03: Horace and Amy

Horace’s first wife, the former Margaret O’Keefe, was a strong, talented woman with political views vastly more progressive than her husband’s. Together, they had six children: Peter, Susan, Jim, Kate, Robert and Paul. When the children were grown, she worked as a hospital volunteer, earned a degree in medical administration, and rose to the position of associate director of medical records at North Shore University Hospital, which later became North Shore-LIJ Health System, then Northwell Health.

But Margaret Hagedorn was more than her work at the hospital, Susan said. She volunteered generously in a variety of ways, always pushing the family’s philanthropy toward organizations such as the NAACP. She taught her children well about the evils of racism and the Ku Klux Klan, which was a vicious presence on Long Island. “Every volunteer work that she did just made such a difference,” Susan said. “I mean, she was constantly giving to others.” Even as she struggled with cancer, she started a fund designed to help patients through the mental stresses of coping with the disease. She died in 1984, at the age of 67.

In the absence of his wife, Horace took solace in sailing. He dated occasionally, but not seriously. Then, at the start of 1985, he read an intriguing personal ad in a weekly newspaper: “Winter weather causes this dark-haired, athletic woman, late forties, to read seed catalogues, listen to reggae, dream of sailing and yearn for romance. Where is the warm-hearted man with a cool head and charming manner who will share all my seasons?”

Horace had no idea who the woman was, and he couldn’t address her by name in his reply to the post office box listed in the ad. So, in his brief letter of response, he made up a name for her, Miss Winter, based on the first word of her ad. Horace told her that he liked her advertising style and her preference for sailing, and he invited her to lunch or dinner. He signed it simply: “Miracle Man.”

When Amy told her daughter, Lisa Valentine, about the handwritten “Miracle Man” letter, on fancy corporate letterhead, Lisa didn’t hesitate with her advice. “I said, ‘Go out with him!’ ” So Amy did: lunch at Finn McCool’s in Port Washington. And she reported back to Lisa.

“She got to the restaurant first, and she was sitting in a booth, so that she could see the front door and the window at Finn McCool’s,” Lisa said. “When he walked in, her first impression was, ‘He’s old!’ You have to understand: She was 48. He was 69. But he was a very young 69. And the rest is history. They were literally together from that day on.”

They were together, but they weren’t alike. He was more than two decades older and far more conservative. “Basically, he was Republican, and he was born rich,” Amy said. His father used to talk to Horace about the meaning of one percent of a million dollars—a calculation that didn’t exist in Amy’s family. “What I learned from my family was that, when you visit, you should kick the door, and that meant that your arms were full,” she said. “You were bringing food or some other things. His father was telling him how to get along in the world, and my grandfather was telling us, bring things to the next generation—about as different as you could be and still live in the same country. So we had different mindsets.”

Still, something about his manner appealed to Amy. “I guess it was that he was a gentleman; the way he treated me was different from what I had experienced before,” Amy recalled. And Horace loved her lingering frugality, which had been a real necessity after Amy’s first marriage had ended.

The marriage of Amelia Maiello and Joe Valentine had brought four children: Joseph, Andrew, David, and Lisa. Amy had a degree from Baruch College and had taken education courses at Queens College, as her children were growing up. She had done some substitute teaching, and she had wanted to teach English at the secondary school level. But a simple question from Lisa, then about eight, started her on the road to a career teaching pre-kindergarten.

The question arose because Amy, who had once envisioned working for the church as her future, was not much involved with the church in her present. Though faith was always a dimension of Amy’s life, when Lisa was young, and the family wasn’t regularly attending Mass, Lisa wondered where she belonged, religiously. “All my friends were Jewish,” Lisa said. “And I said, ‘Where is our temple?’ ”

That innocent question brought swift results. “Oh, I felt a tremendous wave of guilt that she was wanting to belong, and we were, you know, outsiders,” Amy recalled. “So that week, right away, I took her to St. Aloysius.” They began attending Mass regularly. “ ‘And a little child shall lead them,’ ” Amy said. “Here’s Lisa bringing her family to the church.”

Soon after, Amy learned that the Great Neck parish was starting a pre-kindergarten—in a house separate from the parish school. So Amy reworked her resume, from its emphasis on English in junior high and senior high to her early-childhood experience. “I had four kids,” Amy said, “and I did have a New York State teaching license that said nursery through eighth grade.”

In that new preschool, Lisa sometimes had a chance to watch her mother as a teacher. “I saw her have a command of the classroom and a telepathy with three-, four-, and five-year-olds, and in some cases with two-year-olds,” Lisa said. “The kids got her, and she really got the kids.”

Amy started that parish pre-K from scratch and stayed there 12 years. It was during that time that her marriage to Joe Valentine ended, in late 1980, and she became a single mother. So, when she had a chance to increase her income by teaching in a public school setting, she took it—at a new preschool for the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park Union Free School District, at the Hillside Grade School in New Hyde Park.

In all, between St. Aloysius and Hillside, Amy taught pre-K for more than two decades. During her single-mother years, after 23 years of marriage and an annulment, she coped with an always-in-need-of-repair house, plus caring for her own four children and those in the classroom. “She was a rock-star single mother,” Lisa said. “I’m a single mother, and she’s my role model.” One of Amy’s strengths in those years was a talent for making the most of what she had. “She knew how to stretch it. She was a power-couponer,” Lisa said. “She made sure we had the things we needed.”

Then she wrote her short, powerful ad. It caught the attention of Horace Hagedorn at the start of 1985, and in November 1986, they were married. A decade later, the Miracle-Gro merger with Scotts brought Horace the $40 million that enabled their serious philanthropy.

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