Meet Dr. Judy Stone, a friend for over thirty years. After I asked her to join the 'Wise Women' ranks and received her musings, I realized there was more than a blog in her story. We discussed it and decided to publish her memoir. So here is a brief introduction to my dear friend, and a bit of a teaser for her book, 'A Stone's Throw' which will be out in the near future.
My life began in 1939 at St. Vincent's Orphanage in Chicago where my parents, Lee and Dorothy had, two years earlier, adopted my brother, Terry. I grew up in a loving supportive home, a two flat on Chicago's west side around Cicero and North Avenue. My mom died when I was 11, leaving dad as a single parent. His sister, my Aunt Mary, became an ever presence in my life. She had worked her way through a teacher's college, not a common accomplishment for women at the time, and then survived the depression. She was determined to help me achieve more. We met for dinner one night and she showed up with a handful of college brochures and the suggestion that I would do better at a smaller school. I had never considered college a reality, but what a wonderful reality it was. I graduated from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1961.
I flourished there, learned how to play hockey, became student body president, and amazingly the May Queen (you have to know me to truly enjoy that). We had wonderful visits from the likes of Graham Green, and William Warfield, who talked the administration into having his wife, opera singer Leontyne Price sing for us. Seeing, and more importantly, hearing her was incredible. It was the late 50s and we had only two African American students. She had such a presence and regal bearing. None of us had heard much if anything about her, but there was a sense even before she sang, to start applauding because she was going to knock our socks off. She did! I did not even leave my seat during intermission.
After graduation, I spent a year teaching in New York—no teacher training in my background because I was a liberal arts/psychology major, but I had no clue as to what I wanted to do. Then on to California where I spent a year in Palo Alto using the skills that high school had provided—great typing and stenography—while in my position as personnel assistant, okay, secretary.
In 1963 I was accepted into the Peace Corps. When I received a telegram from Sargent Shriver asking me to be a volunteer in North Borneo/Sarawak, I had no idea where I was headed. Thankfully the head honcho at Eastman Kodak where I worked was a National Geographic reader and clued me in.
As one of the earliest groups to go overseas we were known as "Kennedy's Kids". We were in training on the island of Hawaii when we heard the news of the president's assassination. I remember that it was our last day of teacher training and we were all given tons of leis. When we got back to our training site there was a virtual mountain of them, discarded as we came in the door because there was no cause for the celebratory nature of the gifts.
My first assignment was to the island of Labuan off the coast of the newly named Sabah. We lived in government housing provided to all teachers and my duties were in a boy's school run by Dutch priests who also ran an orphanage. Teachers were Chinese, Malays, Indians (from India), Australian, British and now one American. The next year, I was transferred to the village of Melalap. Suddenly I was in a very remote place, the first Peace Corp volunteer to be there. On Labuan we had electricity, indoor plumbing, an indoor shower (cold water only), and a kerosene stove that had three burners. Melalap had none of those. For the first few months I did not have a kerosene stove or lights and when the sun set—so did I—often with two mosquito coils on either side of my head on the pillow.
It was quite a year, replete with a few king cobras visiting (and one queen) and an eclipse. This is of note because without warning of such one is not prepared. We were all surprised by the sudden and massive drop in temperature and students looking out the door said "Look teacher there's a star" I assumed they were just confused and using the wrong word. Duh—when I realized what was happening we looked at it properly, after probably ruining our eyes a bit. That afternoon no one came to school, but the word had spread that "Teacher said it was okay and she was going to explain it the next day and not to be afraid." I had to find out the Malay word for planet earth as the story could not be understood in English.
Leaving there filled me with great sadness. It had been such a wonderful year. My students loved me as I loved them and I had made many friends including the native chief and his wife who lived the closest to me. I had a chance to return there some years later.
I returned to the United States and worked with Job Corps in DC—a program to train and educate high school drop-outs. Terrific when it works but it was time for me to get on with my education. George Washington University turned me down by saying they were not accepting women that year and American University, also in DC, would not help with tuition as all assistantships were being given to men. I received my master's at Bowling Green in Ohio.
I left academia once again for Asia where I was director of the first total in-country training program in Thailand and was then recruited for Nepal. After receiving training there I trekked into the Himalayas with three other Thai volunteers, one Sherpa, and a young man who had escaped from Tibet. There were many incredible sites on this trip, but one more memorable was my first sighting of Everest reflecting the morning sun. The trip was the most arduous I have ever taken but the most rewarding. I had lots of time to myself. We did not talk much during the days as going up was to breath-taking (in many ways) and going down was too painful. In fact we looked forward to the days when we were going up.
I became a world traveler for one year spending months in Asia, then Africa, and finally Europe, eventually ending up back in Chicago to finish my Ph.D. at Loyola. Life had other plans, and prior to completion I was involved in a near death accident. So near that I came to once and a priest was giving me the last rites. I had enough presence of mind to say "Father I am not ready for that", glad that I was more right than he about my need for help into the hereafter. I stayed in the hospital for 130 days, but eventually claimed my doctorate.
You can see why I wanted to publish Judy's memoir. The more I read, the more questions I had, and the more I wanted to know. But her story doesn't stop with her years as a mental health consultant to Job Corps, as a volunteer and training and selection person for Peace Corps, her experiences as a eulogist, or her years as a clinical psychologist in Chicago. In fact, there is another amazing story in the last chapter, 'And Then There Were Ten'.
I mentioned I was adopted, and in the early 1990s, after years of searching I found the woman I was pretty sure was my mother. A man answered the phone that historic occasion and not knowing if he even knew of my existence I asked to speak to Rita. Upon mentioning my birth date and the belief that she was my mother she said "Oh my child, I have prayed for you every day of your life (about 50 of them at the time)". Well my heart was setting records when I heard her say to him "This is the little girl we gave up" As it turned out, George and Rita Busse married about three years after my birth and went on to have nine other children. And so in many rapid heartbeats I went from never knowing a blood relation to being the oldest of ten full brothers and sisters. It is rare for adoptees to have this kind of experience—most tend to find only their mother. When I went to see them, my father was waiting at the top of the stairs and said "I would have known you were one of ours from the moment you got out of the car—you look just like your sister Margie".
Watch here for more information on 'A Stone's Throw'.