This month, we’re honored to introduce Yvonne Crum as our November Woman of the Month!
Yvonne is affectionately known as the fundraising queen around Dallas because she’s been involved with countless organizations, helping to plan, organize, and execute wildly successful fundraising events for many of our local nonprofits. We first really got to know each other when she asked me to be a Fashion Star for her Fashion Stars for a Cause event benefiting the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas.
I wanted to get involved and help others because of my own experiences as a survivor of suicide, and Yvonne’s passion for the cause was immediately infectious. One thing that stands out to me with Yvonne is that she is so supportive of every person she meets. When someone she knows is celebrating a success, she’s always the first to share the news and celebrate right along with them. That includes Model Behaviors. From day one, she’s been right there leaving comments, sharing our posts, and sending us so much love and encouragement.
Yvonne has led one of the most fascinating and inspiring lives, so I’m beyond thrilled to share Courtney’s two-part interview with this incredible woman. Read part one below and come back next week for part two!
The phone only rings once. I’m yelling at my sister to come get one of her cats out of my room because he’s scratching at the door. As I finish hollering, the call connects and Yvonne greets me with a warm hello. If she heard me yelling, she doesn’t mention it. Her voice is rich and her speech holds the slightest Southern accent as we introduce ourselves.
We only have an hour to talk on the phone because her husband of forty-nine years, Mayo Crum, is in physical rehab. He suffered a pretty severe fall earlier in the month, and Yvonne has been at his side almost the whole time, only running home for things they need or appointments she already had in place. We have an hour to speak, so we don’t waste any time. After introductions are out of the way, we jump right into the interview.
MB: I just love doing these Woman of the Month interviews because I learn so much about so many different things.
YC: And I think we are all perceived so different because everyone perceives me as far more chic than I am! Really and truly, we live very simple. We used to be very well off, but we’re not anymore—in the real estate business and everything. We lost a child in ’97, and I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since. Then after that I got breast cancer, so we’ve been just about through it, and living high on the hog has been the least of our priorities.
She offers this up to me in a plainspoken manner—no drama, no flair. It sets the tone for our discussion, and I immediately feel comfortable in sitting back and letting her share her experiences and life stories without too much interference from me.
MB: So first, of course, I want to talk about Fashion Stars for a Cause. In the information that you sent over, I think I read that it’s the ten-year anniversary?
YC: Yes, we’ve had ten years this past year in 2016, and right now I’m working on 2017. We just introduced the girls the other night at Bistro 31.
You can read more about this year’s Fashion Stars here.
MB: Fun! For people who may not know what Fashion Stars for a Cause is, or what it does, could you talk a little bit about your inspiration for starting it and how it came to be?
YC: Actually, what had happened, Ruth Altshuler and Lee Bailey called and asked me if I would chair an event for Mental Health Association. I said, “Well, what is it?” And it was all about the Mental Health Association’s Prism Award dinner, so I said I would because who can say no to Ruth Altshuler? Not me. I didn’t say no. I said yes. Then they brought in Lorraine Bracco as the talent. She was the speaker. She’d had a lot of mental illness and everything—you know, she’s the girl from The Sopranos and from Rizzoli & Isles—and she was just wonderful and it was a great experience.
So Margie Wright, who’s Executive Director of the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas…she and I got to be friendly because I’d go to all the board meetings during that six months that I was planning the event. And she said to me, “Yvonne, we really need an event for the Suicide and Crisis Center. We’ve never really had one that’s panned out. We’ve had some. They’ve been okay but not panned out, and I’d love for you to do something.” And I said, “Well…I’d be happy to. I’d love to, but there’s one thing. I’d love to tie the cause to fashion.” She said, “You do whatever you want.”
So I went to Terri Provencal, who was head of Modern Luxury at the time, and we just started visiting. I said, “This is what I have in mind. I want to get twelve women. I don’t want to do ten because everybody does ‘10 Best…10 Best…’ I want to do twelve women who would represent the community.”
