b Hundreds Mourn Nancy Dunning's Untimely Death -b

Hundreds of mourners packed the aisles of St. Rita Church in Alexandria last week to pay last respects to Nancy Dunning, the slain wife of Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning. Dunning, 56, was a prominent real estate agent for McEnearney Associates in Old Town Alexandria. Described as a pillar of the community, she was a trusted friend and a valuable resource to many who had come to know her through her work and service throughout the area. Recognized among peers for her honesty and integrity, Dunning was especially popular among young couples looking for homes, and helped establish the community as a true neighborhood. She was an active member of the Del Ray Civic Association, a columnist for the Alexandria Gazette and a supporter of community arts and education. U.S. Rep. James Moran (D), a family friend, said Dunning "pulled people together and made the community a family. "Her death is a tremendous loss," he said. According to reports, Dunning was found dead at the bottom of a staircase inside the family?s home on West Mount Ida Avenue shortly after noon on Dec. 5. When she failed to show up for a lunch meeting with her husband and son, Christopher, who worked with her at McEnearney Associates, they returned home separately looking for her. When the police and paramedics arrived, Dunning was pronounced dead. Father James Walsh, S.J., a long-time family friend from Boston was the principal celebrant and homilist at a Mass of remembrance attended by family, friends, colleagues, City Councilors and state lawmakers. "We have all died this death," said Father Walsh, who knew Nancy Dunning for more than three decades and married the Dunnings 28 years ago. "Nancy was a gift ? directly or indirectly to each of us here today," he said. "As the pain recedes, we will feel her life as a gift." Acknowledging the feelings of shock and anger that accompany sudden and violent death, Father Walsh told mourners that it was important to grieve. "We must entertain the grief and anger? But when the grief and anger come knocking at the door months later, it is not all that is there. We can also listen to the voice of hope. "Despite the horror of her sudden death, Nancy?s life is a gift?. Today we return the gift to God. Let us honor Nancy Dunning?s gifts to us, her great love, as we continue our own experience them in our own life journeys." Father Denis M. Donahue, pastor of St. Rita Parish where Nancy Dunning frequently attended Mass, and Father John C. Cregan, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, where she was a registered parishioner, concelebrated the liturgy. A Connecticut native, Dunning came from a family of 12. In addition to her husband and two children, Elizabeth and Christopher, both in their twenties, family relatives occupied several rows of reserved seating in the front of the church. She moved to the area with her husband in the mid-1970s. Her sister, Patricia Moran, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, gave one of two eulogies at the end of the hour-long ceremony. "I could spend all day telling you my Nancy stories," she said. "But you know them all: the honest Nancy, the dedicated Nancy, the courageous Nancy, the humble Nancy, the unpretentious Nancy, kind Nancy, the listening Nancy, truthful Nancy, funny Nancy, the organized Nancy, the not-fancy Nancy, the Nancy who never gave up on anyone, who truly cared for everyone. "We will all thank you from the bottom of our broken hearts. We will carry on, we will never forget you." In a second eulogy, Elizabeth Dunning remembered her mother as someone who "loved to laugh," whose joy and optimism permeated her life, and who had a tremendous capacity for friendship. "Mom made it clear that every day had something good abut it," she said. "It did not take much to be my Mom?s friend. She wanted ? to know people, so she lit them up when she talked." Following the funeral, many went directly to a reception at Jack Taylor?s Toyota Dealership in Alexandria sponsored by Jack Taylor, family friend and owner of the dealership. Photo collages and remembrances of Nancy Dunning?s life filled several tables in the packed showroom. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent to one of Nancy Dunning?s favorite charities, the Higher Achievement Program Scholarship Fund of Alexandria or Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, Md. At a news conference last Friday, family and friends announced a reward fund for information leading to the arrest and indictment of a suspect in Dunning's death. Former Alexandria City Council member Lonnie C. Rich, a family friend, read a brief statement from James Dunning. The sheriff thanked those who have supported the family in his first public statement since his wife?s death and expressed his gratitude for the overwhelming response to the reward fund, already at $70,000. "You have been a tremendous source of comfort for us," Dunning said. "I asked Lonnie to set up this fund and am overwhelmed by the response so far. So many friends have contributed, and that is another testament to Nancy."

Copyright ?2003 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2003

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