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Hall of Fame Awards - My Speech

  
                                                      Barbara and Ann                                      Delivering the speech

On March 18, 2010, I was honored with being the keynote speaker at the Contra Costa Commission for Women's 10th Annual Hall of Fame Awards.   There were around 300 people present to honor four women who have contributed to the community.  The commission was established 26 years ago to make a difference in the lives of women and children by improving the economic status, social welfare, and overall quality of life for women in Contra Costa County.  For some reason, the program part started at the beginning of dinner.  Ann and I barely had eaten our salads when she went to the podium to introduce me.  I guess the speech was a success.  You could barely hear forks scraping against plates!  The audience laughed and clapped at all the right places and no one threw rotten tomatoes! 

Ann was the emcee for the evening.  She is very generous with her time for local charities concerned with the welfare of women and children.  She is the CBS 5's Eyewitness News Weekend Editon anchor and also covers Tri-Valley and Contra Costa County.

The following is an excerpt from my speech.

I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back and pretend.

‘Cause I’ve heard it all before and I’ve been down on the floor.

No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.

 

Oh yes, I am wise but it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained.

If I have to, I can do anything.

I am strong (strong).

I am invincible (invincible).

I am woman.

 

How many recognize the Helen Reddy song? How many were able to hear the melody as I read it?   Good, because if I had had to sing them, I don’t think anyone would be left in the room right now.  I can’t carry a tune! 

 

These lyrics hold special meaning to me because of my story and I was delighted when I found out the theme for tonight was “Honoring our past; looking toward the future” because I think that’s just what this song is saying. 

 

We all have a past – full of stories – sad and glad.  We have built our lives based on our stories and we continue to use them as we look toward the future.  No one’s stories are more important than another’s.  What’s important is what we do with our stories to go beyond ourselves to help others.

 

Each of the honorees tonight have taken their stories, built on their strengths and passions, and found ways to give back to the community.  They now join previous awardees as women who have demonstrated leadership, women who have created community, women who have preserved the environment, and women who have contributed to the arts.  They are an inspiration for all of us tonight and I thank them for their contributions.

 

From my childhood into my forties, life seemed pretty much normal – nothing extraordinary to be sure – definitely nothing that would lead me to change a law or gain national recognition. But, after my second husband tried to murder me by ether asphyxiation, I decided to write a book to educate women.  I was about to honor my past while I looked toward the future.

 

In preparation to write my true crime/memoir A DANCE WITH THE DEVIL: A TRUE STORY OF MARRIAGE TO A PSYCHOPATH, I scoured photo albums, calendars, day planners, and documents, digging deeper and deeper into my experiences to understand what had happened in my life.  As I dusted away the cobwebs and organized and analyzed my data, a pattern emerged.  Any success in my life occurred when I had faithfully applied four tools that I came to recognize as passion, planning, patience, and persistence.  I fondly call them my four P’s and I love to share them as powerful tools we all can use.

 

Passion, planning, patience, and persistence helped me build a house and get a university degree while working full time.  They also helped me to extricate myself from a harmful relationship, change the law, and write a book. 

 

My story starts out quite innocently.  When I was 35 years old, I was divorced and had dated a man for one year.  We broke up when I moved fifteen miles away.   Dating was not foremost in my mind and I wasn’t looking.  I had a full time job and was going to Golden Gate University at night. 

 

Then one day a friend invited me to be a fourth at her dinner party.  That night I met John Perry.  He said he was a retired rear admiral and that he was the son of Admiral Perry who started the Seabees in WWII.  He was quite the conversationalist, very witty, and charming.  He was the life of the party and very attentive to me. He shared his stories of daring exploits in the military.  He even said he won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

A couple of weeks later we went out on our first formal date.  Then he took me to Mexico City on one of his business trips.  We stayed at the best hotels, ate at the finest restaurants.  I was excited, and quite impressed.  Within three months John moved into my home.  He didn’t come with much (a red flag I didn’t recognize at the time) but he did have the sweetest golden retriever named Gobi.

 

Then the abuse started.  It wasn’t the type of abuse that made me feel I was the victim of domestic violence.   It was financial abuse.  John figured out how far he could push my limits and boundaries and he asked if he could use my credit card…..just once, he said.  But he lied to me.  And when the credit card bill came a month later I was shocked at all the charges.  It made me mad and I confronted him.

 

Then the second type of abuse appeared….verbal or emotional abuse.   When I confronted John about the charges, he got angry and stomped away from me.   When I asked him where he was going, he glared at me and snarled, “I know when I’m not wanted.  I’m going to pack my bags and leave.”

 

Fear froze my bones.  If he left how would I pay the bills?  I had a good job, but I was not flush with money.  So I started a pattern that would continue for nine years.  I backed down.  I told him we would figure some way to make ends meet until his commission check came.  After all, I thought, many relationships have financial difficulties.

 

The verbal and financial abuse wasn’t every day; sometimes it was not even every month.  But when it would rear its ugly head, I would feel trapped under his crazymaking power and control.  And the sad thing is that during this time, it was MY properties that were being used to support his excessive spending.  About every two years we would increase the second mortgages until we owed almost $200,000, which today is equivalent to about $400,000.  I allowed it because John said he would receive $200,000 from a house he sold, although the payment would be in seven years.

 

But in-between the discussions about his spending and the refinances, we had a lot of good times.  I have been piped aboard ships as an admiral and his wife.  We sat in the special military stands for Fleet Week.  I had my university graduation party at the Officer’s Club on Treasure Island, when it was still a naval base.  It was a grand affair:  a band, delicious food, a cake.  I joked that all that was missing was the bride and groom!  And I went to the Inauguration and Inaugural Ball for Bush the First in 1989.  We even sat in the Medal of Honor stands where everyone in the parade, including the president, stop and salute.  John impressed people at the ball because he wore his congressional medal of honor.

