feelings in a letter to Donna Theresa.  This one he sent.

June 6th, 1997

Dearest Donna Theresa,

You must know that you have been on my mind almost constantly since we last visited and since you honored me with the most wonderful compliment and proposal. There are a million thoughts running through my mind as I write.

I can’t help reaching back in memory --- there are so many experiences we share --- so many years --- so much love that has never for a moment ceased to be important  to me --- and so many images flow though my memory until one hesitates, and I am surprised to be looking into a vision, a moment in time, when I first set eyes on you so many years ago. Today, June 6th, is the anniversary of that event. I will never forget it cara mia.

If I were to write about those early times --- I have often thought about doing so --- I would title it “Ten Days in June”. It would be a love story.

I loved you then, as I love you now, and always will. There is no way that can ever change. I am convinced you and I were put on this earth for a single purpose; to meet, come together, fall deeply in love, experience the trauma of our separation, heal our souls together, and then to create and share a purpose that would make this world a better, more loving place to live. In that sense we will be together for all time.

To that end, even now, you are always with me. And I will never be far from you. So should you need me for anything, I will be there for you. That simply is the way it is my love. But dear, dear Donna Theresa, we are in different places now, and I do not see my life moving in a direction that would likely bring us together again on this earth.

Always and forever,

Pres  

Ten years later Donna Theresa met a fine, comfortably retired gentleman named Frank.  They fell in love, married, spent their honeymoon on a Caribbean cruise which turned out to be a trip followed by many others to different parts of the world.

Ironically, Pres and Frank looked so much alike even family members confused them, calling Frank, Pres and vice-versa.  Pres and Donna remained friends.  He and his children visited Donna and Frank from time to time over the years.  The relationship remained warm and friendly, and Donna Theresa, who had always been a great stepmother to Pres’ children, once again thrived as a very motherly stepmother.  Frank who had no children of his own, emotionally adopted Pres’ children with Pres’ blessings.  Both he and Donna Theresa attended Pres’ daughter Katy’s San Francisco wedding. 
Pres embraced Frank as a member of the family.  Frank, after all, was a very good, God loving man with a world of wisdom to share.  Over time the two men grew quite close.

In January 2014, while on a business trip to San Diego, California, Pres called Donna Theresa to invite her and Frank to join him for lunch on his return trip to Phoenix.  The detour would add an extra 300 miles to his trip home, and it had been awhile since he had driven I-15 northeast out of San Diego, but he reasoned it would be good to visit the world traveling love birds again.  They agreed to meet for lunch at a restaurant convenient to Pres’ route through Las Vegas.

As always, they greeted each other warmly.  Pres told Donna Theresa that he loved her, and she returned the same welcome.  Frank was the epitome of patience.  Their conversation was happy, open, and about kids, family, trips to Africa, and adjustment to retirements.  Although Pres had retired from his paid advertising work, he could never embrace retirement from the work of Theresa’s Fund.  He excitedly announced the Fund’s newest undertaking -- domesticshelters.org -- a first of its kind website cosponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  The site would expand to include 156 points of information about 3000 plus domestic shelters.  The site was the brainchild of Pres’ son, Chris, who has let it be known, that he would assume Theresa’s Fund’s leadership when Pres’ time passed.  Chris planned to launch the site in June.

Donna Theresa had news of her own. She had recently concluded conversations with her estate planning attorney.  And she, like Pres, planned to leave her entire estate to Theresa’s Fund.  
Pres recounted how he felt.  The combination of the two estates was not only significant in terms of financial perpetuity of Theresa’s Fund, but also in terms of Pres and Donna Theresa’s combined meaning in life.  For it was clear to Pres that what he and Donna had not been able to achieve in marriage, their life together had meaning.  They would now be one in purpose in perpetuity.

Five months later, while driving to a meeting, Pres received a phone call.  It was Donna Theresa.  She sounded stressed.  Usually they communicated by text or email, since Pres’ hearing had become challenged.  Pres pulled off the road so he would not to miss a word.

Donna Theresa shared that she had “terminal cancer… the prognosis is two months.”

She cried, “I’m not having it treated. You are the first to know after Frank.”

Pres struggled to control his emotions.

“I want you to promise two things.” she added.

Pres thought, “Anything.  I couldn’t possibly say no.”

He feared she was going to ask him to return to devout Catholicism.  Silently, he thanked God that she didn’t make that request.  Instead, she asked him to deliver her eulogy and to return her ashes to the Agnone, the small mountaintop village where she was born 62 years earlier.  

