Wednesday, April 16, 2014 12:14 AM
Photo by Kayla Faria. Tom Dugan, 76, stands with his 82-year-old bride, Theresa A. Nolan, on their wedding day July 1, 2013, in Delaware.
Published on: Wednesday, July 10, 2013
By Kayla Faria
With an out-of-tune rendition of “We Are Family,” tykes running on the dance floor, 20-somethings frequenting the open bar, country club toothpick appetizers and a too-strong bouquet toss, it looked like an average wedding.
But the ceremony was — like the couple’s first dance to the 1951 Nat King Cole classic — “Unforgettable.”
Theresa A. Nolan, an 82-year-old former Prince George’s County circuit court judge with 11 children, 29 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, married 76-year-old retired stock broker Tom Dugan on July 1 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, Del.
Photo by Kayla Faria. Theresa A. Nolan and Tom Dugan “tie the knot” July 1 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, Del.
When Patrick Nolan glanced up as he recited the Genesis verse “go forth and multiply” at the church podium, the crowd busted out laughing.
Walking down the aisle with a bride dressed in blue elegance, the Irishman wearing a green bow tie stopped to crack a joke about waving to the family-filled rows of pews.
“I used to be somebody before I married into this family,” the groom joked later at the reception.
“They’re like royalty,” Mike Dugan said of the family-oriented couple that first met in Prince George’s County around the early 1980s.
Photo by Kayla Faria. Theresa A. Nolan and Tom Dugan clasp hands during their nuptials July 1 at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bethany Beach, Del.
Mike Dugan’s toast to the married couple was a story about the time he was charged with a driving infraction and The Hon. Theresa A. Nolan presided over his court case.
“I brought my toothbrush — just in case, but Theresa was good, and she didn’t throw the book at me, and I ended up going home that night,” he said. “Dad called her later and he was like ‘I wanted to thank you for that,’ and she goes ‘Well, he reminded me of one of my sons.’”
The couple re-met on Saint Patrick’s Day in Ocean City and dated for a few years, until Tom Dugan said he wanted to live with her.
“She’s hardcore Catholic,” said Chrissy Nolan, 55, who has recently finished writing her mom’s life story. “She was not having it.”
Photo by Kayla Faria. The sons and daughters of Theresa A. Nolan and Tom Dugan pose with the newlywed couple July 1 at the Cripple Creek Golf and Country Club in Delaware.
They broke up.
About a year later, Chrissy Nolan got a call from her mother asking about what she should wear to a funeral.
“Who cares mom? Your life is funerals. You’re 82. All you do is go to funerals and the doctor. What do you mean what are you going to wear?” Chrissy Nolan said.
“I think Tom is going to be there,” the writer recalled her mother saying.
When their eyes met at the funeral, it was like “high school teen club,” Chrissy Nolan said.
Father Joseph P. Kennedy described the two as “20-year-olds” who were “ga-ga over each other” during the ceremony.
Family members described the couple’s relationship as “giddy,” “true love” and “young at heart.”
“They have a young spirit, a lot of fire,” Mike Dugan said. “Dad always said she was the one for him.”
“They click well,” said Patrick Nolan, the former judge’s eldest child. “I see a glow on Tom Dugan that I’ve never seen.”
Erin McCarthy, Nolan’s 29-year-old grandchild, also saw a glow in her grandmother.
“They’re so madly in love with each other. And age doesn’t matter,” McCarthy said. “She is so incredibly in love with Tom Dugan and, I thought, if I were in that position, I would totally want to do it, too.”
Chrissy Nolan called the 82-year-old bride a “trailblazer for women’s liberation.”
Theresa A. Nolan, a District native, was elected the first woman president of the Prince George’s County Bar Association, received the Rita C. Davidson Award from the Maryland Women’s Bar Association and was named one of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women” by the Daily Record.
Her career started as a stenographer at a law firm after being a stay-at-home mother for 10 years. The law firm sent her to the University of Baltimore where she enrolled at the age of 37 when her youngest child was 2 years old.
Theresa A. Nolan earned her law degree in 1975 and was admitted to the Maryland Bar a year later. She practiced law for four years before being appointed Master for Domestic Relations Causes, then District Court judge and ultimately Circuit Court judge. She worked as an instructor at Prince George’s Community College and the University of Maryland.
The former judge also donates to Walking With Anthony, a nonprofit organization inspired by her grandson Anthony Purcell, who became paralyzed after a driving accident, said Micki Purcell, the organization’s founder and Theresa A. Nolan’s daughter. The funds are dedicated to raising awareness and helping spinal cord injury victims.
“She did it all,” Chrissy Nolan said. “She’s just amazing.”
She has been “an inspiration” for McCarthy who decided to apply to Georgetown University’s graduate school after watching a slideshow of her grandmother’s life at the trailblazer’s 80th birthday party.
