Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Preston Hollow’s Yvonne Crum has chaired galas, teas and luncheons to raise money for charities, but her favorite cause is the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas. In March, she hosted her 12th Fashion Stars for a Cause Gala, benefitting the center. She also was a flight attendant for Braniff and American Airlines for 46 years. But what many see on the outside — an elegant woman impeccably turned out — disguises a childhood and life that would have devastated most. When Crum was 14, her mother left her without a word after promising to take her shopping for a prom dress after school. Married to her husband, Mayo, for 50 years, she is the mother of two sons, one of whom died in a car accident. Her husband has Parkinson’s disease and is in a long-term care facility. Crum, a breast cancer survivor, visits him every afternoon. Her trademark lapis necklace with a giant “Y,” which she wears every day, was given to her by her husband on their first anniversary.

How did you get involved with the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas?

I did an event for the Mental Health Association, and Margie Wright, who’s the executive director of the Suicide and Crisis Center, was on the board. She asked if I’d be interested in doing something for the center. I said yes. I told her it’s hard to do an event for suicide. Could I make it about fashion? She said I could do anything I wanted. Each year, I pick a group of women to help raise money and change the stigma of suicide. At the beginning, Stanley Korshak was our clothing sponsor and we called the group Fresh Faces of Fashion. I didn’t have a problem with Stanley those first few years, but his representatives wanted all the women to be 5’11, 109 pounds at the most and blonde with no diversity. We did the event for two or three years, and then they decided they wanted to go another way because I kept arguing with them about the lack of diversity.

How much money have you raised for the center? 

Almost $3 million.

Did you lose someone in your family to suicide?

I did not lose my son Paul to suicide. He died in a car wreck Jan. 19, 1997. My life changed forever. I just couldn’t come to grips that there’s a child who had done nothing wrong in his life, and all he’s doing is coming home from the new Texas Motor Speedway. He had called me and asked what we were having for dinner. I said, “chicken fried steak.” And he said, “I’m coming home,” and then he didn’t come. The person who saw the wreck said a car changed lanes and didn’t speed up enough. Paul swerved, hit a concrete bridge and flipped over. If you had ever told me I would have been alive on Jan. 20th, I wouldn’t have believed it. We have another son, Michael, and he’s wonderful and has an 11-year-old.  At least I have closure with my son because I know what happened, but with suicide so many young kids don’t leave a note. It made us love life every day because you just never know.

What signs of suicide should loved ones look for?

Parents should listen. If your kid says, “I just want to kill myself” — even just offhand — you should pay attention. Once they say it more than one or two times, you’d better start watching them. It’s heartbreaking that that’s the only avenue they feel they have.

Tell me about your career as a flight attendant.

I loved it. I’d still be flying today, but I got breast cancer. I found a lump and it was Stage 3. I had had a mammogram the year before. I had to have a double mastectomy. I didn’t know my family’s history. You know, my mother left when I was 14.

Who raised you?

I came home from school one day and my mother was gone. Everything was gone except for my clothes and my bed. She was a drunk. I’ve not heard a word from her since. I went next door to tell my neighbors.  They called social welfare and I went to live in foster homes. For the longest time, I would sit and I just knew she wasn’t coming back. But I never felt like I missed anything. I didn’t have anything to prove. I didn’t have to live up to anything. I got to make my own way. It made me strong. There was always a teacher who took an interest in me. I never caused anybody any trouble.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Keep your word and always do exactly what you say you’ll do. One of my teachers told me that.

What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

Getting people to use the word “suicide.” Twelve years ago, people in Dallas weren’t even saying the word. I’m most proud that I’ve helped make it acceptable to talk about.

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