 

Then it began to unravel.  By the end of 1989, the FBI showed up at my door, but John had a quick and logical explanation for that, just like with a lot of things that started to not make sense.

 

I call 1990 my crazy year.  My inner self was trying to tell me something was wrong, but I was doing a good job of being in denial. This was the year that my domestic abuse turned physical, but not in a traditional way that would have waved a red flag.  John knew that one boundary on which I would not budge was physical violence.  He knew that if he started battering me, the marriage was over.  He also knew that his promise of an influx of a large amount of money was not going to happen.  What was he to do?  Murder came to mind.

 

The physical episodes appeared three times that year.  There was a car wreck, a gun in a briefcase, and a fall down the stairs.  But John experienced them right along with me, so I was not suspicious.

 

Yet, a little voice nagged inside of me.  So I started investigating.  Today it would be easy to search John’s name on the internet, but the internet was in its infancy.  And I didn’t have money to hire an investigator.  So what did I do?  I went to the library.  I found facts…some supported John’s stories…but most did not.

 

The most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to leave a domestic violence relationship and I walked right into that trap.

 

I foolishly presented my facts to John, hoping to learn the truth about him.   He again twisted things around, making me feel like I was crazy for suspecting him.  But I had challenged him and he realized I was close to the truth and that his plan was about to be exposed.  He didn’t want to lose his position or my money.

 

So he tried to murder me by ether asphyxiation.

 

After the attack, I sought counseling to gain my strength back for the trial and John was convicted of first degree attempted murder.  It came out during the trial preparation that John was not a retired rear admiral; he was a con man with an FBI record.  But his father was Admiral Perry that started the Seabees in WWII.

 

As I recovered from the abuse, I wondered why it had happened to me.  Then it came to me.  I needed to write a book to help women understand about psychopaths, but I didn’t understand that the story wasn’t over.

 

When I went to get divorced from John, I was told that I would have to pay him alimony, give him half of my retirement fund, and pay car and medical insurance on him.  It was the law! It made me mad.    So I decided to change the law, even though it would not help me. 

 

I was constantly told I could not change the no-fault divorce law of California.  I could not put fault back into it.   It took me a year-and-a-half to find someone to carry the bill.   I used passion, planning, patience, and persistence and made it through committees, the assembly, the senate, and to the governor’s desk without a negative vote.   I did change the law of California and it has been active since January 1, 1996.

 

Former Senator Rainey once said, “There are some people in this world that you don’t want to make made – and Barbara is one of them.”

 

Around this time, I met up with an old friend and a romantic relationship blossomed into marriage. By now the book had been on the back burner for several years. I could have forgotten about finishing it.  In fact, several friends even told me that I should get on with my life.  But they didn’t understand my passion; they didn’t understand that it wasn’t for me that the book needed to be published – it was to help others understand the crazymaking world of psychopaths. They also didn’t understand that I had a deep belief that God would see that the book was published when it needed to be published.

 

Over the next ten years, I finished writing my book, constantly relying on passion, planning, patience, and persistence every step of the way.  I signed with a New York literary agent, and my story sold in four days to Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, U.S.A.  My book is now in bookstores and libraries in the United States and Canada, and on the internet.  This year it will be published in Polish, so I can say I’m an international author. 

 

I have been blessed with many amazing opportunities to support my goal of educating the public about psychopaths.  In 2003, my story was on Lifetime Television’s “Final Justice” hosted by Erin Brockovich.  In 2008, I appeared live on live on Channel 7’s A View from the Bay, right before the book was released in November.   In 2009, I was the recipient of the Paul H. Chapman Award from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice in Atlanta, Georgia, fin recognition for my legal reform work.  Also in 2009, my story appeared on Dateline NBC.  The first air date was June 7 – opposite the Tony Awards.  The Tony’s got a 10 rating; I got a 9.  I almost beat the Tony’s!  And this Monday I heard from my Dateline producer that Peacock Productions may retool my story to make it available to various cable networks.

 

But, I must admit that the most unexpected part of my journey has turned out to the most rewarding.  It’s the emails that I now receive from women and men across the country, from all walks of life.  I’d like to share one such email.

 

 "Thank you so much for sharing your horrific story.  I, too, was married to a sociopath.  My children and I escaped on July 5, 2005 and each day is a struggle to stay safe.  Until I read your book, I felt alone in my struggle.  Now I feel I have a friend.  Like you, I have recognized an injustice in the family law code--sociopaths should not have unfettered access to their children.  I have decided I would like to change (the law) as well.    While my children and I continue our journey of healing, your book has inspired me to not let the abuse my children and I suffered define us, but for us to move forward and redefine the situation.  Thank you again for sharing your struggle and helping me to move my own life forward again."

 

 I continue my advocacy with my comprehensive webpage that offers information and links on domestic violence, psychopaths, writing, and my wine making hobby that I share with my husband of 13 years.   You can find it at  www.adancewiththedevil.com

 

This evening, I shared my story so that you may be inspired to recognize your hopes and dreams, and know that they are possible to attain.  You hold the tools within you.   With passion, planning, patience, and persistence……you can achieve the success that fills your life with meaning and pleasure.  You can honor your past and look toward your future to help others. You can be one person that makes a difference.

 

In closing, here are a few more words from Helen Reddy.

 

I am woman, watch me grow, see me standing toe to toe,

As I spread my loving’ arms across the land.

But I’m still an embryo with a long, long way to go

Until I make my brother understand.

 

Oh yes, I am wise but it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price, but look how much I gained.

If I have to, I can do anything.

 

(Say it with me)

I am strong (strong).

I am invincible (invincible).

I am woman (woman).

 

 

Thank you.