Her grandmother’s advice to take life “day by day” helped her juggle work, coaching and school.
“It’s really what got me through grad school,” said McCarthy, who earned her degree in sports industry management in May.
Theresa Nolan Breslin, 26, also drew strength from her grandmother in her first year at law school.
“I would say to myself all the time,” she continued, “if grandma could do it with my dad (the 10th child) and 10 other kids just like him, I can do this.”
Nolan’s daughter, Joanne Kowalczyk, said she has also used a variation of the mantra as a mother of three daughters.
“If they complain, I say, ‘Look grandma had 11 kids and went to law school. I don’t want to hear it.’”
Breslin, the 26-year-old lawyer and a 2012 University of Miami graduate, contacts the former judge for career advice “all the time.” Her wealth of wisdom and knowledge has been “instrumental,” Breslin said.
She still remembers doing an eighth-grade project on her grandmother’s life story and learning about how she considered entering a convent.
“She’s just a great role model in our faith and in our careers,” Breslin said.
The namesake had asked her grandmother why she was choosing to get married at 82. And Breslin said her grandmother responded: “I want to set a good example for all (your) cousins.”
McCarthy said her grandmother has a “special relationship” with all her cousins.
“It still boggles my mind how she will not miss like a First Communion, she will not miss a Confirmation, she will not miss a graduation — like even kindergarten graduations.”
Chrissy Nolan is most impressed by her mother’s “devotion to family.”
“Every one of her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, she has a personal relationship with everybody. It’s just phenomenal,” she said. “She has kept the family together.”
The Nolan family touts its closeness, despite living in different states throughout the county.
“In this family, we’re so tight-knit, if anybody brings in a boyfriend or a girlfriend, they go through like a hazing process,” Breslin said. Her husband William Breslin went through it. “So it was the same thing for him (Tom Dugan). We were like, ‘Who is this guy?’”
Breslin said Tom Dugan “fit right in” after the family got to know him.
“Tom is that missing piece of the puzzle, totally brings everything back together,” McCarthy said.
Still, McCarthy’s initial reaction to the engagement was one of puzzlement.
“When I heard she was engaged, I was like, ‘What? Are you serious? Grandma? Grandma Nolan?”
But after thinking about it, McCarthy was not surprised, “knowing her life and the way she lives it and just lives every (day) to the fullest.”
Theresa A. Nolan has had her hip and knee replaced. She suffers from macular degeneration, a medical condition that destroys the part of the eye that provides sharp, central vision needed for seeing objects clearly, according to the National Eye Institute.
But it was unnoticeable when the 82-year-old walked down the aisle. And it went unnoticed as she danced with her great-grandchildren.
“She’s just never thrown the towel in. It’s like she just keeps going and going and going (and) she will have enthusiasm for life until her last day,” Chrissy Nolan said. “They’re just going to enjoy it to the end.”
Posted By: Yvette Johnson On: 10/11/2013
Title: DoD Loaned Executive
OMG! I have highly revered Mrs. Nolan from the day I met her at USDA Graduate School where she was our family law professor in 1984/85. She inspired, encouraged and motivated me with her story of being a single mom with 11 kids at the time. She inspired me to a successful government career and more. Graduate School edu did a story on me about a year or two ago, telling how the professors impacted my life. I named Mrs. Nolan, as the one who was the one to inspired me and propelled me to be successful in my career. I told school that I would never forget her and I continue to give her praise for what she taught me from her personal story to the knowledge she provided me as a professor. I said that I was going to look her up to thank her for inspiring me as a single mother working two jobs and going to school. Me and two of my still best friends and co-workers, Phyllis Scott-Drewery (Bonnette) and Romona Ashby (Thomas), would sit on the front row of her class eager to hear what she taught us. We clung to her every word. We loved Mrs. Nolan and still do because she was one sole source of our inspiration, outside of God, who is first and foremost in our lives. We thank God that He connected us to Mrs. Nolan. I would love to talk to her if possible to let her know that little did any of us know that she was "heaven-sent" and that we appreciate and love her still. As Mrs. Nolan daughter Chrissy said, her mom was a "trailblazer for women's liberation" and to echo daughter Theresa Nolan Breslin, she was a "great role model." I would love to hear from Mrs. Nolan if possible to tell her the impact she had on my life and tell of her of my successes. I'm so happy that she has found happiness. She is so deserving of this and more. My prayer is that God continue to bless her truly beyond measure for her good deeds and work. She can contact me at 202-251-0381 (c).
Posted By: Joanne Kowalczyk On: 7/20/2013
What an outstanding article! Kayla did an unbelievable job in capturing this great event.
Posted By: Micki Purcell On: 7/12/2013
Title: 82 year old gets married
Kayla did an outstanding job of capturing this major event to us.