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January 23, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, January 23, 2004

Virginia Madden scores big at AAUW luncheon Virginia Madden scores big at AAUW luncheon (January 23, 2004)

Be on the lookout for vascular disease, she tells women

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

It's been easy to stay married to colorful sports commentator John Madden for 44 years, his wife Virginia told the appreciative audience at the Pleasanton Hotel on Saturday.

"He's been gone half the marriage so it's been pretty easy," she said. "I just had to get used to him being gone."

Some 110 women, and a couple of men, attended the luncheon and speech, sponsored by the American Association of University Women to raise funds for its AAUW Educational Foundation.

Virginia Madden, 69, told stories in her wry style about John - his successful coaching of the Oakland Raiders, his fear of flying. She said that after 10 years of coaching it began to affect his health.

"He was 42 but finished coaching," she said. "We didn't know what we were going to do with him - he's not handy."

"We got him an office in Dublin so he could plan who to go to lunch with," she continued. Then he taught a class at Berkeley Extension on how to watch football, for wives and mothers, and integrated that experience into his football broadcasting, for which he's won 13 Emmies.

But Virginia Madden's main message was that women need to take care of themselves. She is a trustee of the Pacific Vascular Research Foundation in San Francisco and came prepared with pamphlets on stroke, high blood pressure and vein diseases.

"Vascular disease kills one out of two women over the age of 55; cancer kills one in eight," she said.

She told her own story, how she ignored almost 10 years of sporadic symptoms - tingling in her fingertips, light-headedness, blurred vision. When she finally wrote them all down for her doctor, he sent her to vascular surgeon Ron Stoney at UCSF, who discovered a significant blockage in the left carotid artery in her neck.

Dr. Stoney explained to John and Virginia how he would remove the blockage: make a 3-inch incision between her neck and her collarbone, clamp off the blood flow, and remove the plaque.

"John says to him, 'How good are you? What's your win-loss record?'" Virginia recalled. "Ron says, 'Well, I haven't lost anyone.' I had the operation and everything turned out fine."

She also told about her two sons - Mike, 40, a builder with Red Bear Enterprises and the Rose Hotel; and Joe 38, owner of Goal Line Productions - and four grandsons. She said that after producing movies she wasn't happy about, Joe recently came out with one she likes, "The Cooler," starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin.

One of his movies - "Dead and Breakfast" - was shot at the 1890s Victorian on Tesla Road in Livermore that she bought and restored.

"We kept driving by it and it looked so lonely," she explained. "I kept saying, 'Somebody's got to save that house,' and John would say, 'It's not gonna be us.'"

However, she did take on the project. She soon found that everything had to be custom-made, and the Livermore sewer system doesn't go out that far.

At one point she hoped to make it into a restaurant. "There was wainscoting from the Women's Temperance League - I wanted that room to be a pub," she said. But she found it would be almost impossible to comply with the American with Disabilities Act regulations in an old Victorian.

Next she considered making it an events center. Since "Dead and Breakfast" was filmed, she feels sure that no one will ever want to live there. She has turned the property over to son Mike, which, she said, has helped her stress level.

Madden noted that she is a pilot and at one time owned her own airplane, an irony given her husband's famous refusal to fly. She attributed this to an airplane crash with the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo football team in Ohio at takeoff, killing 16, in 1960, the year after John graduated.

He flew for years when he coached the Raiders but eventually, during a layover in Houston, he got off the airplane and couldn't get back on.

"He took the train for a few years," she said, recalling waiting at the Martinez train station, which kept uncertain schedules. Then he bought his bus. "That cut one whole day off," she said. "He could make it in two days, coast to coast."

He proudly told Chuck Yeager, the pilot who first broke the sound barrier in 1947, that he'd crossed the country in 47 hours. "Chuck said he did it once in less than an hour," said Virginia. "John said he walked away, they had nothing to talk about after that."

They moved into their present home, an adobe they restored, after John saw on a City Council meeting that someone wanted to renovate it to be an events center and the neighbors were against it.

"I said I don't want to hear, 'When is it going to be finished?' or 'What is it costing?'"

The Maddens first moved to Pleasanton in 1966, and Virginia taught school off and on from 1966-79. Several of her students attended Saturday's luncheon, according to program chair Marge Johnson, who said, "I think this is quite a tribute."

"Half the women in the Valley are mad at me," Johnson added, because she could not get them tickets once the luncheon speech was sold out.

"She never speaks," Johnson said. "I had to talk her into it."

For vascular health For vascular health (January 23, 2004)

Know the status of your own health so your doctor can treat vascular problems that could lead to a stroke or heart attack. Learn your family's health history. Keep a healthy lifestyle, with regular exercise and a low-fat diet.

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