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Published: Friday, 1/13/2006

Tragedy makes mom an advocate

Marsha Kimble knows exactly how the families of the West Virginia miners felt when they were first told their loved ones were alive, only to find out later they were dead. Those of us sitting on the sidelines reading and watching as the news unfolded have said over and over again, we couldn t believe such a mistake happened.

Mrs. Kimble, a St. Augustine resident, says believe it, such gut wrenching disappointments can happen. She has been there, done that, lived that. In my travels at home or far from it, chance meetings with people I want to know better happen. And so it was with Mrs. Kimble. Reluctantly, I signed up for a time share sales presentation, mostly because it was on the grounds of the World Golf Hall of Fame that I thought might make a column some day this winter.

Mrs. Kimble was the sales representative and asked what my profession was.

I said journalist and cookbook author. She responded that she too had written a book. She pulled a copy of Forever Changed from the cabinet. Her book couldn t be any greater contrast in subject matter. My recipes have happy endings.

The chapters in Forever Changed, written for and about an interesting cross section of Americans, are so sad it is difficult to keep the tears back when you read it. At the conclusion the reader agrees with Mrs. Kimble s advice. Appreciate what you have,  she encourages. Family time is precious. I can t touch my daughter. I can only remember our happy times. 

Mrs. Kimble s 23-year-old daughter Frankie Merrell was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Her book is a compilation of stories of 81 of the victims and survivors of that fateful day in American history, April 19, 1995.

The vignettes graphically relate the fright, the pain, and the loss of a child, spouse, or parent on a business morning that began like any other in the giant office building

I wanted people to have a voice,  Mrs. Kimble explained as her reason for the two-year work on the book. To put names and faces and lives on the 168 who died as well as the survivors it is our hope that America will cease to grow callous to terrorism within our shores.

The book was published in 1997 by Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y. It is now available in public libraries and on eBay. Most of the stories are accompanied by a photograph of the victim or survivor.

The photo of Mrs. Kimble s daughter, Frankie, is on her wedding day with her husband, who lives in Oklahoma City with his new wife and Mrs. Kimble s cherished granddaughter, Morgan.

Conversation and research about this grieving grandmother shows strength and fortitude in her relentless battle for victims rights in the judicial system that took her all the way to the U.S. Congress and to a new career in the nation s capital.

Morgan was 3 years old when her mother was killed. Mrs. Kimble stayed home from a photo journalism class that day to care for Morgan because the regular babysitter was ill.

When I heard the explosion I thought it was from the construction nearby. I feared for Morgan and me, never giving my daughter a thought,  she recalled.

Actually the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Office Building was 10 miles from her home.

From that day until this one, the tragedy is never far from Mrs. Kimble s heart and mind. There can never be a closure,  she said.

Like the disappointed miners families, Mrs. Kimble, her son, and her husband Tom Kight experienced roller coaster emotions. Their hope of Frankie s survival was short-lived. After receiving word from the American Red Cross that Frankie was alive and had been taken to a hospital, they rushed to the emergency room, only to be told there was no one by that name there.

They were accompanied to the hospital by a journalist who was eager to report a happy story amidst the tragedies.

At the Timothy McVeigh trial Mrs. Kimble learned that she and Morgan could have also been victims. In court, McVeigh said he originally planned to deliver the bomb at 11 a.m., the exact time that she was to take Morgan and meet Frankie in the credit union where she worked and was killed.

They were to have lunch there so that Frankie s co-workers could see Morgan.

Mrs. Kimble declined watching McVeigh s execution, but she never missed a day of the trial in Denver. When the families of victims and survivors were not permitted to speak at the trial, the grieving grandmother took a political stand against the judicial system.

She founded and was director of Families and Survivors United Oklahoma City.

In her testimony before the U.S Congress pleading for a constitutional amendment that would allow victims families to speak in court, she explained her new role as an advocate that evolved from her loss.

I learned I had to change if I were to live, she told the senators.

The National Victims Constitutional Amendment, recognizing that the fundamental rights of crime victims be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect in the criminal justice system, was passed by Congress Oct. 30, 2004.

Mrs. Kimble s life has taken several other turns that she defines as a growing but painful experience.

Out of desperation there came growth. It was not easy. There were times when I didn t want to live, she said.

After 9/11 she worked at a Family Assistance Center in New Jersey and accompanied families of victims to Ground Zero. She moved to Washington to work for NOVA, (National Organization for Victims Assistance.)

She served as consultant to Washington Mayor Anthony William, and wrote the victims service plan for the city before moving to St. Augustine with her new husband Jim Kimble, who she met in Washington.



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