Commentary: Lonnie Ali Shows Everybody How to Stand by Your Spouse

Her unwavering love for Muhammad Ali is a lesson all the world can learn from.

Posted: 06/30/2014 10:56 AM EDT
Lonnie and Muhammad Ali

I found Jon Saraceno’s story in the June edition of Bulletin about Lonnie Ali both heartwarming and bittersweet. It is the kind of feature I’m a sucker for. Headlined “Caring for the Champ,” the story ran a lot deeper than its title.

You don’t capture the depth of a woman’s love in 3,000 words.

For words never do love justice at least they don’t in the case of Lonnie Ali and her undying love for her man. In a world of broken relationships, a world where old men like Larry King and women like Kim Kardashian fall in and out of love as often than they change shirts, Lonnie and Muhammad Ali have ridden together the emotional roller coaster that defines life.

In her case, Lonnie Ali has stood by her infirm man when she could have left him for somebody whole. She could have put the care of Muhammad Ali in the hands of a nursing home or in-home caregivers who stuck around for the paychecks.

“Selfless” and “steadfast” are two adjectives Saraceno used to describe Lonnie Ali, because you don’t stay close to a man, even one as famous and as liked as her husband, unless selfless and steadfast are in your DNA.

Love is being there to the end, sticking around through the years when you might have to watch somebody you love disintegrate in front of your eyes.

Ali, one of the greatest fighters ever, has been disintegrating for three decades. Parkinson’s disease has robbed the champ of all that we remember best about him, and those of us of a certain age remember plenty.

We remember his title fight with Sonny Liston, a fight Ali wasn’t supposed to win; we remember Ali’s fight with the federal government over opposition to the draft, a fight he wasn’t supposed to win; and we remember his “Rumble in the Jungle” with George Foreman, a fight Ali wasn’t supposed to win.

Of course, we remember Ali’s loss to the late Joe Frazier, a fight that would tether the two fighters together for decades to come.

All of those things played out in front of us. They helped make Muhammad Ali, now 72 and in his twilight, a man larger than life.

For a period of his life, he was the most recognized person on the planet. Ali held the global status of iconic figures such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  

Yet how does a man who made his reputation in the “hurt” business find his name mentioned in the same sentence as these people?

We might never be able to figure out why Ali captured and held our affection the way he did. We might never need to figure that out, though. We simply need to appreciate that Muhammad Ali’s still here among us, still on this earth as a symbol of what a man can do when his focus is on doing good.

Even so, I’m more infatuated with Ali’s present than I am with his past, and while the present isn’t how I wish to remember Muhammad Ali, I do want to salute the person who has kept him in our thoughts.

In America, we celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; we should. But we don’t celebrate “Spouse’s Day,” which is a pity. It looks like an oversight on our part.

It seems to me that there needs to be some way, some significant way, to thank a spouse like Lonnie Ali for standing by the man she loves while death waits at his doorstep.

I wish I knew what the some way was.

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(Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive)

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