Parents of ten children have built their family and generous ministries on love, commitment and faith
By Carole Townsend
Peachtree Corners - Becky Douglas relaxes on a sofa in her home in Neely Farm, looking fresh and composed as she serves snacks and offers coffee.
Her demeanor and Southern hospitality are unruffled; one would never know that she had just negotiated rush hour traffic from Hartsfield Jackson Airport to her home in Norcross, or that she makes that drive almost as often as most people commute to work. Her hair is perfect, and her clothes impeccably coordinated. If she were asked, however, she’d say that all of that is pure accident. And then she’d laugh.
John and Becky Douglas enjoy Sunday afternoons in the backyard with their children and grandchildren.
Becky and her husband John have figured out how to do life, family and career with humor, faith, patience, generosity and a cup overflowing with love. Having ten children, they learned early on that there was really no other way to do it.
“We met on a blind date. That was the only way girls at (my college) met anyone” Becky said, laughing. She was an accomplished violinist who had just received a full scholarship to Queens College in Charlotte, NC. When she asked a fellow student where the men’s dorms were, her companion answered, “There aren’t any.” That was how Becky learned that she had accepted a scholarship to an all-women’s college. “I called and told my dad that night that Queens was an all-girls school, and he was thrilled,” Becky said, still laughing. “He told me that God had answered a prayer.”
The very first weekend that Becky was at school, a friend asked her if she wanted to go on a date with a young man, and she accepted. That date was with John Douglas. “We dated for two years, and then we both left for mission trips. I went to Virginia, and he went to Ecuador.
I was gone for eighteen months, and John for two years. We were married fourteen days after he returned. I already had the wedding invitations printed, but I wanted to see him just once again before we married,” Becky said. “And I was sure. We just knew that we were meant for each other.”
Over the years, John built a prestigious career as an attorney in the international banking industry. He is now a partner in the law firm Davis Polk & Wardell LLP, overseeing the firms area of financial institutions. Because of his position and responsibilities at the firm, the Douglases now maintain a second residence in Georgetown. Manhattan would have been an easier commute for John, but Becky wanted to find a home in the DC area. The commute to the airport for her is much easier from Georgetown, and Becky spends a lot of time in airports. John agreed, demonstrating what they both believe is critical to the success of any marriage: compromise.
Becky also travels a great deal not for career, but for love, plain and simple.
Most of the couple’s children live here, in and near their Norcross home. The Douglases have eight grandchildren, and they both spend as much time with all of the family as possible. Ten children and eight grandchildren (number nine is on the way) are most of the reason for the couple’s frequent travel. A second characteristic of a long, fruitful marriage: family, and unwavering commitment to both marriage and children.
In the leprosy colonies of India, Becky Douglas reaches out with human touch and love. Becky is the Founder of Rising Star Ministries, a charity that serves the leprosy-affected in India, and leads a life committed to serving others in need.
Their children and grandchildren are the reason for much of the couple’s travel, but not all. The Douglases, devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are passionate about helping people in need all around the world. Becky is Founder and co-Chair of Rising Star Ministries, an organization whose purpose is to help those living in leprosy colonies in India become thriving, self-sufficient communities in their country.
John has wholeheartedly supported his wife’s passion from the day she gathered three friends around their kitchen table and decided to help the people she had seen in India, who were living in deplorable conditions and considered “untouchable” by those not affected by leprosy.
Becky visited India because of the death of their daughter Amber, who was a college student when she passed away unexpectedly. Becky traveled to Utah to undertake the sorrowful task of packing up her daughter’s belongings left behind in her dorm room. Among those belongings, Becky found evidence of her daughter’s support of a tiny orphanage in India. Intrigued, and compelled to discover why her daughter was using her own limited spending money to support such a cause halfway around the world, Becky made her first trip to India to find out why. By doing so, she explained, she was honoring her daughter.
“When I returned from that trip, I knew we had to do something,” she said. And that was why in March 2002, the tiny group of friends, with John’s guidance, formed a 501(c)(3) tax-free organization.
“He supported me, even though at the time I had no idea what we were going to do, just that we had to do something,” Becky said. In 2004, the first Rising Star Outreach Children’s Home was opened, home to twenty-seven children from leprosy colonies. The rest is history.
Today, Rising Star Outreach operates a mobile medical unit, overcoming the stigma associated with even the simple act of touching leprosy-affected human beings. They have opened a beautiful, well-staffed school whose students have quickly risen to the top in achievement. Through education, medical treatment, economic development and loving acceptance of people who were previously considered “throwaways,” Rising Star Outreach today has touched more than twenty thousand lives in India. “It’s the human touch that changes people,” Becky said. Today, more than two hundred Rising Star volunteers travel to India every year to serve leprosy-affected people.
The third and fourth important principles of a strong marriage: commitment and love.
The couple’s dedication to helping others in need is not limited to India.
Right: John and Becky cutting up with some of their children during a family trip to Disney World. Part of their ancestry is Norwegian, so they had a great time in the Norway shop.
They recently returned from a three-year mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Both John and Becky spent three years there, as their Mormon faith teaches that when one is called to ministry, career and other commitments are to be put on the back burner. A serving mind set, the couple believes, is another requirement for a successful marriage.
“I remember being pregnant and morning sick, and John brought me breakfast in bed every morning. And when there were days in which all I could accomplish was ‘making a baby,’ he understood, even with a house full of kids,” Becky remembers.
The Douglases have ten children.
