In the Name of Luv
Soon after Carolyn Mattingly was murdered in her Potomac home, her husband, Richard dedicated his life to making something good come out of the tragedy
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In 1987, Carolyn gave birth to Christin, and eight years later the family moved from North Potomac to the house on Great Elm Drive. The three of them were a team. “We went everywhere together,” Mattingly says. As Christin got older, she and her mom ran in races together. They texted every day, Christin says, and she called her mother every evening as she drove home from work. “She just had a big heart and was my biggest fan. Not just my biggest fan, but my friends’ biggest fan,” says Christin, a senior manager for account and brand strategy at the American Diabetes Association. “Everyone got a sense of warmth from her and loved her.”
After Carolyn’s death, Mattingly immersed himself in launching The Luv u Project, dedicating his time to learning everything he could about mental illness. “One thing for sure about our family is we’re very driven and motivated,” Christin says. “It got to the point where we [were] like, ‘Are we going to stay in the house all day long?’ We had a few days like that, but it wasn’t that long. He started doing what he does best—that’s helping others.”
Richard Mattingly (center), his daughter, Christin, and her husband, Alex Lewis, discuss work for The Luv u Project, the nonprofit started in Carolyn’s honor. Photo by Michael Ventura
Mattingly drove all over the region in search of experts. His reputation with the CF Foundation opened some doors; his personal tragedy opened others. When people wondered who this man was asking for their time, Mattingly sometimes told them, “Just Google me.” When they read about the murder, they called him back.
He sat down with academics from Johns Hopkins University and officials at the National Institutes of Health. He met with congressional staffers and spoke with mental health care leaders and private sector executives. But the work couldn’t replace the hole left by his wife’s death. Even now, a 15-hour workday may only take him from his office on one side of his apartment to his bedroom on the other. “I’m lonely,” he says.
Asked if his work with The Luv u Project has brought him closer to forgiving his wife’s killer—whose relatives declined to comment for this story—Mattingly pauses. “That’s not somewhere I want to go,” he says. He’s never heard from Racca’s family. “I’m going to fight for the well-being of any human I can help.”
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Mattingly has had to tell the story of his wife’s death over and over—to reporters, donors, nonprofit partners. In May, he told it at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where The Luv u Project was presenting its first Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health Reporting. Mattingly sees the award as key to bringing mental health issues to the forefront of public awareness, hopefully making an impact the way Watergate reporting did when he was young. The award comes with a $10,000 check from the nonprofit, the same amount as a Pulitzer Prize. This year’s award went to reporters from rival Florida newspapers who teamed up for a joint investigation of that state’s mental health hospitals.
“What amazed me is that somebody can go through—that a family can go through such a horrible moment and then come out after it with love,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Michael Braga said as he accepted the award. “My heart would be filled with vengeance. I wouldn’t be filled with love.”
Speaking events aren’t easy for Mattingly. When he gets into the car to leave for an appearance, he can’t help but look at the empty passenger seat beside him. How in the heck did I get here without you? he thinks. But he goes anyway.
On a Wednesday morning in June, he steps past the irises and peonies blooming at the entrance of The Frost School in Rockville, and when the metal door unlocks, he walks through the hallway into a small gymnasium where about 100 students are settling into their seats. The school provides services to students ages 5 to 21 who have autism, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. The students are a little restless, but when director Claire Cohen raises her hand for attention, they quiet down.
In front of them, a new climbing wall spans much of the gymnasium. It’s low, so students can’t fall more than a few feet, and its brightly-colored handholds are already marked with sneaker scuffs. “This is a gift in honor of a very special person named Carolyn Mattingly,” Cohen says. She asks if anybody can read the plaque that hangs on the wall beside it. A boy named Matthew raises his hand. “The Luv u Wall,” he says.
The climbing wall at The Frost School in Rockville that was donated in memory of Carolyn. Poto by David Frey
Mattingly chose this project after speaking with the president of the Sheppard Pratt Health System, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that operates the school. The climbing wall fit with The Luv u Project’s mission, Carolyn’s passion for sports, and her love of children.
He takes his place behind the podium and tries to describe his wife to yet another audience that never had the chance to meet her. “She cared about young people like you,” he says. “She coached and taught and tried to build relationships [with them] so that they could be the best they could be.” A few students volunteer to show off their climbing skills. The first jumps up and maneuvers his way across the wall, slipping sometimes but regaining his grip and moving on.
Before he leaves, Mattingly tells the kids the story behind “Luv u” and makes them a promise: “We’re going to continue to do things to make the world a better place.”
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At his 60th birthday celebration in September, Mattingly thought again about how much his life has changed. Ten years earlier, Carolyn threw him a big party for his 50th birthday. She made T-shirts and invited all of their friends. This year, many of those friends gathered again.
“I thought of her all week long,” he says. “I’ve reached that point where you start planning for that next stage in your life where you start to have fun. How sad that we won’t have fun.”
The end of September marked two years since she was killed. She’s still on his mind every day, sometimes every minute. “In some ways it’s harder today than it was before,” he says.
“The shock has subsided, but the loss is bigger today and every day.”
The Luv u Project continues to grow into the organization Mattingly imagined—in October, the group co-hosted a symposium on mental health in the workplace—but the pain at the center of it never goes away. Every night, Mattingly goes to bed and says, “I love you, Carolyn.” Every morning he wakes up and says it again.
David Frey lives in Gaithersburg and has written for Sunset magazine and other publications. To comment on this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.