Quietly, Pearl Moore donates large amounts of money to the Cal State Long Beach athletic department, while bestowing enough support and love upon players and coaches to melt their hearts.
She and her husband, Perry Moore, a former CSULB athletic director, are especially fond of the men's basketball team. When the 49ers came into the university gym for an exhibition game last Saturday night, each player bent down to kiss her.
Her eyes revealed gratitude as she looked up from a wheelchair; she could not speak because of a tracheotomy tube in her throat.
"She's like my mom; I know she'd do anything for me," said center Frankie Edwards. "When I see her at games, it gives me an extra boost and makes me play harder, knowing what she goes through to come to the games, and that I'm her favorite player."
Edwards finds it difficult to contemplate the startling stretch of misfortune that his friend was beset with in 1989. "It's hard to see her like that because she can't talk to me," he said. "When she came here with that tube, I felt like crying."
In five months, Pearl Moore underwent two hip-replacement operations, broke an ankle and her pelvis in separate falls and underwent surgery on her wrist and back. Then she was told at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., that she has a motor disorder that could be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), and which impairs her breathing.
She and her husband, a big man in warm-up pants and a golf shirt, sat together in the bedroom of their bright east Long Beach home Sunday afternoon. Perry Moore is 59, younger than his wife, who prefers to keep her age to herself.
He has been by her side since they were married in 1987. "I guess I've gone out to the store a couple of times," said the former University of Maryland basketball player whose trademark is a cigar he chews but never smokes.
Across the room, a photo of his wife showed a happy, smartly coiffed woman holding a basketball autographed by the Long Beach team to commemorate its appearance in a 1988 National Invitation Tournament game at Stanford. Joe Harrington, the coach then, had her sit on the bench as his honorary assistant that night.
"She's the best," Harrington said by phone this week from the University of Colorado, where he is the new coach. "She gave me a lot of encouragement my first year there when everybody was down on Long Beach athletics."
Last Sunday, Pearl Moore still looked much the same as she did in that picture--bright-eyed, smiling and optimistic. "She's a strong gal," her husband said. "She always sees the positive side of everything; she's never had a negative thought in her life."
But the tube in her throat and the ventilator that helps her breathe, making the hissing, gasping sounds she detests, are constant reminders that life is not as it was just two years ago when she was still lawn bowling and showing up with her husband in such places as Stockton, Las Cruces, N.M., and Logan, Utah, to watch the 49ers.
When asked about her condition, the worst part of which is not being able to talk, she formed two words with her lips: "Very frustrating."
Doctors have not given a definite prognosis, her husband said, but he is hopeful that in a month she will be taken off the ventilator during the day so she can talk, and that in three or four months she may be walking again.
"With her determination and spirit, anything can happen," he added.
Pearl Moore, a native of Beckley, W.Va., and a former news photographer in Atlanta, has been involved with Cal State Long Beach for many years. Her late first husband, Ralph Reed, was a longtime member of the 49er Athletic Foundation and a coach at Newport Harbor High School; her daughter, Lou Kaku, who writes romance novels under the pen name Christina Dair, is an alumna, and her brother-in-law, Frank Bowman, is the university's housing director.
Reed, whose investments had made him wealthy, died in a car crash in 1985. After that, Pearl Moore began donating money to the university, and her benevolence has been directed particularly at the athletic department.
When the athletic program became so strapped for money three years ago that football was almost dropped, Pearl Moore was one of the first supporters that athletic director Corey Johnson called on.
"She stood up and said that we need to back the program in all ways," said Johnson, who estimated that she has donated about $200,000 since then.
Don Dyer, a former president of the athletic foundation, said: "She's one of the few big donors we've ever had. I wish we had a hundred like her. And her love for the program is sincere. She doesn't do it for the publicity--a lot of people don't know she's given that much. She does it for the right reason, to help the kids. She's been an inspiration to everyone."
She continues to inspire, Johnson said, "just through her will to live."
That will is strengthened by her husband, the 49er basketball players, who often visit the Moore home, and an unwavering faith.