Donna Theresa died twelve weeks later on August 15, 2014, in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her stepson, Preston McMurry III, at her side almost the entire day.

Her life and contributions, to the many lives she touched, were praised on August 21, 2014, at a Mass celebrated at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Catholic Church.  Donna Theresa’s stepchildren, Preston III, and Katy, assisted Frank in organizing the day and the wake.

Pres was given three minutes to recount 40 years of his life with and love for Donna Theresa.  The time allotted was a blessing as Pres could have spent hours praising Donna Theresa. 

At 10 a.m. Frank introduced Pres as “Donna’s former husband and my good friend.” 
Pres paused, surveyed the guests; then began.

Good Morning........... Donna Theresa, was the subject of my greatest failure .......... and my most profound accomplishment. 

She was my hero, my ideal, the wind beneath my wings............. She was my inspiration for the creation of Theresa’s Fund, a foundation that has helped raise $49,000,000 to combat child abuse and domestic violence, since its creation in 1992.

Donna Theresa was, for 40 years, the one and only love of my life. I have cried more tears about her, with her and for her, than all the other sadness’s of my long life combined.  And --- as I stand here before you this morning -- I am fulfilling my promise to participate in her eulogy. 

And now as I do, I cry arid tears that will never dry.  Because --- I failed her as a husband.  Donna Theresa was a wonderful wife.  She was an inspired cook I never saw use a cook book.  Incredible meals appeared from imagination.  She helped me become more compassionate than my rough and tumble youth would have forecasted.  She helped me become a more patient parent and a better father.  She loved my children as though they were her own, spending endless hours as their confidant, guardian, role model --- and mother.  She paid every cent of my son Preston’s private high school tuition.     

She loved my mother as a daughter should; visiting her daily, balancing her checkbook, paying bills, playing cards, and managing her healthcare.  And on one occasion, she fired her doctor.  Donna Theresa was a take-charge woman. 

Donna Theresa taught me how to be a better son.

She asked me for a second promise.  And so, during the spring of the coming year, I will accompany Frank carrying her ashes to the mountaintop village where she was born 62 years ago. 

I have wondered about her motivation.  Was it her plan to return at her death to be interned where she felt she belonged?  Or was it her desire to return at a time when she could never again be abandoned?  Then, I thought, perhaps she returns to bring happiness to a place of such grievous sadness.  Perhaps she brings to her place of birth  her remains, each particle of which represents one of the tens of thousands she has helped as a friend and Occupational Therapist.  And if no, then surely every particle represents the stars and angels waiting with open arms to embrace the woman we are gathered here to honor.

Per, era un dono dal Cielo.  She was a gift from heaven.  Amo solo te, e per sempre e per sempre. I love you only, and forever and ever.        


Biography:
Preston V. McMurry, Jr. (Pres) was born in born 1936, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  He was raised in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where he graduated from high school.  He graduated with a B.S. from The College of Social Work at Ohio State University, the oldest fully accredited college of social work in the nation.  He was a running back for the 1957, Big Ten and National Champion Ohio State Football Team.

Pres founded McMurry Inc., which at the time of its sale in December  2012, was the largest content marketing firm in the United States with offices in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and New York City. 
Pres was Arizona’s Philanthropist of the Year in 2001 and the 2002 winner of The Ohio State University Alumni Association Citizenship award.  In 2008, the College of Social Work established in perpetuity, The Preston V. McMurry, Jr. Scholar Athlete Citizenship Award.  In 2013, Mt. Lebanon High School inducted Pres as a member of the Great Alumni Society and in December, 2014, created The Preston McMurry 3 D’s (Desire, Dedication and Determination) annual award.

Pres and his son, Chris, work almost full time for Theresa’s Fund, which has donated and helped raise $49,000,000 to combat child abuse and family violence.   They do not receive compensation or financial benefits of any kind.  Of course the emotional and spiritual benefits they receive from their work is priceless.        

Now Pres’ son Chris has created a new initiative, domesticshelters.org, an online, searchable, free, easy to use database of more than 3,000 shelters in the United States.

The site is a partnership between Theresa’s Fund and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  It also offers many articles about coping with abuse.  Site Development, maintenance, and operation for the first year are estimated to cost $150,000.00 including associated social media.

Pres and Donna Theresa’s second husband, Frank, have each committed $35,000 in matching funds. In other words, every donor’s dollar is really worth three because Pres and Frank will match it.  To donate, please mail your gift to:

Theresa’s Fund
1300 E. Missouri Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85014

Or you can contribute through Pay Pal.      


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