Dedication and Detoxification

The invitation I got for the dedication of the McDonald Center said to wear “business attire.” This was good to know as I attended the reopening of a treatment center in the name of philanthropist Marianne McDonald.

I was invited to this ceremony filled with well-dressed people because I wrote a story about McDonald’s dispute with Scripps Health, which used to be the home of the McDonald Center until the center got in the way of the wrecking ball they were using to renovate the hospital campus. The story aired on KPBS and Marianne tells me it helped get her problem noticed, and it helped her center find a new home.

McDonald is the daughter of Eugene Francis McDonald, the founder of Zenith Radio Corporation, who left her a fortune of about $100 million. Her life has been filled with riches and sadness. The latter has come from her family’s struggle with addiction and alcoholism. She told me her brother shot himself to death when he was high on drugs and alcohol. Her daughter Kristie was high on LSD when she played Russian roulette with a loaded gun and a group of friends. Kristie lost.

The McDonald Center has been moved to the campus of a competing health system in San Diego called Sharp Healthcare. The catered dedication was typical of its kind. There were lots of people there making connections and paying each other compliments. I recognized and spoke with Marianne’s son James, a garrulous man with a profane sense of humor and a hard-looking face. He speaks with an Irish accent he acquired after many years of living in County Kerry.

Programs that treat addicts and alcoholics are filled with emotion and stories of people who risk death to keep that euphoric feeling that comes with drug use. One man told me the McDonald Center saved his life. Marianne took the microphone at the dedicated and told us trees blossom to prove there is a God.

Marianne McDonald teaches classic drama at UC San Diego, so you could say she has made a profession of tragedy. Still beautiful at an advanced age, she thanked me for coming and for writing about her center and its tussle with Scripps.

I felt like a bit of a fraud at the event since I’ve seen no alcoholism in my family and I drink like a fish. But the hope for salvation is universal and we find it wherever we need it. For some in the grip of chemical demons, it can be found at treatment centers.

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