Brad and Mary Bradshaw's Story

When Virgil “Brad” Bradshaw met his future wife Mary at a dance in Kansas City for returning war veterans, he gallantly offered her a ride home. In the parking lot, the Navy veteran paused before a dump truck and told her to hop in before cracking up at Mary’s stricken expression. That was her first, though certainly not her last, hint that life with Brad would be filled with jokes, card tricks and funny stories. The two bonded over the fact that they were both only children, though their childhoods couldn’t have been more different. Mary was the child of Irish immigrants who doted on her, instilling a love of family and of Ireland. Brad’s parents were heavy drinkers who divorced when he was in high school, a rarity for that era. Rather than stay with either of them after the divorce, Brad moved into an apartment in Kansas City where he could live on his own and finish high school. Some people in his situation might have fallen in with the wrong crowd, but Brad had his head on straight from an early age, helped by summers spent with an aunt and uncle at a farm in Iowa. He joined the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Emery, a destoyer escort, in the South Pacific during World War II. Though some men deployed with him were overcome with homesickness, Brad loved the camaraderie of the Navy—and the three hot meals a day the Navy provided. As the war neared its end, Brad was part of a task force that prepared for an eventual invasion of Japan. Perhaps it is because they both were only children that Brad and Mary decided to have a large family. The first of their eight kids was born not long after the end of World War II, when Mary was 19. A full-time student for the first few years of their marriage, after graduation Brad went to work for the Associated Press, while Mary took care of the children. Over a 40-plus year career, he continued to advance with the AP, eventually becoming Director of Communications. Brad’s job with the AP meant the family moved often, but he felt a special connection to Kansas City and Chicago sports teams. One of his first jobs at the AP was as a teletype operator at baseball games, typing every detail so that radio broadcasters around the country could read his accounts from the wire.

Though he had not been raised a Catholic, Brad converted at Mary’s insistence before they married, and he become a devoted believer. In between frequent moves, Mary taught CCD classes to the kids at home, so they could keep up when they joined the local Catholic church in the next town. She was proud of her Irish heritage and, though their house often felt bursting at the seams, she always found room to host cousins visiting from the Emerald Isle. Managing a 10-person household was no easy feat, but Mary and Brad would divide and conquer so that one parent attended nearly every game or recital the kids participated in. Brad got tremendous joy out of teaching his sons to hunt pheasant and quail, and coaching their sports teams. When his son Pat played in his first Little League game, he had an old, ratty mitt. On noticing this, Brad left the game soon after it began, returning in about the third inning with a brand new mitt, walking right out onto the field to give it to his son. Growing up, Mary loved going to the movie theatre around the corner from her family’s home in Kansas City and later in life she’d often take one of her children to the movies as a treat. She had a way of making each kid feel like her favorite, though they knew she didn’t play favorites. Brad was energetic and multi-talented with diverse interests. He competed in the Missouri State Table Tennis championships. He went to a school for auctioneering and started an auction company on the side. Wanting more time for his family, he dabbled in sundry business ideas in hopes of one day being able to become his own boss. A born nurturer, Mary raised award-winning rose gardens and served as president of her flower garden club in New Jersey. She loved antiquing to find old treasures for the family home. In her thirties, Mary got into fitness, jogging around the neighborhood and doing Jack LaLanne workouts at home during the day.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Mary faced was raising a family while fighting cancer. Mary’s breast cancer diagnosis came in the early ‘70s, when six of the eight kids were still living at home. She beat that one, but in the early 1980s, with her youngest still in high school, she was given a terminal liver cancer diagnoses with six months left to live. Where others might have given up Mary fought back and, to the astonishment of doctors who insisted nothing they did could have saved her life, she was miraculously declared cancer free a few years later. In the early 1990s, she was diagnosed with bone cancer and went through yet another round of chemo and radiation therapy, and through faith and resilience she beat cancer again. For all it tried cancer never did take Mary—when she finally passed away it was from a heart attack. Brad vowed to retire in San Diego someday, having fallen in love with the city during his time in the Navy. Never one to countenance idleness, after he retired he got licensed as a general contractor and spent eight months building a house on the side of a hill outside the city. Even in retirement, Brad hated sitting around, so he started taking photographs for a local newspaper, The San Vicente Valley News, and wrote an Andy Rooney-style book called "Strolling With an Aardvark Through Ramona.” But Brad couldn’t stand to rest on his laurels — he eventually became editor-in-chief of the paper, which he built into an award-winning publication. One of the highlights of Brad and Mary’s life together was when Brad won an international trip on a game show and the couple spent two weeks touring London, Rome, Paris, Madrid and Amsterdam. But, although they enjoyed their adventures abroad, they were just as happy simply dancing to Big Band music together in their living room. They aspired to raise a loving family together, to live richly while helping their eight children grow into successful adults, and in both endeavors they succeeded immensely.