Friday, May 25, 2018

Bill Young's widow struggles to find peace and meaning in life without congressman (w/ video)

The congressman's widow couldn't stop crying.

Curled in the corner of her leather couch, clutching her new Yorkie, Camo, she sat alone in her immaculate townhouse. Love songs from the '70s wafted from the kitchen radio. Outside the doors, the sun slid toward the sea.

That evening, the first Sunday in July, was dragging on like so many others. Ten months after her husband died, she still expected him to come home.

She had built a shrine to him in her living room: cabinets filled with congressional china, the framed flag that draped his casket, shell casings from his 21-gun salute. In the corner, an easel cradled his gilt-framed funeral portrait.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young was the longest-serving Republican in Congress. He had chaired the House Appropriations Committee and represented Pinellas County for 43 years. For the last three decades, his wife, Beverly, had been by his side.

She was with him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 18, when he died at age 82. She's 58. And had never lived alone.

Since losing him, she felt like she had lost everything: her soul mate, friends in D.C., access to military hospitals where she could be mom to her Marines. Her clout. Her filter. Her identity. Without him it seemed like she was at war with the world — feuding with her children and even the new congressman.

The photos appeared on Facebook around 9 p.m.: There were her grandkids, waving from a pickup in a parade right up the road. The sign on the truck read: Congressman David Jolly.

How dare he? Beverly fumed. Why did he get to spend Independence Day with them? She had helped raise her son Patrick's two youngest children; they'd lived with her for years. But she hadn't seen them in months.

She couldn't take anymore. Jolly didn't retain most of her husband's staff. He had told her son she was suicidal. Now, she felt, he was driving a wedge between her and her boys.

Beverly could have done what she did most nights: Poured another vodka on the rocks, carried her puppy into bed, wrapped her husband's pillow in his blue robe so she could still smell him.

Instead, she kicked on her flip-flops, got the key to her Buick and drove a mile south on Gulf Boulevard. Just after midnight, she pulled up at a corner apartment — to confront the new congressman.

She left the engine running, the lights on.

• • •

Bev Angello never paid attention to politics. Or propriety.

The youngest of five, she grew up in a Sicilian family in Seminole, wearing hand-me-down jeans. Bev wanted to be a doctor, but got kicked out of high school for fighting. "I was the one who didn't behave," she said. "I used bad words. I drank beer out of the bottle."

At 18, she married a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy and became a medic. Then a mom. Her son Robbie was 3 when she got divorced.

On May 11, 1982, she was at the Fireman's Ball in Pinellas Park when Rep. Bill Young came to speak. She didn't know who he was. She had never even voted.

"He was wearing this awful black polyester suit. And he had a cold, he kept wiping his nose," she said. She had on a burgundy cocktail dress and heels. She never wore heels.

"I was bored. So I ran up to the congressman and asked him to dance," she said. "I was 27. He was old — over 50. I wasn't attracted to him, not at first. I was just trying to have fun."

He told her he couldn't dance. She told him his pants were too short. He asked where she worked. She said she was looking for a job. The next morning, he called.

She didn't know he was married, or had three grown children, plus grandkids. He hired her as an aide in his St. Petersburg office and, after a few months, moved her and her son to Washington, D.C.

She learned about bills and budgets, about fundraising and defense spending, about this gentle congressman who had dropped out of St. Petersburg High to work at an ice plant, who had built his first house by hand.

"It was an accidental, unlikely romance," she said. "Believe me, I didn't want to fall in love with him. But I did."

Their first son, Billy, was born in 1984. The next year, the day after Bill got divorced, they got married in the Capitol chapel.

"Bill made everyone call me Beverly," she said. "He said he killed that wild child, Bev."

• • •

While Bill worked on the Hill, Beverly raised her boys in suburban Virginia. Her third son, Patrick, was born in 1987. She chaperoned field trips, took Robbie to track meets, cheered Billy at baseball, never missed one of Patrick's basketball games.

She brought her boys to the Capitol to meet Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Julia Roberts. But she avoided other elected officials — and their wives. "I didn't want to dress like them or act like them or get involved," she said. "I knew I'd never fit in."

After the country went to war in 2001, Beverly began spending her days at military hospitals talking to wounded soldiers, bringing them country music CDs, sneaking in whiskey. When their spouses needed somewhere to stay, she found free rooms. When their bedpans hadn't been emptied, she shouted at doctors. When she met a 19-year-old Marine who had been shot in the back and paralyzed, who didn't have a family, she and Bill took him into their home.

"I never thought I had a purpose in life," said Beverly. "Then God gave me all these kids to take care of."

The congressman's wife didn't follow the chain of command. She phoned vice admirals on their cells.

"Beverly can be a very hard task master and a pretty hard person to deal with when she's fighting for someone else," said Matthew Nathan, surgeon general of the Navy. "She always called me 'Sir.' But that didn't stop her from poking her finger in my chest."

Some people were afraid of her, he said. Others thought she was a pain, he said. "But no one could argue with her passion."

• • •

The congressman's widow raced up the stairs to the new congressman's apartment.

Illuminated in the harsh halos of the Buick's headlights, she stood on his balcony. The windows were dark. "David," she called. "I need to talk to you."

