In her day she must have been a real looker, the type of woman who makes men stop to gaze at an hourglass figure and confident stride.
Born in 1913, Edythe Donovan was a physically striking woman with a magnetic personality who grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, around 182nd Street. Most girls her age married right after high school, but Edythe persevered to attend both Fordham University and City College of New York. Intensely interested in politics and born a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, she landed a job after college in a law firm in New York City; acting as the office manager by day and at night she read everything she could get her hands on about American history and the Democratic Party.
Somewhere in her 20s, two magical events occurred. First she met a young handsome artist named Val Fox, and second – she was offered an appointment by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to become the Assistant Secretary to the Attorney General of the United States. Although in love with the artist, she wistfully explained that job offers like this came only once in a lifetime and she moved to Washington D.C. while the artist remained back in New York City.
World War II erupted and when FDR died and a new administration entered the White House, Edythe returned to both New York City and the artist. They married; he continued to further his dual career as an electrical engineer and an artist, and she became pregnant.Then the unthinkable occurred. In 1954 Edythe fell and broke her knee cap, which refused to heal correctly. The doctors performed tests and concurred on a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Upon that pronouncement, her life dramatically changed.
Only 41 years old, with two young boys, and the prognosis of a rapidly crippling disease, Edythe took stock of her life. Where other women might have railed against God, she proclaimed it was the hand she had been dealt and she would see it through.
At first she maneuvered with a leg brace and cane, but within ten years she became confined to a hospital bed: one she insisted on installing in the living room of their suburban New Jersey rambler so people could come to call. While Ann Landers and Dear Abby may have been the queens of advice in print, Edythe kept her house continually open to a steady stream of neighbors and friends who came by to ask her advice on a variety of topics. She hired three high school girls to cook and clean, and encouraged her now teenage boys to hold their rock band practices in the basement. Her devoted husband, Val, continued to work, paint and take care of her.
When the Glen Rock High School graduating class of 1965 asked Val Fox to be in charge of designing the elaborate backdrop sets for the all night graduation party, “A Night in Paris”, Edythe decided to launch a one woman campaign to secure door prizes for the seniors. Phone calls and letters went out to every senior’s parents, asking that they save all their S & H Green Stamps and mail them to Edythe’s house.
By now the multiple sclerosis had rendered the right side of her body useless, but she still had partial movement in her left arm and hand. For months she used a wet sponge and painstakingly pasted the S & H Green Stamps into booklets and then redeemed thoughtful door prizes from the company’s catalog. On graduation night she lay in her hospital bed with the windows wide open so she could hear the all-night band playing at the high school party. By the wee hours of dawn, each graduating senior, all 248 of us, received a wonderful door prize with which to remember our commencement.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation recognized Edythe with a deserved accolade as the MS Mother of the Year. But everyone in our small town already knew she was a phenomenon. She died over the 4th of July weekend in 1986 at the age of 73, having lived almost half her life with a disease that may have crippled her limbs, but never her spirit.
A true strong woman and I am proud to have known her.