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Many of the community activists and clergy who supported Dorey’s cause patronized my store. Posters promoting fundraisers and events were displayed there. On more than one occasion, customers engaged me in conversation about how sad the situation was about the young black single mother raising two kids, with no insurance and who needed a new heart. They were not even aware that Dorey was my former wife, and Kina and Shornay were my kids.
Only once did I lose my composure regarding how my connection to Dorey’s situation was characterized. Cheryl told me that a friend, who was a customer service rep in the DuPont business unit I worked in as a member of the vice president’s cabinet, asked Cheryl: “Why doesn’t Paul just pay for a heart transplant.”
One day, I received a call from the DuPont Chief Financial Officer’s executive assistant. She told me the CFO wanted to see me right away. “Come on in, Paul”, the CFO said, as he motioned me to sit on a couch away from his desk. “I am very sorry about Doretha’s medical situation. I read about it in the News Journal. How are your daughters doing?” The CFO had not met Dorey. It was a little odd hearing him call her by her name; I guess given the circumstances Doretha sounds a lot better than “your ex-wife.”
I told him that Kina and Shornay were fine; that they were living with Cheryl—whom the CFO knew —and me for the time being. “Tell Cheryl I said hello.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope and handed it to me. “We received this today and I wanted to share it with you.”
The return address stated: “United States Senate, The Honorable Joseph R. Biden.” There were two Delaware icons: DuPont and Joe Biden. Besides representing Delaware effectively, Senator Biden was just a few years removed from a presidential campaign. He was now back firmly entrenched as one of the most powerful members of the Senate. He was identified more with his state than any other senator not only because of his aggressive advocacy on behalf of Delaware but also because he commuted to DC via Amtrak every day from his home in Wilmington. The letter itself comprised two short paragraphs, vaguely referencing some kind of administrative oversight on DuPont’s part and imploring DuPont to rectify the situation that caused this
young mother of two’s insurance to lapse.
The CFO could see from my expression that I was stunned by what I had read. He told me there was nothing for me to do and that the matter was being taken care of by DuPont Employee Compensation & Benefits. He just wanted me to be aware. I was very happy for Dorey and my kids. For me, I felt a tremendous burden had been lifted—a feeling of guilt I guess. Despite all I was doing to help, I was still stung by the naïve question from Cheryl’s friend asking if I were doing anything for Dorey.
Thank you Senator Biden. It was not the last time I would indirectly cross paths with him. His solicitude paid off; in summer 1992 Dorey received a new heart.
Dr. Paul Thornton is currently a university administrator. In the past he has been a professor, small business owner, and corporate executive.