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‘Profoundly Normal’ Inspirational Walter Reed Bethesda Employee Retires

06/09/2017

By Bernard S. Little

WRNMMC Command Communications

Donna Thornton is a bit of a celebrity at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Actress Kristie Alley portrayed her in the 2003 television movie “Profoundly Normal,” with actor Delroy Lindo portraying Thornton’s husband Ricardo.

The movie depicts the many obstacles the Thorntons faced trying to live normally despite prejudice and barriers they overcame because of the attitudes of others concerning the couple’s mental abilities and race.
But it isn’t the movie that’s made Donna so popular at WRNMMC, and before that, its predecessor Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It’s her strength and personality that attract those who have met her over the course of her 28 years of dedicated service.
Although short in stature at well under 5 feet tall, Donna possesses a big personality and sharp wit, and people who know her attest to her inner fortitude. She’s a fighter, they say, standing up for what she believes in, which over the years has included her battles to live independently, marry Ricardo, have a child and raise him successfully when others said she wouldn’t be able to do any of it.
Others also doubted Donna would work at Walter Reed Bethesda for nearly three decades, but she never doubted it, dutifully and proudly performing her housekeeping tasks each day at the medical center that served as her second home.
On May 31, Donna retired from the job to which she has diligently showed up over the years, even making the trek to work through snowstorms when at the “old” Walter Reed, it was practically walking distance from their home, joked Ricardo during her retirement ceremony May 25 at WRNMMC.
“Donna’s a handful,” laughed Lorenzo Barnes, a supervisor in the Facilities Department at WRNMMC and a co-worker of hers since 1991. “She’ll tell you in a minute, ‘Get out of my face,’ but it’s been a wonderful ride with Donna because I can come to work angry, and she’ll say, ‘Unh-uh!’ She keeps me straight on a day-to-day basis. I look at her as I would a member of my family.”
Donna thanked her co-workers, “all of them” she has worked with over the years. “I will never, ever forget [them]. They’re in my prayers every day,” she said through tears after receiving a bouquet of rose from her husband.
“I want to thank all of you for the love you have shown Donna through the years,” said Ricardo. The two married in 1984.
“I was trying hard to bring my son, Ricky Jr., here today [for the retirement ceremony], because he’s the future,” Ricardo added.
Recalling back when 60 Minutes covered the birth of their son in 1986, Ricardo explained one of the questions he remembered Donna asked the doctors then was, “Will my baby be able to love me [with] my abilities?” He said this let many people know then it wasn’t about the couple’s perceived mental disabilities, but their abilities to be good, productive, strong parents and hardworking people in the community. Their son now has a family of his own.
Donna intends to spend time with her grandchildren, in addition to visiting Hawaii, as part of her retirement plans.
She also speaks of continuing to advocate for and help people with disabilities, which she has done throughout the years, including trips to Capitol Hill to testify and speak with members of Congress on these issues, as well as a visited the White House where she met President Bill Clinton. Ricardo still teases her about Clinton’s friendly kiss on her cheek.
“We already know she’s still going to be busy, so Donna, keep doing your thing,” Barnes said.
“Oh, I will,” she quickly replied back.
George Donovan, housekeeping program analyst and Donna’s supervisor, said her story of overcoming numerous challenges and naysayers has served as a strong motivation for many other people, including her colleagues.
“Her personality encourages everyone else to do the best they can,” said Donovan. He added she radiates kindness. “Working at Walter Reed over the years, I’ve gotten the opportunity to meet presidents and other VIPs, but Donna is the best thing to happen to me here and at the top of my list. You are going to be truly missed.”
Navy Cmdr. Gregg Benton, chief of the Facilities Management Department at WRNMMC, presented Donna with a flag flown over the medical center, and Navy Lt. j.g. Sanjay Selvam, assistant chief of FMD, presented her with her federal government retirement certificate and pin.
Benton said nearly every day Donna gives him a thumbs-up when she sees him, and always asks him about his children, if he is keeping them safe and about his plans for the weekend. “I really appreciate everything she has done for us, our country and the barriers she has broken through,” he added.
Bobby Potts, Donna’s residential manager, also attended her retirement ceremony.  “I have seen the love and support Donna received from those she’s worked with over the years,” he said. “I’ve been with Donna and Ricardo for 32 years, so we’re like family.”
Army Col. Charles Unruh, director for administration at WRNMMC, was also on hand to congratulate the Thorntons. “I want to thank you Ma’am for what you have done to inspire me.” He added that those who’ve heard or seen her story usually come away with the thought, “How do I be more like Donna?”
“Everybody you’ve touched during your time here will be better because of it,” Unruh added.