Beverly didn't consider him a congressman. To her he was just David, that kid her husband had hired 20 years ago, right out of college, who became their attorney. And friend.

Jolly played football with the Young boys, taught them to golf, celebrated Christmases with them. He was with them when Bill died.

Now, in the middle of the night, he wouldn't answer her knock. So Beverly banged on his door, shouting for him to come out. She wasn't sure what she was going to do.

• • •

More than 1,000 people had filled First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks for Bill's funeral in October. House Speaker John Boehner, who gave the first eulogy, told Beverly, "Your loss is our loss."

For the next few months, it seemed, folks were still there to support her. Staff cleaned out the congressional offices, packed her Virginia home, shipped boxes back to Florida. Patrick even moved into her townhouse with his wife and four kids so she wouldn't be alone.

The grief was overwhelming.

Then Beverly started questioning things. Why wasn't she getting Bill's benefits? Where were those portraits that had hung in his office? Who had opened the locked, top left drawer of his desk and taken the $10,000 cash?

She phoned Boehner four times. He never called back. She wrote to 10 members of Congress. "I told them I really needed that money. I was getting panicky," Beverly said. Only Nancy Pelosi replied, making sure that Beverly got her husband's $150,000 life insurance.

She asked Bill's staff about the missing paintings and money. She called Jolly, who had been working as a lobbyist, but was still her lawyer. She contacted the FBI and Capitol Police, who refused to open an investigation. Wrote Capitol Police Special Agent Sean Camp: "There is no indication that a crime occurred."

"For 30 years, I helped everybody," she said. "Now no one will help me."

In November, David Jolly announced that he would seek Bill's seat in the House. Beverly thought he would carry on her husband's legacy — and help her continue ministering to the troops.

Her oldest son, Robbie, said he didn't trust Jolly. Billy was thinking about running for his dad's seat himself — then wound up supporting Jolly's opponent. (Later, Billy signed up to run for Florida's House of Representatives.) Patrick stood behind Jolly.

This time, instead of everyone backing Bill, her family was divided. And it was tearing her apart.

She started seeing a grief counselor, started taking pills for depression and anxiety. She seldom slept. She lost 30 pounds.

"Half of her was missing," said Maria Petranto, 56, who lived across the street from the Youngs in Virginia. "She was just so raw and sad."

Beverly and her boys were always squabbling, said Kathleen Corapi, 64, who worked for Bill and became friends with his family. "But the congressman kept the peace. He kept her calm."

"She started to feel like no one was listening anymore," said Bob Wagenseil, who was Beverly's pastor at Indian Rocks First Baptist. "She thought she could no longer make a difference."

It had been months since she had visited wounded troops. Nathan, the Navy surgeon general, said he knew the work was important to her, but without her husband to help, it might be harder to open doors.

"These last seven weeks have been the loneliest, most depressing and hurtful time I have ever experienced," she wrote on Facebook Dec. 17, Bill's birthday. "This should have been a time our family should have been holding each other up. . . . "

She flew to Colorado, to see her sister. But couldn't stand being away from her grandkids. So a few days later she came back to Florida, without telling anyone. Her townhouse was empty. Patrick's family had moved back home. Later he told her that her tears were upsetting the children — and that Jolly thought she should get used to being alone.

Beverly broke down. Without Patrick's family she had no one — no close friends, no troops, no one who needed her. She fired off angry emails to Patrick. She said she didn't even get to tell her grandkids goodbye. She tore the Christmas decorations off her porch. She texted a friend: "I am just going to take some pills and knock myself out of my misery."

• • •

The next day, Dec. 22, she drove to a storage unit to sort through her Virginia belongings. She spent hours sobbing over mementos. She didn't answer her email or cellphone.

When Patrick couldn't reach his mother, he went to her home. When she wasn't there, he called Robbie in Virginia.

Robbie heard the panic in his brother's voice — and called 911.

"I just wanted her to be safe. I told them that, as a psychologist and her son, I didn't think she was actually going to do anything. But there was nothing else I could do," Robbie said. "At least not from Virginia."

The report came into the Indian Shores police station at 4:26 p.m. "Suicidal subject, unarmed," said the dispatch log.

When police got to Beverly's townhouse, they found Patrick, who let them inside. While cops searched for evidence, Patrick was on the phone with Jolly.

The police report said Jolly told Patrick "that his mother had commented to him recently that she had thoughts of jumping from the Skyway Bridge."

Dispatchers told police to look out for Beverly's brown Buick. Deputies checked Bay Pines National Cemetery, where Bill is buried. State troopers patrolled the Skyway.

When Beverly came home about 7 p.m., officers asked if she was armed. She showed them she wasn't. She told them to get off her property.

She swore she wasn't going to kill herself. She certainly wouldn't jump off a bridge; she's afraid of heights. She insisted she was fine, she was just trying to hide from everyone for a few hours.

"I asked her if she was depressed," the officer wrote, "and she said, 'I just buried my husband seven weeks ago, yes I am depressed.' " The officer told Beverly he had to take her to a hospital, so a doctor could evaluate her. She refused. She said he threatened to handcuff her in her driveway, in front of her neighbors.