“When each baby turned about a year old, John would say, “Don’t you miss having a baby in the house?”
After having seven babies Becky was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had a complete hysterectomy as a result.
“We figured that with seven children, we had our family,” said Becky.
“Then a friend called from Lithuania, and she asked us whether we wanted two more children, a brother and sister, ages six and nine.” The little girl was paralyzed from the chest down and needed life-saving surgery, which she would not get as an orphan in Lithuania. “We couldn’t let a little girl die because we’d be inconvenienced, so we adopted both of them. I got the paperwork started, and I told John about it when he got home,” Becky remembers, smiling. “Of course, he agreed.”
The Douglas Family at daughter Alex’s wedding. Not pictured: Michael, who was in Guatemala.
A few years later, the couple learned of a twelve year old girl that had been living in an orphanage. She had been used as a house servant since she was five, and when the couple she served got transferred out of India, they dropped her off at the orphanage.
It took two years to get a visa to bring her to the states, so she was fourteen when she arrived. John and Becky put her in a private school (public school was not an option because taxpayers can not be required to pay for the education of a student here on a visa). She entered first grade at age fourteen, never having been in school and not speaking English. Still, she progressed quickly.
When the girl turned age fifteen, by international law, she was not legally available for adoption.
That, however, is strictly a technicality. “To this day we are her parents. She calls us Mom and Dad, and she’s in the will, so that’s about as official as it gets,” Becky said proudly. Incidentally, the Douglases’ tenth child is now working toward her Masters degree.
Douglas family vacation in Alaska. Not Pictured: Thomas, and Esther
“Treating each other with the same level of respect, kindness and understanding is important in marriage. There are times when we can’t accomplish as much for whatever reason – sickness, sadness, whatever – and we need to understand that,” she continued. Another critical point with respect to building a strong marriage: Never keep score. Never judge.
“A husband and wife must treat each other equally. Men traditionally work and earn, and they receive recognition and kudos for that. But a woman who makes a home and takes care of children deserves the same, because we are raising a family for eternity.” Therefore, respect and understanding are two more posts in the foundation of a strong marriage. “He has changed his schedule to accommodate me, and I have done the same,” Becky said (and that’s not easy in this family). “We truly value one another.”
Becky and John believe that commitment to family and marriage is paramount. “What matters more?” Becky asked, sharing an example of that commitment. “When we just had this home here in Georgia, John might have a two-day meeting in New York, and he would get teased because he’d fly home the first night just to be with his family. Then he’d fly back to New York for the second day of the meeting.”
“In forty-one years of marriage, we have had a date night every week possible,” Becky said. “And every one of our children got a ‘night with dad’ every month, on which they’d get to pick whatever they wanted to do, and it would be just them and their dad. With ten children, that meant that we’d go into a second month to get them all in, but they loved it and really looked forward to it,” she laughed.
“Another thing to remember, especially among mothers, is that you won’t be perfect. You can’t, and you can’t worry about it. As a couple, we need to remember that our spouse will not be perfect, and that’s OK.” Looking back on the time that all ten of their children were at home and in school, “there were days that I felt I did a good job if they all went out the door with matching shoes on,” Becky laughed. “They might not have been wearing matching clothes, but if their shoes matched, I felt pretty good.” She had a friend that would come over every morning for coffee, and after a little while, her friend would smile and say, “OK, I’m ready to go home. I feel better.”
“All she had to do was look at the chaos that was mornings in our home, and she felt better about going back to her own home and family. She would look at our large family and say, ‘Yes, I think we could have another child and be just fine,’” said Becky, laughing again. Incidentally, a sense of humor goes a long way toward building a lasting marriage.
“Schedules can overwhelm. You have to communicate, talk things out. That keeps a couple close. It keeps a family close. And you can’t worry about making mistakes. If you dwell on mistakes, they will begin to overwhelm you, too. Pretty soon, you can start to think that you can’t overcome them, and you might be tempted to just give up. We all make mistakes. You have to pick yourself up and go on. As long as your kids love coming home, you’re doing something right.”
There is an old saying that goes, “Kids vote with their feet.” According to Becky, if a child comes home from school and goes straight up to their room, they are stating very clearly where they want to be. If, on the other hand, they come home and want to talk to Mom or Dad about what happened that day, they are making a clear statement, as well. “Make your home a place where your kids and their friends want to be. It’s wonderful, and you will know who they’re hanging out with and what they’re doing. That’s so important,” said Becky.
Right: Becky and John with one of their Haitian missionaries. Over the last three years, over 500 missionaries served with them in the Dominican Republic coming from the United States, Europe, Australia, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, a husband and wife must learn early on to put their spouse first. If both partners can do that, everything else falls into place naturally. When one partner’s desire to excel or succeed trumps their desire to put themselves second to their spouse, the marriage gets derailed.
Esther with her six brothers at her wedding in the Dominican Republic. Not pictured: sisters Dianna and Alex due to both with pregnancies.
Romantic love comes first and is easy. It’s deep, true love, according to both Becky and John, that arms a man and woman to weather real life – the disappointments, the tragedies and the challenges.
True, lasting love takes work, commitment, selflessness, love for others, generosity and dedication to each other and to the family. In other words, “marriage for life” is not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But the Douglases will tell you that it is worth more than anything else that one can chase in a lifetime.
Becky expressed her deep love and respect for John in many ways, but she couldn’t help smiling and adding at the end of it all, “I have always felt valued. I won the lottery when I met John.”