Profiles In Courage

Profiles In Courage

It’s been said in gambling circles that life is the ultimate wild card. You wake up each morning with no idea of what may come your way or how you will respond. In the last few years, Detroit jewelry designer Donna Sadler, entrepreneur Nadine Thompson, and tennis pro James Blake all endured devastating personal crises. Here, they talk candidly about their experiences and how they’ve been reshaped and, ultimately, renewed by it all. Their collective message: We each have the capacity to triumph over anything.

On a crisp December night in Motown in 1971, Albert Sadler was leaving a party when college co-ed Donna Davis walked in. Their eyes met and he instantly opted to stay. It was the first time Albert, a Chrysler employee, would change his plans to accommodate the lady he fell for, but it would hardly be the last.

When Donna started a singing group a few years later, Albert left his job to manage it. The group racked up 16 gold and platinum albums as backup singers for top names like James Brown and Aretha Franklin. The two later married.

In 1984, Donna launched a handmade accessories company. “I had been making and selling jewelry and snakeskin belts for about a year. I’d even filled orders for major stores, but when Al asked me how much money I made, I had no idea,” she recalls, laughing.

So Al, a computer geek, sat down and created a spreadsheet and helped his wife write a business plan. “It wasn’t until I saw it in black and white that I really viewed it as a business,” says Donna. “So, in that way, Al gave me my start.”

The partners in life once again became partners in business. Naming the company for its creative force, Donna D, the couple later opened a store. With no official title, Al became a jack-of-all-trades, managing the books, tracking inventory, creating a Website, and personally hooking anklets around prospective buyers’ legs when needed.

It was a shock of the worst kind when Al died suddenly in 2000. Donna was dressing for a meeting and Al was sitting on their bed. “He stopped talking,” she recalls. “I turned around and he had fallen over from a heart attack.” He was 55.

The blow was all consuming. “When you’ve been part of a team for 28 years and then someone’s gone, you don’t even know who you are,” says Donna. “Al had always taken care of everything, and he was meticulous. I knew almost nothing about the business of things. Shortly after he passed, our Website went down. When I couldn’t get it back up, my son asked if I’d paid the bill and I said, ‘What bill?’ It was one of those things Al had always just handled.”

Rejecting suggestions from others to fill some of Al’s roles, Donna insisted on going it alone. “It’s difficult to think about replacing someone, especially when it’s your husband. The only people I let in were