Father's pledge fulfilled by daughters' triumph

Though their birth was followed by tragedy -- the death of their mother -- the Pulley twins have found success, thanks to the close-knit family that helped raise them

May 27, 2006|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

When his twin daughters were born 13 years ago, Doral Pulley believed that God had blessed him twice. But then, 10 days later, his young wife died suddenly.

How would he raise the twins alone? How would he recover from losing his wife, Alecia, to whom he'd been married less than a year? Pulley wasn't sure he'd survive.

But he did, and yesterday, when his daughters graduated from eighth grade at St. Katharine School in East Baltimore, Pulley celebrated not only the academic success of his now teenage twins but also a promise kept to the mother his girls will never know and the wife he has not forgotten.

"It was just breath-taking, just amazing," Pulley said minutes after Courtney and Brittney, who were valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, received their diplomas as well as a slew of achievement medals in subjects such as math, English and reading.

"We got another milestone accomplished," said a teary-eyed Pulley, who is assistant principal at St. Frances Academy, another Roman Catholic school in the city. "I must be doing something right."

His daughters give Pulley high marks for raising them right. They say he makes a mean seafood salad with lots of shrimp, crab and ranch dressing, and plays inspirational church music in their Mount Washington home to get them going in the morning.

"He tries his hardest," said Courtney, who, although she was born a minute after her identical twin sister, takes the lead in conversation.

"He's a good father," said Brittney, who family members say is warm and kind like her mother.

But in those terrible days after his wife died of atypical pneumonia on Nov. 11, 1992, Pulley - who was 22 years old at the time - wasn't sure he was capable of being both father and mother to the girls.

He met his future wife at Woodlawn High School but didn't ask her out until a few years after they graduated. Theirs was a whirlwind romance that culminated with a Valentine's Day wedding in 1992.

"I never intended to be a single parent," Pulley said. "I had just married this wonderful woman, and we were starting a family together. I figured we'd spend the rest of our lives together. But it didn't work out that way."

A man of strong faith who began preaching when he was a child, Pulley said he decided not to attend theology school at Princeton to stay with Courtney and Brittney. His wife's family offered to raise the girls so Pulley could continue his studies, but the young father didn't feel right about leaving his girls.

"I didn't see how I could go learn how to do God's work and leave my children with someone else," Pulley said. "I didn't feel like God would be pleased with me."

Pulley focused on his daughters, but also on their future, and with the help of his wife's parents, Mary and Rodell McLaughlin, he earned a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola College.

Not long after he had finished his degree, Pulley started work at St. Frances, a predominantly black school in the Johnston Square neighborhood of East Baltimore. More than a decade later, he's still at the school, having served as counselor, English teacher and, for the past four years, assistant principal.

"I just never left," Pulley said. "I have a very supportive team here. If I didn't, I wouldn't have been able to make it as a single dad."

The McLaughlins, who live in Woodmoor, have also helped raise the twins, as has Pulley's maternal grandmother, LaNita Brown of Randallstown. Pulley's mother, who raised him on her own, died before the girls were born.

"Anything I have needed, they have been there for me," Pulley said. "There is no way I could have done this without them."

And so it was that at the graduation ceremony yesterday at St. Wenceslaus Church, also in East Baltimore, it wasn't just Pulley who cheered from the pews, but the twins' grandmother, grandfather, their half-brother Doral, 7, and a handful of aunts, uncles and cousins as well. (The girls' great-grandmother was too ill to attend.)

Yes, their mother was absent, but when the girls walked down the aisle in their yellow gowns and caps, fancy shoes and salon-styled hair, many family members said they caught glimpses of Alecia, a physical therapy assistant who taught her husband how to fix a flat tire and swim.

"I was crying through the whole thing," said Mary McLaughlin, who wears a gold pendant on a chain around her neck that has the images of her three children, including Alecia, engraved on it. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."

The twin's grandmother said she doesn't visit Alecia's grave at Woodlawn Cemetery - it's still too painful. But every time she and the girls drive by, they wave. She said the twins' academic success - they will attend Baltimore's competitive Western High School in the fall - is a testament not only to the extended family that nurtured them but to their mother, a woman the girls knew for only a few days but love today.

"I feel like they did it for her," Mary McLaughlin said. "I know she knows what they're up to, but I'd rather have her here. I wish I could watch her watch them. That would be the greatest joy for me."

Said Pulley: "My girls remind me a lot of their mother. They have been such an inspiration to me, and they really make me proud. I know Alecia would be proud, too."

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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