When we first started out, for the first six years, it was known as “Fresh Faces of Fashion.” After that, some things shifted around, and on my way home from a meeting, I decided, “Well, I’ll just call it Fashion Stars for a Cause because I’m more interested in the cause. That same night I started working on it, and I contacted a lot of people I know. I contacted what was called at the time GrandLuxe, which they changed to Beverly Drive Magazine, and asked if they would do it. They said they would. I said, “I have one restriction—that I and the ladies I know will pick the women.” I wanted all sizes, all ethnic groups, all ages. Everything.
I wanted it to be about fashion in some instance, but mainly I want it to be about every walk of life. That’s why we keep the diversity. They are all fabulous and they all love the cause. So that’s really basically how it came about. After that six years, I named it Fashion Stars for a Cause and went right on about my business.
Yvonne exudes confidence. She finishes her response here, and I can practically hear her put a firm period at the end of the sentence. From the way she says it, I get the feeling there may have been some resistance to the idea that an event like this should be inclusive of everyone. Suicide doesn’t affect only a certain select group of individuals. It affects everyone, and I can already tell that Yvonne is the kind of person who, when it comes to helping others, she will open the doors to everyone—no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they may look like.
YC: I also have to mention…I could not have done the Fashion Stars Magazine without Carolyn Tillery, Darin Prejean, Duke Morse, Danny Campbell, and Charmaine Marshall.
MB: So now, what is your role exactly with the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas?
YC: What I do is I do their fundraising and I do their events. Just to be very up front about it, they pay me to do their event, but I help them with fundraising. It’s very minimal. I charge very little to do it for them. I just needed some sort of job.
I had been a volunteer for so long, so when my husband was retired and didn’t have his company anymore, due to the real estate market bubble, I knew I needed a job. I’d worked all my life anyway, so I kept doing that and I’ve just loved it. They’re wonderful to work with. I think they do more for the charity than any that I’ve ever worked with, and not just ’cause I’m working with them. I see how dedicated Margie Wright is, you know? She doesn’t spread herself too thin. She concentrates on the Survivors of Suicide and the Teens Can Survive programs. I tell you, it really makes a difference.
In the Survivors of Suicide program, when you get twelve people, four people, ten people in a room and every one of them has lost a loved to suicide, they actually then can say, “I know how you feel.” Because they do. That program is really important.
And then going into the schools for Teens Can Survive is amazing! They do an anonymous survey to all the students in the auditorium, and they’re numbered. Each number matches up to a name, and unless something shows up, they never look at the names. They just go through them and I have some great documents from some of the schools that say what amazing work that they’ve done for the child that showed up in that screening. If there was a problem, then they’ve really been able to work with them. So far, of all the people who have taken the survey and gone through the program, we haven’t lost anyone.
Her voice is quiet here. For a moment, we are both silent, letting this powerful statement hang in the air between us.
MB: That’s amazing.
YC: It’s really great. Of course, there’s the crisis line, also. But those things both—the Survivors of Suicide and Teens Can Survive—they relate directly to people. I love all the big organizations, but I think this is so hands-on that you can see from day to day what you’re doing. When we started this ten years ago, it was a hard thing to even say, “Do you know anyone who’s committed suicide?” Now we’re talking about it all the time.
The more we talk about it, every day we hear someone else that’s lost someone. And a lot of people don’t like to talk about it, but now they can get help for a child who’s tried to commit suicide and fortunately hasn’t succeeded. They can get help for them as well as if they’ve lost someone to suicide. They can work through that with the help of Suicide and Crisis Center.
MB: What you’re saying about how people find it really hard to talk about, or they just don’t talk about it, that’s so true. I remember when I first started working with Toni and she told me about Fashion Stars for a Cause, she had written a post about the event and mentioned being a survivor of suicide. I didn’t even know what that meant. I thought it meant that she had attempted suicide, not that she had lost her sister to suicide.
YC: Yes, usually everyone thinks a survivor of suicide is someone who tried it but didn’t succeed.
