An inspiration and a winner
Posted on Sat, Jan. 14, 2006
An inspiration and a winner
Despite battling ALS, Yvonne Long shared wisdom, set example

She beat the clock and left a clear winner despite her disabilities. Not many with Lou Gehrig's disease can say that.

Mary Yvonne Salem Long of Indian Trail died Dec. 30, more than 28 years after being stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in June 1977.

The life expectancy of ALS is an average of three years, according to Kathleen Clem, associate professor at Duke University Medical Center. Few, if any, surpass Yvonne's record, her family says.

One reason may be the devoted care she received from daughter Kelley Long, who committed herself to her mother's comfort and well-being.

Yvonne, a 1955 Harding High School graduate, was babysitting for her sister Essine Smith when her sister's friend Tommy Long dropped by to visit. "I came by there and we got to talking," Tommy said. "One thing led to another and we started dating." Tommy met the whole family and "I took a liking to them and their good Lebanese food," he said.

The couple married on Oct. 4, 1956, then had son Steven and daughters Kelley and Kimberly Rebecca, who died in 1958 as an infant.

Yvonne had an active and productive life before contracting ALS. She worked for Rea Construction from the mid-1960s until she had to retire in 1975 when her health began to fail.

She got it done

At Rea, "She worked directly for the CEO," Tommy said. "Some of the guys who did the blacktop paving said, `If you want anything done, call Yvonne Long -- she'll get it done for you.' "She was standing there one day and a cup of coffee fell out of her hand," Tommy said. The disease progressed and "within two years she was an invalid. In 1989 she had a tracheotomy for breathing." Both Steven and Kelley were trained to care for her, but it was Kelley who put her own life on hold so that she could care for her mom.

A silent communicator

"Yvonne was a special person with courage and the greatest outlook," said friend Tommy Helms. "She talked with her eyes."

"We used an alphabet board (to communicate)," Kelley said, "but most of the time I'd read her lips. She was more than a mother to me -- she was my best friend. She was almost like a child, and I took care of her like she had done for me."

Kelley said her mom never let anything get her down. "She was a smiling, caring person who always wanted to know how people were. She never complained about herself."

Kelley managed to graduate from her mom's beloved Harding High, as did Steven.

Steven said his mom "loved Harding High, and talked about that place. Lots of people are apprehensive about going to senior high, but I dove into it and was proud of it. She pushed me hard."

She also shared life lessons with Steven. "She taught me how to live, how to appreciate life, how not to waste it and to be glad for it," her son said. From her bed, "She was just as influential and advising as ever."

"I so admired her perseverance," said nephew Christopher Long. We all could learn a true life lesson from her determination to continue to live her life to the fullest -- despite the obstacles that she faced on a daily basis."

Steven said, "Even though she couldn't talk, she could still make your day. You never met my mother and forgot about her."

Gerry Hostetler

Reach Gerry at (704) 358-5075 or

2006 Charlotte Observer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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