Olga Goodwin shows a New Yorker article about her husband, William Morgan, a Toledoan who became the ‘Yanqui Comandante' but was later executed by firing squad.
In many ways, South Toledo resident Olga Goodwin is a typical Midwestern grandmother.
The 76-year-old volunteers at her church, makes dinner for her husband each evening at 5 o'clock, and spends her free time learning the art of Google searches.
But the energetic Cuban native has been fighting a fierce battle for more than a decade: to bring home to Toledo the remains of her late husband, William Morgan, a celebrated rebel soldier who left Toledo in 1957 to fight for her country during the Cuban revolution and died at the hands of Fidel Castro's army.
"William did his best for my country. He said when he found me, he found everything," Mrs. Goodwin said of their meeting in the midst of the fighting in her native land.
It's a story that she has carried with her since leaving Cuba in 1980, and one that has attracted the attention of Hollywood actor and director George Clooney.
William Morgan is buried in Havana. His widow seeks to bring his body back to Toledo.
Clooney is in the process of optioning the dramatic rights to Mrs. Goodwin's life story for a Hollywood production, according to her attorney, Jon Richardson.
In her first interview since the deal, Mrs. Goodwin expressed hope that big-screen publicity will bring an end to a saga that began in Cuba 54 years ago and will conclude, she prays, here in Toledo.
In 1958, Cuba was under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and Olga had taken up arms in the resistance. While in Castro's army, she met Mr. Morgan, whose story seems made for Hollywood.
Born in 1928, Mr. Morgan grew up in Toledo's Old West End, but did not stay there for long. In Chicago, he joined the circus. In Japan, he served in the Army but went AWOL, then escaped from military prison. He returned to Toledo for a period of time, during which he worked as a janitor in Rosary Cathedral. Later, he left again, joining a carnival in Florida as a flame swallower and marrying the snake charmer.
But in 1957, he left his family behind to join the revolution in Cuba. Mr. Morgan quickly ascended the ranks of Castro's forces, earning the title "Yankee Comandante."
Divorced from his first wife after his departure to fight, Mr. Morgan married Olga in a farmhouse in the mountains in 1958, according to a 2002 series in The Blade.
The quality in Mr. Morgan that the now-remarried Mrs. Goodwin remembers best was his devotion to her country's freedom, but for that characteristic, Mr. Morgan paid with his life. He dissented when Castro aligned with the Soviet Union, and Castro's forces arrested the couple on Oct. 17, 1960, a date that Mrs. Goodwin knows by heart. On March 11, 1961, Mr. Morgan was executed by firing squad in Havana.
His end was just the beginning for Mrs. Goodwin. After more than a decade in prison, she left Cuba in 1980, spending several days in Miami before flying to Mr. Morgan's hometown.
"I was always going to Toledo," she recalled. "It was always a one-way ticket."
In the Glass City, Mrs. Goodwin met Loretta Morgan, her late husband's mother, whose dying wish in 1988 became Mrs. Goodwin's mission: Bury William's remains in his family plot in Toledo.
William Morgan, from Toledo, and his wife, Olga, in the mountains of Cuba, met as rebel fighters. He became a prominent commander but was executed. For years, his wife, now Olga Goodwin, has tried to bring his body back.
Mrs. Goodwin's early efforts to retrieve her late husband's remains from Cuba were the subject of The Blade series, and her story won her support.
That year, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo Hispanic Affairs Commission and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, wrote a letter to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington on her behalf, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) discussed Mr. Morgan's remains with Castro himself during an official visit to Cuba.
"I spent a great deal of effort [trying to get] the remains back," Miss Kaptur said last week in a phone interview.
Those efforts appeared to be successful when Castro pledged in 2002 to send the remains to Toledo.
But the deal fell through. Despite Castro's agreement, Mr. Morgan's body is still in Havana. Neither Mr. Velasquez nor Miss Kaptur has worked on Mrs. Goodwin's behalf since 2002, and neither knows where the repatriation efforts stand today.
Yet Mrs. Goodwin has not given up.
Some of her efforts were public. She wrote to the George W. Bush administration in 2005, threatening a hunger strike if the government ignored her plight. Toledo lawyer Opie Rollison petitioned the U.S. government on her behalf to reinstate Mr. Morgan's American citizenship, only to learn in 2007 that it had never been revoked. Mrs. Goodwin also undertook more private efforts.
"I prayed and prayed, to the rosary sometimes," said Mrs. Goodwin, an active member of Augsburg Lutheran Church in West Toledo.
Early this spring, her prayers were answered when David Grann wrote an article about Mr. Morgan in the New Yorker magazine. During the writing process, he asked Mr. Richardson — Mrs. Goodwin's lawyer for the issue of the potential movie deal, who said that recently he has become "the guard dog sitting on Olga's front porch" — for permission to interview her. Mr. Richardson and Mrs. Goodwin initially were hesitant.
"If I don't like you, I won't talk to you," Mrs. Goodwin snapped, her voice then softening as she described Mr. Grann. "I saw in his eyes I could trust him. When he opened his mouth, after one word, I said, ‘I'll speak to you forever.'?"
She spoke similarly of Clooney. Although Mr. Richardson declined to discuss the specifics of the deal with the actor, he said that a number of major Hollywood figures — "real shooters," he labeled them — contacted Mr. Grann after his article ran May 28.
Mr. Grann and his legal team, in turn, reached out to Mrs. Goodwin and Mr. Richardson.
Although she does not always remember Clooney's name — calling him "the movie one" — Mrs. Goodwin knew immediately that the Academy Award-winning actor and director was the right choice, partially because of his past advocacy for human rights. Although all parties are still involved in negotiations, Mr. Richardson said he expects the contract on his desk sometime this week.
"I trust him. I know he's looking for the same thing I'm looking for in my life," Mrs. Goodwin explained. "I've never met him, but I feel very comfortable inside. I know he won't lie."
She also sees a piece of her former husband's fierce spirit in Clooney. It is a trait that she shares as well, though she wrinkled her nose at the comparison.
"Many people want to do good, and some people do, but most people just sit there. It's not right. But he wants to do something," Mrs. Goodwin said of Clooney. "He's very active. I like that."
If the movie does come to fruition, the first thing Mrs. Goodwin said she plans to do when she meets Clooney is hug him, then thank him.
Yet the production of the movie, which she is confident will portray Mr. Morgan accurately, is just another step in her long quest for the repatriation of his remains, albeit a potentially ground-breaking one.
Mrs. Goodwin does not plan to use money from the movie option to fund her efforts — Mr. Rollison handles the proceedings regarding Mr. Morgan's remains at no charge — but she does hope that publicity from a major motion picture will spread her former husband's story, especially his devotion to Cuba.
It could be, she hopes, the final push she needs to lay his remains to rest in his hometown, finally paying him back for the sacrifices he made for her country.
"He loved Toledo," Mrs. Goodwin said of her late husband. "I promised I would do this, and this is all I have wanted."
Contact Jessica Shor at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6516.
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