MB: Right! So if you know all the terminology, you think, “Sure, that phrase makes sense.” But if you’ve never talked about it, you’ve never thought about it, then you don’t even know the terminology when there are so many people who are affected by it.
YC: And, Courtney, I must tell you. I could not have been more surprised. Toni and I went out to do…there used to be a show called Broadcast. It was on Channel 47. Right before Fashion Stars when Toni was one, we went out to just chitchat a bit. I promise you. I am not exaggerating one iota. I did not know that her sister had taken her life. I was so stunned I could barely speak.
She was telling someone else and I was sitting there, but she assumed that I knew and that’s why I had asked her. This year, nine of the fashion stars for 2017 have it directly related to them, which is amazing to have them with us. It seems like every year at least five or six of the twelve had it personally in the family or a close friend or their spouse. But I was stunned about Toni’s sister. I just adored Toni as a person, and I thought she would be very, very amazing for it. And little did I know. Now Tavia, her sister-in-law, one of our recently announced fashion stars has lost a cousin to suicide. I didn’t know that.
It’s amazing the things you don’t know about people as well as you do know them.
MB: Because it is so hard to talk about. Not only is there the emotional, grief-filled side of it, but there’s a social stigma to it, too. It’s hard to reveal that.
YC: But more and more I’ve seen a change. I mean, multiply twelve women times eleven years. We’ve got a brigade out there, and almost all of them are still involved. It’s really wonderful. They all still post everything about it. I think we’ve sort of formed a club to try to make people as aware of it as we can.
MB: It’s absolutely wonderful, and when I first found out about the organization and what they do, I thought, “This is so needed.”
YC: Well, thank you.
MB: I’d like to shift gears here a little bit and talk about your experiences as a flight attendant. First of all, you worked for forty-six years, and you made it into the Professional Flight Attendant Hall of Fame. I’m sure you met so many interesting people (as evidenced by this picture of you with Richard Simmons!)
YC: And the only way I said I’d get married was that I would not quit my job until I was ready.
MB: He didn’t know just how much you meant that!
YC: Yes! And what’s so interesting, when I had my first son, we were in the middle of contract negotiations, so I wouldn’t get any money that was due from that contract if I didn’t go back and work for a little bit. I said, “I think I’ll just go back the three months I need to get the money that everyone else is going to get.” I was on maternity leave, so I went back and I flew those three months. Then I thought, I’m never quitting. I had my second son, took a little time off, and went right back.
Braniff, unfortunately, that I was flying for shut down in 1989. Then I immediately went to work for American. They shut down in December of ’89, and I started flying for American in March of ’90. I let no grass grow under my feet! Through all those years I was able to do a lot of things other than the flying, like I did lots of recruiting of flight attendants throughout the country. They’d send us all over the United States, especially with American. I did the same thing with Braniff. I did a lot of different positions, but I always wanted to be on the line. I just loved the people.
I guess you saw the thing I sent you on General Omar Bradley. It was the thirty-fifth anniversary of D-Day, and he was coming back and he was on my flight. My husband is a World War II buff. I thought he would absolutely die when he came to pick me up. He and one of my sons picked me up, and I said, “You gotta wait right here until we get out of customs. I’ve got this surprise…”
I’m going to tear up saying it.
“I’ve got the surprise of a lifetime.” And the doors open and here comes General Omar Bradley. My husband knows every single thing in the world about Eisenhower and Bradley or anyone else involved in World Word II. It was incredible. Just incredible. Then right after that he sent me the beautiful picture and his book. It was an unbelievable experience.
MB: Was your husband flabbergasted?
YC: Still, to this day, he says, “I will never believe those automatic doors opening, and there you come out with General Bradley.” He says, “Typical! I wait my whole life to meet him, and you just wander up and there he is.” It was a great experience and during the Vietnam War, I was able to do some work airlifting some of the children out of Vietnam. We’d start out in Honolulu, and we’d go back and forth. Then we’d bring them to the mainland. That was an awesome experience, too. It was just a great thing for me.
