'A Life of Heroism'

The three retirees killed on Jan. 8 were all known for their faith, kindness and love of family

In a wheelchair as she recovers from three gunshots to the leg, Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard took the microphone at her husband's funeral on Sunday, Jan. 16.

Although her hand was trembling at different times, she made it clear she had an important message to share about her slain husband, Dorwan Stoddard, and what happened at the Jan. 8 mass shooting.

"The journey will be very, very difficult, but he died for me, and I have to live for him," Mavy said.

Mavy and her 76-year-old husband of 15 years were grade-school sweethearts in Tucson. They married other people, but after their spouses passed away, they reunited and married.

She told more than 1,000 people at the Calvary Tucson East Baptist Church that her husband did not simply die a hero.

"And he would agree with me: He lived a life of heroism," she said.

As she concluded her remarks, Mavy's hand steadied and she looked over the crowd with more resolve.

"So hang in there, everybody. Don't ever let anybody, anybody, anybody leave without hugging (and) kissing them and telling them you love them. Tomorrow might not come."

The Stoddards were loyal congregants at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, a 140-member church where Dorwan, a retired construction worker, spent much of his free time taking care of the church building's maintenance. The Stoddards volunteered to meet with church members and neighbors who were in need, helping them with food, rent and even utility assistance.

On Jan. 8, Dorwan and Mavy reportedly went to the Congress on Your Corner event to thank U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for supporting ranchers on the border, since Dorwan came from an Arizona pioneer ranching family. When the gunman began shooting into the crowd that had gathered in front of the Safeway at Ina and Oracle roads, Dorwan pushed his wife to the ground and placed his body over her. He was shot in the head, and she was shot three times in the leg.

In an interview the day before the funeral, Mike Nowak, the Stoddard's minister, said Mavy and Dorwan worked as a team when it came to the benevolence ministry they did for their church. Nowak said Dorwan would open his wallet to anyone who asked for help, but Mavy was a bit more pragmatic, and they worked together to make sure the help they gave was sustainable.

Nowak said Mavy is getting around her home with the help of a walker, though she is still sore as she recovers.

"But she's a ... head-strong, take-charge woman," Nowak said.

Thankfully, she has an amazing community of support, from the church community to her four daughters to Dorwan's four sons.

"She's not alone," Nowak said.

Nowak admitted that the loss of Dorwan is especially difficult for him, because he lost his "only real best friend in Tucson."

"He was easy to love," Nowak said. "It's hard to define, but when he was in the room, he never drew attention to himself, but he made other people feel special, and they were drawn to him naturally. There are no books written about him, and there are no street signs named after him, but he had a magnetic personality."

Dorothy "Dot" Morris, 76, a retired homemaker and secretary, was fatally wounded at the Congress on Your Corner event. Her husband, George, a retired airline pilot, was in good condition at University Medical Center as of our press deadline, recovering from two gunshot wounds.

Longtime friend Bill Royle and his wife have known the couple for years, well before George and Dorothy decided to move to Oro Valley in 1995. Both couples are from Reno, Nev.; George and Dorothy attended Reno High School and were high school sweethearts.

Royle said he has talked to his friend almost every day since the shooting.

"Now that the sedatives are wearing off, it's becoming more difficult for him," Royle said on Monday, Jan. 17. "Yesterday was pretty emotional for him. We're expecting him to be released any day now, but he'll probably go straight to rehab."

The funeral for Dorothy may be held this week, Royle said, depending on when George is released from UMC.

Royle said that Dot was very family-oriented.

"She and George were almost like Siamese twins. They did everything together," he said.

It has been reported that George, a former Marine, pushed his wife to the ground and attempted to protect her from the gunfire. Royle and his wife happened to be at Beyond Bread getting pastries and coffee—in the very same shopping center—when the shootings took place.

"But we had no idea our friends were there," Royle said.

On Jan. 8, Royle said, it was tough to get information about Dot's status.

"Their daughter called us, hopeful, because she got a call from the hospital that her father was alive and out of surgery, but nothing was said about Dot. (The daughter) asked if we could help make calls and find out what happened."

Later, authorities released the names of those who had been killed, and one of the names was 76-year-old "Dorthy Murray." However, nobody at University Medical Center would confirm to Royle whether it was his friend who had died, because he is not directly related to the victim.

"We started to put two and two together," he remembered.

Royle and others called the Tucson Police Department, the Pima County Sheriff's Department and even KGUN Channel 9, asking that someone call one of George and Dorothy's two daughters.

Finally, the call came.

"I feel for George," Royle said. "He's strong, but he lost the person he loved most in life that day."

As victims of the Jan. 8 shooting were identified, and their pictures were released, many of us identified with the three retirees killed that day. Their faces and smiles seemed so similar to the faces and smiles of our own parents, or grandparents, or friends.

Phyllis Schneck, with her beautiful mane of gray hair and her wide smile, was a good example of this. She was known as a gifted quilter, a dedicated grandmother and an outstanding cook.

Before her husband, Ernest, died in 2007, the couple enjoyed their winters together in Tucson, and spent their summers in the lakeside community of Green Pond, N.J.

After Ernest died, Phyllis decided to end her days as a snowbird and move permanently to Tucson, where she volunteered at her church, and did her sewing and quilting.

During President Barack Obama's memorial speech on Jan. 12, pictures of those who were murdered in the shootings were shown on a large screen at McKale Center. When Schneck's picture went up, Obama remarked that the mother of three children, seven grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter was a Republican who "took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better."

She'd "sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered," Obama said.

The Weekly talked to Schneck's former pastor, James Coen, from the Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, N.J. Coen said her faith and her grandkids were especially important to Phyllis.

"I will always remember her as a very lovely person with an infectious smile on her face," Coen said. "She was very open and excepting, and very strong in her faith."

On the two Sundays since the shooting, Coen said, he and his congregation prayed for Schneck's family—and for all of the victims.

"I also talked about the need for Christians to be peacemakers ... to counteract this kind of behavior," he said. "That should be our response."

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