As she bent into the cruiser, the police report said, she shouted: "I am going to hate all of you for doing this to me."

Indian Shores police Chief T.E. Hughes said privacy issues kept him from discussing Beverly's case. In general, though, "If an officer hears someone making death threats, or if friends or family said they did, then that's enough to hand them over to a facility."

Patrick followed his mom to Largo Medical Center. "You're sick," she said he told her. "You need help."

Under the Baker Act, doctors could have kept her for up to 72 hours. But after performing a whole page of lab tests, they determined there was nothing wrong other than anxiety, and released her after 14 hours. The discharge papers said, "Suicide risk factors: None."

• • •

In March, the day after Jolly won the race, he let all but two of Bill Young's staff go. Beverly was enraged. How could he not rehire people he had worked with all those years? She spoke out against him on TV, sent him angry emails.

In April, Beverly hired a private investigator to look into what had happened when she was Baker Acted. When she learned what Jolly had told the police, she concluded he was out to discredit her. She called four lawyers, trying to sue police for committing her against her will. No one would take her case.

In May, Beverly announced that she is going to run against Jolly in 2016.

In June, Billy refused to be photographed with his mom at his 30th birthday party in Clearwater, a fundraiser for his campaign for state House. He declined to be interviewed for this story.

Patrick said that Jolly was not keeping his mom from seeing his kids. "There is no political motivation here," said Patrick, 27.

"I don't want to seem like I'm at odds with her, because I'm not," he said. "I know at some point this fire will burn out."

Robbie, 37, said that as a psychologist, he understood how hard it was to go from feeling important to feeling invisible. "Mom can't push buttons or pull strings anymore, and she was used to that, to being able to help," he said.

Through his spokesman, Rep. Jolly "respectfully refused to comment" about anything to do with Beverly. The last contact he had with her was an email he sent April 23: "I remain concerned about you, but I don't engage with critics who simply try to tear me down for sport. And right now that's you."

He told her not to contact him again unless it was a family emergency.

• • •

The congressman's widow didn't care if she got caught.

Early that morning of July 7, as she pounded on the new congressman's door, she wanted to punch him in the face. Assaulting a congressman, she knew, was a federal offense. But she had already lost everything she cared about.

"Come out and talk to me, David!" she shouted. "What are you, afraid?" She thought she saw something stir inside the window and pounded again.

After a few minutes, she got back into her Buick and headed up the beach to her dark home.

The new congressman waited until she left to call the police. "Beverly Young had arrived at his residence, banging on his front door," said the report, taken at 1:06 a.m. "Mrs. Young has been harassing him since March of this year via cell phone. Did not want to file a report, wanted to make police aware."

• • •

Beverly and Patrick still aren't talking. She said Republicans, and Billy, still don't want her around. Robbie told her not to let her anger consume her. Friends urged her to start trying to reclaim the rest of her life.

For the first time in 30 years, she made a resume.

Experience: Military Hospital Patient Advocate, Staff Assistant to the U.S. House Health and Human Services Subcommittee, Medical Consultant to Congressman Bill Young.

Awards: The Army Order of Military Merit, United States Marine Corps Spirit of Hope, Florida's Distinguished Service Medal.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England wrote her a letter of recommendation: "No one had more love for those who serve than Mrs. Young. . . . Hundreds, if not thousands, of wounded were touched by her care and devotion."

She called the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center to see when she could start volunteering. And though her husband's name is on the hospital, a supervisor said she had to come in for an interview and be fingerprinted.

Like everyone else.

• • •

On a sultry Tuesday in late July, the congressman's widow finally stopped crying. She got off her couch, twisted her black hair into a ponytail, put on frosted eye shadow, her "Support the troops" T-shirt. And forced herself to get out of the house.

It was 10:30 a.m., but the red bar stools at the American Legion on Madeira Beach were filled with men in military ball caps, bent over plastic cups of Bud Light.

"Does anyone want a drink? I'm buying!" called Beverly, sliding onto a seat between two gray-haired men. "I'm depressed. I need to be with my troops. Thank you all, so much, for your sacrifice. Let's get another round here, for everybody!"

When her beer came, she stood and saluted each military branch. She seemed to glow there in that dark room. She had always enjoyed going to bars, the laughter and loud chatter. But her husband, a teetotaler whose dad was an alcoholic, didn't want his wife out drinking.

After 30 years, it felt good to be back, especially with her troops.

"We hope this will be your home away from home now," a Navy veteran told her.

She was scrolling through songs on the jukebox when a big man with a brown goatee recognized her, and brought her another beer. "John Makal," he said, shaking her hand. "I was in the honor guard at your husband's funeral."

She thanked him for the drink, and his service. Stuffed a dollar into the jukebox and punched in a song her husband used to sing to her: Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You. She closed her eyes and bowed her head.

Makal walked over, put his hand on her shaking shoulder. "Would you like to dance, Mrs. Young?"

She couldn't remember the last time she had danced. "I would love to," she said, blinking back tears.

"But please, call me Bev."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Lane DeGregory at (727)893-8825 or [email protected]

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