Sounding slightly weary, Pride Foundation fundholder Carol Kerley answered the phone on a crisp fall day to talk with me about her life, her wife, and their plans for the future. Explaining that her basement was currently flooded, she nevertheless jumped head-first into her story—leaving her current problems at the door.
Carol Kerley and Linda Dunhams’ lives together began at a time when living openly was not an option. Carol explained that this would have put her job in jeopardy, and could have resulted in both of them being disowned by their families.
After years of being in a relationship that they couldn’t share with the world, they moved to Whidbey Island, Washington. I asked Carol when the couple first felt that Whidbey Island was their home, and her answer is one that will stick with me; “We’d been together for 32 years at the time, and I clearly remember filling out a form to be on the hospital board, and being able to—for the first time ever—write that I was in a long-term relationship.”
It was at this moment, after over three decades of being a couple, that they were finally able to share their relationship with the broader community. “We never went back,” explained Carol. They’ve now been in Langley for 12 years, and have made it their home.
When I first asked Carol and Linda if we could share their story, they were somewhat hesitant at the prospect. The couple usually prefers to keep their giving anonymous—giving not for recognition, but due to their firm belief that everyone plays a role in making society better.
While philanthropy has always been at the forefront of their minds, it was put on the back burner prior to 2012 because so much of their financial future was determined by the fact that they could not be married. Once marriage was finally an option, their financial futures became black and white. For the first time, they could make real decisions because they had definitive answers about what would happen to their assets when they were gone.
These definitive answers became especially crucial two years ago when Linda was diagnosed with cancer. Several rounds of treatment later, Linda continues to face her diagnosis with courage as they hope for the best. Despite these challenges, each new day brings love and laughter, especially in the time they get to spend with their 8 and 9 year-old adopted grandnieces—whom they constantly teach lessons on the importance of community and giving back.
The financial clarity and security that came from their marriage has meant that philanthropy has become a bigger part of their lives. Carol explained that they haven’t always been in a position to give, yet, “I have this really strong belief that everyone should give, and I’ve believed it and lived it my whole life.”
While Carol was preparing for her upcoming trip to India to work with children on an Ashram, her niece repeatedly asked her not to go, wondering why these children needed her aunt’s time more than she did. She asked Carol why sending a check wasn’t enough. Linda and Carol then had a very intentional conversation about the idea that, while money is vital to making and sustaining change, it is the engagement with people and with organizations that builds community.
It is this idea that has motivated the couple to establish the Dunham-Kerley scholarship at Pride Foundation. Engaging with Pride Foundation and our scholarship community reviewers gives them the involvement they’ve been searching for, and the chance to see first-hand the impact of their investment.
This scholarship also gives Carol and Linda the opportunity to address one of their biggest areas of concern, and to support a vulnerable population that is often made invisible. Having grown up with a severely disabled older brother, Carol is interested in addressing the intersectional issues of disability and sexual orientation/gender identity. She explained that, “Disabled LGBTQ people often have a difficult set of issues to cope with in their lives, and we hope this scholarship can support them.”
She went on to further explain why this scholarship holds a special place in her heart; “I spent many years of my life ‘invisible’ as a lesbian woman and was connected all my life to my brother’s disability and treatment. He was my greatest teacher. He was the first person I felt I could totally trust in my family to accept Linda and me as a couple. Growing up in a time when being ‘outed’ was my greatest fear, I want to dedicate this scholarship to the courage of those who learn to live life with a disability and also identify as LGBTQ.”
In the end, Carol and Linda’s belief in people and community has been the true motivation for this scholarship—the idea that compassion can be spread through action. The awards, merits, and professional achievements of future scholarship recipients is not Carol and Linda’s main priority, instead, “We just want future recipients to be able to live life fully, and with compassion.”
As our conversation began to wrap up, the realities of the present (namely the water lapping on her basement steps and an unpacked suitcase for her trip to India) rose to the forefront of both of our minds, but Carol and Linda’s story has stuck with me—their 44 years together, their dedication to one another and their community, and the hospital form that helped to make the Northwest a place they could call home.
Katelen Kellogg is Pride Foundation’s Community Giving Manager. Email Katelen.
We are pleased to welcome Carol Kerley and Linda Dunham to our Visionary Circle. Their recent decision to include Pride Foundation in their estate plans has been featured by Leave Ten, an organization that encourages everyone to aspire to leave at least 10% of their estate to charitable organizations.