Pam & Jeff Craighead
Pam, the new kid at Roxborough High School in fall 1968, knew she had made her first real friend there when Carol invited her to hang out at her house.
Pam met Carol’s parents and her little brother, Jeff, before the girls were off to do their own thing.
“I was intrigued by her,” said Jeff.
“I like to use the phrase ‘he longed for me,’ ” teased Pam.
What did Pam think of him? At first, she simply didn’t. “He was an eighth grader, I was a 10th grader. That was a huge gap,” she said.
Pam and Carol were soon practically inseparable. At her friend’s invitation, Pam joined the Leverington Presbyterian Church youth group. Jeff was old enough to join the following year. He had gotten over his crush, and between youth group, school, and Pam’s frequent visits to the Craighead home, Jeff and Pam got to know each other well. “There was no romantic interest,” said Jeff. “We became really good friends.” They remained close even after Pam enrolled at Philadelphia Community College and worked as a paste-up artist for a local newspaper, and even after Jeff started at Drexel University.
Pam and Jeff were in long-term relationships with other people until the summer before Jeff’s second year at Drexel and Pam’s first year at Temple University. They commiserated their way through heartbreak, said Pam, and the signal that her heart had healed was one terrifying thought: “We’re such good friends. Should we actually date?”
On one hand, they already knew they shared the same values, enjoyed each other’s company, and liked each other’s families. But if it went wrong, Pam could lose one friend and maybe make things weird with another.
Pam was still pondering when Jeff asked her to the Chip ‘N Putt. As always, they had a lot of fun together. “What it came down to was the kiss on my mother’s front porch,” she said. “The chemistry was definitely there,” Jeff agrees.
All was well from summer of 1975 to the spring of ’76, when Pam said they should see other people. She felt this was the only way to be positively sure they were right for each other, and the only pause button available before they wound up having kids and going into the old age home together. Jeff never really understood why.
Pam looked at other young men as she studied horticulture, but nobody made her light up like Jeff did. This was dawning on her when she learned that Jeff had gone on one date with someone else.
“She likes to say I was longing after her as an eighth grader. I like to say that after the breakup, she came crawling back to me!” Jeff said, leading both into laughter.
By 1977, they were browsing for engagement rings together so Jeff, then in his last year of mechanical engineering studies, could study her style. Early in 1978, he asked her to dinner at the fancy revolving restaurant atop the former City Line Avenue Holiday Inn. By the time they parked in the underground garage, Jeff couldn’t wait a minute longer, and handed her the ring. After dinner, they went directly to their parents’ houses to share the big news. A few days later, Jeff found a very wilted bouquet of roses he had forgotten to give to Pam.
They married at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1978, at Leverington Presbyterian and held a reception for 125 at the Collegeville Inn.
The couple have always lived in Roxborough. Jeff did his co-op year at the Navy Yard and was later hired as a civilian employee. Pam founded her interior landscaping business, Green Horizons, in 1982. They spent a lot of time with other people’s kids to decide if they should have their own. Jack was born in 1984 and Elizabeth in 1987. As it turns out, Pam and Jeff love being parents, and their love of family time morphed into several big family traditions:
Be it fancy fare or hot dogs, do not mess with Sunday dinner.
It’s not summer without the Shore.
Christmas is a big deal at home and at church. And so are the post-pageant pizzas shaped like Santa, or Rudolph, or some other holiday character. There are competitions.
One of the family’s newest traditions, the Bike MS: City to Shore, dates to 1993.
It was a hot day in July, and Pam was volunteering at her church’s summer camp. “I kept getting dizzy and couldn’t keep my balance,” she remembers. “I went home and laid down, and then the next day, the same thing happened.”
Jeff asked Pam to see her doctor, who asked her to follow his finger with his eyes. Her eyes were not moving together, he told her. She should see a neurologist, and wear an eye patch in the meantime. Pam got a pirate patch out of the Halloween box and saw the specialist. She wasn’t that worried, so when her doctor had the MRI results, she went by herself so Jeff could start celebrating Jack’s birthday with him. “You have MS,” her doctor said. He also said that MS has many forms, and she needed to learn more.
Pam checked every book on MS out of the library, then had a meltdown. She went home and told Jeff, and they melted down together. The only person either knew who had had MS was Pam’s great aunt, whose very aggressive form took her independence when she was 20. She lived the next 40 years in a care home. The couple rallied to celebrate their boy’s birthday. Then they got to work.
“That weekend, the newspaper published an article that the first disease-modifying drug for multiple sclerosis was coming on the market,” said Pam. She learned to give herself injections. The couple soon learned two life-altering things:
· Pam’s MS was, and for many years remained, the relapsing-remitting type. Its progression was slow and halting with symptom-free periods between.
· The National MS Society is the largest private funder of research in the world and is a huge support for people with MS and their families.
Jeff rode his first Bike MS: City to Shore ride the fall after Pam’s diagnosis. The following year, Jack joined him, and three years later, so did Elizabeth. This September, all three will ride in what will be Jeff’s 29th event and the 28th year for his team, the Roxborough Riders.
Pam can do almost anything – sometimes, with a limp -- but she cannot ride a bike for 75 miles. The first year Jeff rode, Pam met him at the finish line. In the years since, she has also become a volunteer, focusing on new riders. Both now are on the ride planning team. Pam also has a separate personal mission: spreading the word that everyone’s MS is different, that excellent treatment options exist and more are in the pipeline, whatever type a person has, and supporting as many people as possible.
“Whenever we hear about someone who is newly diagnosed, Pam says, ‘Give them my number!’ ” said Jeff, who retired from his Navy job in 2015 and is an adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at Jefferson University.
Pam’s MS is now the secondary progressive type – her recurrences are closer together and some symptoms remain in between -- but overall progression remains slow. “There are still times when I’m fine like nothing is wrong whatsoever, except for my foot if I do too much,” said Pam, who continues to run Green Horizons and works part-time for a florist.
Her new treatment is a monthly infusion. It feels good, she said, to know new treatments will continue to be developed thanks in part to research that one Craighead family tradition helps fund.