11/19/2005

Marsha Evans is not a Stepford Wife

From 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., the American Red Cross president worries about mass disasters. Then she leaves her office and calls her husband.

"He worries about dinner," said Marsha "Marty" Evans.

By the time Marty, 58, drives up to their townhouse in Old Town Alexandria, Jerry, 64, has cooked the fish and chopped the salad. After they eat, Jerry washes up.

"I don't do dishes," Marty said one recent Sunday evening. "He doesn't want me to wreck my hands."

Marty's hands swept across her dining room table, over bags of loose beads -- turquoise, lapis and quartz. Marty picked up a Swarovski crystal, held it between two red nails and pierced it with a wire.

"She's feeling pretty puny today," Jerry said, standing behind her. "It's been stress and constant travel to ravaged areas."

Marty clicked through a pile of crystals, her eyes tight: "Some people would come home and have a martini. I do beading."

In this year of hurricanes and floods, of tornadoes, flu panic and creeping global measles, in a year that Marty described as "just one big disaster," the Red Cross president -- imploring television viewers to give blood and money -- has been the public face of care. But when Marty comes home, she opens the door to a private space, where she is the one cared for.

"I'm the power behind the throne," said Jerry, a retired Navy pilot and lieutenant commander, who golfs and has called himself a "house spouse" for more than 20 years.

Jerry met Marty in the Navy when they were assigned to tandem desks. She was nearly 6 feet tall. He was 5-8 and said he liked "dumb, short women." When he introduced Marty to his mother, she told Marty, "It will never last." Marty went on to serve as chief of staff at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and to command the Treasure Island naval station in California, rising to rear admiral.

"She may outrank me quite a bit," Jerry said, smiling, "but I'm the commander in chief at home."

Marty looked at him.

"Sometimes," he said.

When Marty wakes up, Jerry brings her orange juice. While Marty showers, "I run down and make her latte." He also shops, cleans and does the laundry. "That's my ironing pile," Jerry said, touring the bedroom. "Don't look."

"He's very happy to take care of the house," Marty said. Jerry slid into a green leather recliner to watch golf. Marty leaned over her beads, under an arched, gold ceiling. He was wearing a red golf shirt; she wore a captain's Ralph Lauren blazer with gold buttons and an anchor patch. A wrenched back had set her salute-straight posture on edge.

"It's mindless," Marty said, crimping a droplet to a latch. "It's therapy. It's the one time I'm not wound up in who's saying what on Capitol Hill about the Red Cross, what million-dollar donor you have to repair a relationship with." Reading doesn't do that: "When I read, I can't turn off the high-intensity thought process of disaster response."

Marsha Evans: Worry Beads

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