MB: When did you know you wanted to be a flight attendant? Was it a lifelong dream?
YC: No, actually, my interests had been sociology and psychology. I worked at Hope Cottage for a little while, and I just thought, there’s gotta be a better way for me to do it. I was sitting out at the apartment one day where I lived, and there were these girls out there. They were laughing and having the best time. I’d come home depressed from work that these women were sending their children—this was in the early ’60s before it was acceptable to be pregnant and not married—and these women from the Northeast, they would send their children down here to have their baby, like they were going to a finishing school. They’d go home looking good but with no baby because they’d put it up for adoption. It was good all the way around except for me because I always thought how sad some of those young girls were that they didn’t get to keep the babies. So I was out there by the pool one day, and I’m sitting there, and these girls are all gorgeous, and they’re laughing and having the best time. I said, “What is it that you girls do that you’re always home during the daytime and you’re always laughing?”
“Oh, we’re flight attendants for Braniff!” Well, they were called hostesses then. “We’re hostesses with Braniff.”
And I said, “Okay. What does one do to get this job?”
MB: You were like, Help me out!
YC: Yeah, let me know! They said, “Believe it or not, they’re hiring like crazy!” And I’m not kidding you, Courtney. That was a Thursday. I went the next day to fill out a form and do an interview, and I was hired on Sunday because three people had dropped out of class. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was meant to be from the beginning. I loved every single day I did it. I cannot think of one day that I ever said, “I hate this job and I don’t want to do it.”
Of course, it was different then, too. People wore shoes. We served real food. It wasn’t as hectic. And because of the expense, people didn’t fly like they do now. They didn’t have $99 fares. They were $999 fares.
MB: My mom’s dad was in the Army, and they flew a lot because they had to move a lot. She said every time they flew, her mom would put her and her siblings in their Sunday best. It was a big ordeal, and everyone had to look nice. I was like, “Oh, that’s not how it is now!”
YC: And as airline employees, my boys when they were four and six, they had to wear ties and jackets! But it’s changed. Some for the good and some for the worse. People say the flight attendants are so cranky now and everything, but the people were nicer too. People respected the fact that they were going somewhere, and it wasn’t all this business travel like it is now.
Everybody just seemed nicer and it wasn’t as harried. People weren’t just rushing. But the times have changed. The people have changed. It’s a totally different thing now.
I still miss it, and had I not gotten breast cancer and had to retire—my doctor wouldn’t ever sign off on it. He thought it would harm my body because my reach in my left arm wasn’t what it should be, so he would never sign off on it. Otherwise, I would’ve never quit. I would’ve gone through the treatment and gone back. But here I am and I’m loving my job!
MB: You seem like the kind of person that when life gives you lemons, you’re going to go find a way to make some more lemonade.
YC: Yes, and eat the rinds.
MB: It’s an admirable quality to have. It really shines in all of the charity work you do. Where does that drive to help others come from?
YC: I always felt like from the Dallas Arboretum and the Dallas Children’s Theater, I’ve always felt like I really needed to help because I’ve been so blessed.
And, Courtney, I will say this. My mother left when I was fourteen and I never laid eyes on her since. I just got home from school one day and she was gone. I lived in lots of foster homes. It wasn’t a healthy situation then, and it’s still not now. I think that steered me toward the social work that I wanted to do. I try to work on groups that I know I can help. I don’t like to just go and have my picture made then walk off and add that to my resume. I like to be hands-on.
I do those things that I’m interested in and give the best that I can. Even with all the stuff that I went through, I still feel like I’ve been really blessed and I’ve always had people that believed in me and cared about me, so that’s where it comes from.
MB: What a great thing, to look back and feel that way about your life.
This is the end of the first part of our interview. Check back next week to read more about Yvonne’s drive to help others, her struggle with breast cancer, and a challenging childhood that made her the woman she is today. Not to mention the cutest story of how she and her husband, Mayo, met!