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Roxie Campanella, 77; Dodger Great's Widow Continued His Work

March 15, 2004|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Roxie Campanella, the widow of Dodger Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella and a tireless advocate for victims of spinal cord injury, died of cancer Sunday at her Woodland Hills home. She was 77.

Although Roy Campanella never played a game for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Roxie Campanella was a beloved presence at Dodger Stadium.

Roy Campanella was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January 1958, after the Dodgers completed their final season in Brooklyn. Campanella's first wife, Ruthe, died of a cerebral hemorrhage not long afterward. The Dodger great subsequently met Roxie Doles, a nurse, and they were married in 1963.

The Campanellas followed the team to Southern California in the late 1970s, and Roxie accompanied her wheelchair-using husband to games until his death in 1993 and visited her many baseball friends at games thereafter.

"Roxie was a remarkable woman," Vin Scully, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, said in a statement released by the Dodgers. "She had the unwavering strength to support her husband during his physical problems and then continued her battle for life even though she knew her time was limited. She was a true inspiration, just as Roy was."

There were public moments of awe in Roy Campanella's life, including a 1959 tribute in which 93,000 fans in a darkened Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum lighted candles in his honor. There were private moments of struggle, as the three-time National League Most Valuable Player adjusted to the sudden loss of his career and his ability to walk.

"Roy always told me that Roxie was the reason that he was able to carry on," Don Newcombe, a teammate on the Brooklyn Dodgers' lone World Series championship team of 1955, said in a statement released by the Dodgers.

"For that, she will always have a special place in my heart."

After Campanella's death from a heart attack, Roxie Campanella carried on her husband's legacy of visiting paralyzed patients in hospitals and care facilities, reminding them that their minds had not failed them even if their bodies had.

She also pursued better care for the next generation of victims of spinal cord injury.

Starting in 1994, the Roy and Roxie Campanella Foundation provided more than $169,000 in physical therapy scholarships to 109 students, according the foundation's website.

Last year, with her health failing, she put her husband's memorabilia collection -- including three MVP awards -- up for bid. The auction raised more than $600,000 in scholarship money for the foundation.

Her death leaves the Dodgers without one of their most devoted fans. In 1999, she told The Times that she never considered skipping trips to Dodger Stadium after her husband died. She was alone, perhaps, but she was unfailingly greeted there by a parade of fans, players, coaches and team officials.

"This has been part of my life for long, long time," she said. "When I leave the house to come to the ballgame, I feel like I'm coming home."

Details on survivors and funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

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