Project Purple Runner Mary Lunsford

“He was the life of the party. He was full of personality and always lit up the room. He was such a fun guy and he had tons of close friends,” Mary Lunsford says of her father, Graham Denton. Graham was a hard-working man who devoted as much energy to his family as he did to his work. Just as he was about to start enjoying his Golden Years, tragedy struck in the form of pancreatic cancer. Though Mary is still devastated by the loss of her father, she wanted to do something constructive to help others who have been impacted by highly the lethal illness. On November 1, 2015, Mary chose to honor the memory of her father by running with the Project Purple team at the New York City Marathon.

Clockwise from back left: Mary, Wills, Elizabeth, Graham and Anne.
Clockwise from back left: Mary, Wills, Elizabeth, Graham and Anne.

Graham Denton enjoyed a long and successful career with Bank of America. After working for the company for over thirty years, he looked forward to his retirement. Graham wanted to travel and spend time with his wife, Anne, at their home in the mountains. He was busy making plans to enjoy the next phase of his life when illness struck. For several months, Graham was plagued by abdominal pains. In 2012, he had his gallbladder removed. However, the surgery did not provide relief from the pain that he was experiencing. His doctors were perplexed as to what was bothering Graham. Finally, Graham’s daughter, Mary Lunsford, took her father for a second opinion. The second medical team sent him for a battery of tests. In April, 2012, the tests revealed that something was seriously wrong. Graham was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

Because his cancer had already progressed to stage IV, Graham was not a candidate for surgery. Instead, his only option for treatment was an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. He and Anne decided to go ahead and take the dream trip to Banff that they had been planning. Shortly after returning from Alberta, Graham took a turn for the worse. He became very ill quite quickly and passed away in January, 2013. Mary remembers her father as someone who was full of life. “He always said, ‘I don’t think cancer will ever get me!’ He thought he would live to be 100. It was such a shock to lose him this way. It was the first experience I ever had with something like this that was so out of our control.”

Mary holds a deep admiration for her father and all of the lessons he passed on to her, her sister, Elizabeth, and her half-brother, Wills.  She explains, “He was so career focused and driven. He was loyal to Bank of America and he imparted upon us a hard work ethic.”  Graham was also an enthusiastic supporter of his alma mater. Mary says, “He loved sports. My dad attended Wake Forest and it was his favorite place on earth.” Graham passed along his love for Wake Forest to Mary, who is also a Wake Forest alumni.

Graham with his grandson.
Graham with his grandson.

It was at Wake Forest that Mary met her husband Bill. The couple met during their freshman year in college and dated for seven years before getting married. They have now been married for 19 years, and have three children together: 16-year-old Liza, 13-year-old Will and 10-year-old Charlie. Mary worked as a Physician’s Assistant for many years, but these days she is a stay-at-home mom who is focused on raising her children.

Mary with her children Liza, Will and Charlie (front)
Mary with her children Liza, Will and Charlie (front)

Running has been a part of Mary’s life for many years, beginning when she was a young teen. She ran Cross Country in high school. “That’s where the love of running started,” Mary recalls. She ran for fitness during her college years, but put competitive running on the back burner when her kids were little. As they grew and became more independent, she found her way back into the sport that she loves. Over the years, Mary finished many 10ks and half-marathons. Four years ago, she ran the Marine Corps Marathon, and then followed that up with the Chicago Marathon. “The experience of finishing a marathon gives such a sense of accomplishment. You get a euphoric feeling that follows you for weeks afterwards,” Mary explains.

Mary Lunsford & friends

Mary took a break from running marathons last year, but decided that this year she wanted to run for a charity. When she had participated in her previous marathons, she had seen people who were running for a charity team and was intrigued by the idea. Mary set her sights on running the New York City Marathon, and when she found Project Purple, she knew she had discovered the perfect charity for her.

Mary Lunsford relay

Running with Project Purple has exceeded her expectations. “It has been mind-blowing,” Mary says. “The support is incredible. When I initially launched my fundraising site, within 48 hours, I had reached my goal. It is so comforting and heart-warming the way people have wanted to support me. I have been very touched by it.” While training for a marathon is never easy, she enjoys the support of her friends and running buddies, and of her husband, who helps pick up the slack at home while she trains. She has also found that training to run with a charity has helped her to keep her motivation up.

On November 1, 2015, Mary completed the New York City Marathon in 3 hours and 57 minutes. She had an incredible experience running the prestigious race. She describes her experience enthusiastically, saying, “It was awesome! I loved every minute of it. I loved meeting Dino and my other team members!”

Mary and her friend, Nancy, after the finish of the New York City Marathon
Mary and her friend, Nancy, after the finish of the New York City Marathon

Though Mary was devastated to lose her father in just 9 months to pancreatic cancer, she chose to make something positive out of her experience. Running the New York City Marathon with the Project Purple team and raising money to help others affected by the disease are Mary’s way of honoring the father she loved so dearly. Please consider making a tax deductible donation to Mary’s Project Purple fundraising campaign at the link below:

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