“She was what you call ‘Fearless.’ Nothing would get in her way,” Don Combs said, describing his late wife, Deborah Meenach-Combs, who passed nearly three years ago following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
“Nothing would get in her way of finding something out. She would ask the hard questions I would not ask,” he added.
Don and Deborah spent her last two years as husband and wife.
“She was diagnosed six months after we were married and she died a year and a half later,” he said.
Combs smiles and speaks softly as he recalls their time together, as well as the way she dealt with her diagnosis. Their romance began, he said, after he began attending local school board meetings as a representative of the local chamber of commerce.
“It allowed us to realize we both had a passion for education, and we realized in many ways that we were compatible,” he said. “The thing was, we really respected each other.”
A jazz enthusiast, Combs said he was thrilled the first time Deborah rode in his car and recognized the music he loves. “I had Sirius (XM) on and she said, ‘Is that Watercolors?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
Jazz Meets Blues
Deborah thoroughly enjoyed music and adventures, he said.
“Music was her thing,” he said, nodding as he remembered her request to have a live band play blues music during her funeral visitation.
“She loved the blues especially. Don’t ask me where that came from! She definitely did not fit the mold. I’ll put it that way.”
“And she loved to travel. She was not shy about trying new stuff. We went to Europe a couple of times but she had been there before five or six times herself. She just loved exploring. We loved Italy … Rome and Florence were a couple of our favorite places.”
Courage and Cancer
The word “fearless” comes up again and again as he describes how Deborah faced her cancer diagnosis. Her courage was particularly evident as she dismissed all thoughts of wigs or vanity when she lost her hair during chemotherapy.
“That’s the way she dealt with everything … it did not faze her,” he said. “Sure, she had moments but she never let it show.”
Smiling, he adds “She grew up among strong country women, but she was not the typical country person.”
Many local students learned lessons in “Miss Meenach’s” class, although Combs believes she often taught things which were not in the textbooks.
“She was a home economics teacher, but I dare say she was not known for her home economics skills,” he said, explaining she was far more enthusiastic about related leadership programs including FBLA.
“That was her real passion. She loved to see students develop into leaders,” he said, adding “I sat in on a couple of her classes. To me they were chaos, but that was her style. She was always encouraging. I think that’s what her students would tell you – even when they didn’t deserve it.”
Don says he tries to remain positive as he carries her memory in his heart and mind.
“But still, you get used to all the things we did together and how much we enjoyed each other. That will be difficult to replace.”
“I think her legacy would be one of involvement and encouragement. She enjoyed seeing other people have success,” Combs said.
“She went to something everyday (after her cancer diagnosis) so she could get out and talk to people and be involved in the community,” he said.
Honoring Her Memory
Combs invites everyone who knew her to join for an upcoming event, a 5K run/Walk by the Nicholas Yancey Nischan Foundation in memory of Deborah Meenach-Combs and Brother Paul Schmidt, set for October 11 (see ad on Carter County Post for details).
“This is the fourth year we have done it and we are probably going to pass it on to someone else next year,” Combs said, noting he likes the idea of the annual run going on to serve others many years from now.
“They can walk or run or just show up, get a T-shirt and help fund the scholarship,” he said, citing the foundation’s annual $1,000 scholarship to an East Carter High School student who demonstrates leadership skills.