By Catherine Walsh, Senior Writer
Patrick “Pat” Portway was just eight months old when his father passed away. As a boy he found himself drawn to other relatives – especially his aunt Sister Mary Thomasine King (d. 2004). Known to her family by her birth name Grace, Sister Thomasine was the youngest of 10 children in a family that included Pat’s mother, Cecelia. “Aunt Grace was there when I most needed her, not only at Christmas and other holidays when I was a child, but also later when I most needed someone to talk to,” he says.
Pat lived with his mother and older brother in a small apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio, and put himself through the University of Cincinnati by working full-time and participating in ROTC. He had been amazed when the Russian satellite “Sputnik” orbited the earth and was inspired by a Ukrainian language instructor to switch his major from physics to political science, Russian language and culture.
After graduation Pat had a life-changing experience that shaped his later approach to philanthropy to the Sisters of Mercy, his alma mater and other causes. He had accepted a government job in Maryland and secured an apartment over the phone. When he arrived he learned he had to pay a security deposit and the first month’s rent upfront. He had almost no money and was also being called up for active military service in Army intelligence.
“I was in desperate need of help,” Pat told the University of Cincinnati Foundation. He called his ROTC commanding officer and shared his plight. The officer immediately said he would send Pat a check to cover the expenses. “Because of that act of generosity, my life was never the same, and I haven’t forgotten it,” says Pat.
His military and government work led Pat to the business world, where he became a highly regarded leader in the telecommunications industry. A trade show that his company held in California’s Anaheim Convention Center highlighting innovations in videoconferencing and collaborative computer technologies drew over 20,000 people annually. But amid his success his first marriage ended. He also suffered two strokes in his 50s.
His Aunt Grace called Pat one night when he was getting divorced. “She was wonderful. She reminded me that [stuff] happens and assured me that I would get through it,” he recalls. Pat later met his second wife Malle (nicknamed “Molly”) when she was his ballroom dance instructor. The couple recently celebrated 34 years of marriage.
After his second stroke Pat asked his aunt for advice. “I told her that the stress of my business with three trade shows a year was going to kill me, and she said she would ask the retired sisters to pray for me.” Pat was grateful for their prayers, especially when his company sold for six times the amount he was originally offered.
In gratitude, Pat and Malle set up a charitable remainder trust (CRT) for the sisters who reside at McAuley Convent in Cincinnati. The sisters recently used its funds to replace their broken refrigeration system. Last year, a luncheon celebrating this gift included Pat, his children and their spouses and a friend. Notes Pat, “It has been a pleasure to honor my Aunt Grace in this way.”