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Dottie’s Story

Originally when first meeting with Pastor Redding and Norma Ahlborn to arrange for Dottie’s service I declined David’s offer to speak as I didn’t feel I could do it without messing up.  But as I drove home and thought about all of the challenges Dottie faced and dealt with, it seemed like it was needed that I share some of what made Dottie so special.  If you will indulge me may I share just a bit of Dottie’s story with you?

She had been brought up in Richmond, VA, and graduated from Goucher College, a women’s college, in Baltimore, MD as a history major.  She went to work in NYC and was transferred to Dallas as an insurance underwriter.  In those days that was a lot of challenging moves for a young single woman.

1968 was a tumultuous year with the MLK and Robert Kennedy assassinations and much unrest in the nation.  It was a time when many Americans were calling their own lives into being and pondering questions that they had not considered before.  Such was the case for Dottie and I when we met at an inner-city gathering of concerned people in Dallas that summer.  

Within a week she agreed to our first date.  Being the romantic that I was I offered her her first ever exposure to a rodeo at Mesquite, outside of Dallas on a Friday night.  Though not knowing she was allergic to hay, which she concealed by loading up on antihistamines, it seemed to work out as she accepted my proposal of marriage several weeks later.  In those several weeks of being with her it was apparent that she was a lady who had come from a different background of “old” Virginia but was willing and able to experience new challenges.  And with that insight my letter to her parents, whom I had yet to meet, told of my reasons to want to marry their daughter.  I recall telling them, among other reasons, of my admiration of her ability and courage to experience new possibilities.  And that would be a prophecy that would prove true for our 51 years together.

We spent the first year of our marriage as one of 4 couples that formed a non-profit company and acquired the 400 room, 14 story Hotel Dallas in downtown Dallas.  Our mission was to work with hard core unemployed in the inner city in providing them motivational training for employment.  We also had a sheltered workshop for juveniles; a halfway house for released prisoners and other programs while still serving as a full service hotel.  One of Dottie’s tasks was to be our “Night Auditor”, which required closing the day’s books during a midnight to dawn time frame.  This was before computers which probably could have accomplished it within minutes.

Within less than a year after our marriage, the 2 children of my previous marriage, aged 7 & 8, would come to live with us.  This had not been foreseen nor discussed prior to our wedding.  However Dottie took to the idea immediately as she saw the need that was before us for their welfare.  She couldn’t have been more supportive and loving of them for the next 10 years that they were with us.

Moving to Columbus in 1970, a city she had never been in or probably ever thought of being in, she got involved right away as we both had agreed that service to others was always going to be a part of our lives.  Over the years she gave time to the Columbus Cancer Clinic, Meals on Wheels, League of Women Voters, hosted an OSU student from India and also a family from Nigeria.  Additionally she served as Secretary to the Northland Community Council and sang in this churches choir.  Her time as a volunteer actor at the Ohio Historical Village gave her great pleasure. She would just put herself out there and go get involved.  However, throughout she was always self- effacing.  One of our favorite past times was going to George Jones’ concerts.  George had a song with a lyric that said, “She stood in the shadow so others could shine, she loved a lot in her time”.  He was singing about Dottie.

Another pleasure Dottie enjoyed was her active time at the Buckeye Boat Club.  The last place she was able to leave our home and visit was the boat club where we enjoyed our meal on the patio while gazing at the lake prior to a sunset.  She loved her cats, especially Possum and Thunder Dick, whose picture she took with her to the hospital and rehab.  It was the sole photo she took and it allowed me to realize my place in the pecking order.

In 1977, after having spent a year in a small town in IL, we returned to Columbus to open a new retail store called FinFair in the Continent shopping center.  It started as a tropical fish & aquarium outlet.  Dottie had determined that we would not have a water-on-the-floor-dark-dank business as was presented by many of the fish stores we had frequented.  So we hired an architect and made it an upscale outlet for exotic fish and also water gardens with associated water plants. She excelled in teaching clients of the proper care needed.  A few years later we expanded and Dottie designed, inventoried and merchandised a nautical/aquatic gift section which was received with acclaim.  In the 13 years prior to selling the store, we continued to fulfill one important tenant of our life together in that we always shared in a common task.

Early on she was introduced to one of my passions, going into wilderness areas of Canada, at first canoeing, camping and making portages and later boating and making portages, all the while fishing of course.  It can’t be said she enjoyed fishing all that much but she sure did enjoy the catching part of that activity.  Happiness came to her especially when she caught bigger and more fish than her mate, which occurred far too often.  For many years we would make the journey in the Fall to witness the coloring of the trees and enjoy bug free time on the water and during our last 2 trips spending time with Canadian friends we met some 30 years ago.

You know in all of our lives we come to that fork in the road where we make a choice.  On one such occurrence we were coming off a portage trail in the evening to enter onto our home base lake.  Generally walking a bit ahead, as the bear bait I guess, I was loading gear into the boat when a “thunk” and a “crack” was sounded behind me.  The thunk was recognized immediately as Dottie hitting the ground.  The crack brought me to that fork in the road, as I assumed she had fallen on her new graphite rod and broken it.  Rushing to her and inspecting the rod, I gave her assurances that the rod was OK.  That proved to be the wrong fork for me to have taken and hence became one of the very few times I was concerned about my mortality.  She informed me that it was her ankle that made that “crack”.  Long story short, she was able to walk on it and the medicine man in Temagami, ON, who had no x-ray equipment, suggested it might just be a bad sprain.  4 days later when we returned home we went to a real Dr. at St. Anne’s. They wheeled her back out and announced that the next morning they would surgically implant a plate and a bunch of screws into her ankle where it was broken.  It was my just reward to quickly learn some care giving skills for the 6 weeks after.  I swear I really thought it was her fishing rod that she broke.  But as she always did, she forgave me of my sin and we continued to speed forward in our 51 year time allotment.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s and being unable to drive, she was determined to maintain her independence.  As I drove her to work I watched as she employed her cane to enter into the building, admiring her courage.  When her disease became too advanced and she was forced to retire, she returned to her efforts to put together the family history which she would pass on to her cousin and our 2 nieces and nephew.  It was shortly after turning over photos and documents to them, upon their visit this Fall, it became apparent that she had completed an important mission.  She had been a history major and it was significant to her to pass along the family history she had taken charge of collecting.

Never playing the “why me?” victim card, she knew her life was ending and repeatedly acknowledged that she had had a good full life and that we had enjoyed many unique experiences.  When her mobility was near an end I would walk behind to insure she wouldn’t fall while she clutched onto her walker.  She would hum as she made her way to the bed.  Placing the blankets over her exactly how she liked them and curling her pillow so she could see the clock, I would kiss her good night, tell her I loved her and made her promise not to try to get out of bed without me being there.  She would agree, but some nights I would be sitting in living room and would hear the bump of her walker bouncing off the hallway walls.  I might get upset and ask her why she was up and she would reply, “Would you put me to bed?”  I then would ask, “You got out of bed to come ask me to put you to bed?”  She would simply say, “Yes”.

I grieve, and have difficulty understanding how it became my good fortune to have had all of the privileges of those 51 years with such a lady who taught me so much about loving, caring and courage. Dottie was not only my wife but more importantly was my best friend.  For those blessings I give thanks and celebrate her life.

Dottie Horan