By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Doris says she and Fred had decided they could get by on the reduced pension paid for early retirement, as long as they continued to have medical insurance coverage.
"His idea was if he could retire at 62 and get by financially, then he could take care of me," Doris says. "He just felt he had to be with me. He just didn't know from day to day how I would be."
Doris and Fred began discussions with APS personnel officials, and in mid-February 1993, Fred received the word he could retire, begin collecting a pension immediately and maintain health and life insurance.
"If we are not able to start your pension benefit in March, you will receive a double payment for the month of April," states a February 13, 1993, letter from Lorraine Harris, an official in the APS employee benefits department.
Two days later, Harris sent additional information to Fred showing that his pension would pay him from $157 to $196 a month, depending on what benefit plan Fred selected. The packet also stated that Fred had $32,400 in life insurance and would continue receiving medical insurance, if he desired.
With APS' promises in hand, Fred Tryon retired.
Two days after Fred thought he had retired, Doris had a relapse and was taken to the hospital. Later that week, Fred received another letter from APS.
APS had determined that, notwithstanding earlier communications, Fred wasn't eligible for medical and life insurance benefits. Also, the utility said, Fred wouldn't be receiving a pension until 1996, when he would turn 65.
Fred's son Andy says his father was loath to deal with APS after the company backed out on the insurance and retirement benefits. "He wanted to let sleeping dogs lay," he says.
So, to cover expenses, Fred picked up a job welding at a nearby dairy and worked as a part-time guard for a Tempe security agency. The biggest outlay was the private insurance premium for his wife, which topped $300 a month. Fred had been promised health insurance at a $60-per-month premium before he retired.
The couple borrowed money from the children and relatives to make ends meet.
Then the Tryons had a stroke of good luck for a change.
One evening, Fred was reading a shopping-center tabloid newspaper that had an article about a new "wonder" drug for leukemia, Fludoraban. Even though it was an experimental drug, Doris was adamant about using it. She finally persuaded her reluctant doctor to prescribe the drug beginning in early 1994.
For the next eight months, Fred applied the chemicals through an intravenous tube that ran up Doris' arm into the carotid artery in her neck. The chemical was applied five days a week, every third week. Doris continued to receive the spinal chemotherapy treatments as well.
The dual treatments began to show positive results in late 1994. By early 1995, Doris' blood counts were returning to normal.
"We believed in miracles," Doris says. "We serve a great God."
For the first time in memory, the Tryons made plans. They wanted to travel to Alaska and back home to Indiana.
Those plans ended on December 18.
Fred was sitting at the kitchen table. He said he didn't feel well.
"He went into the bedroom, and I got down on my knees. He placed his head on my shoulder and passed out. I knew it was his heart," Doris says.
She called paramedics; a small army of Fred's friends and family accompanied him to the hospital.
"They told us he wasn't going to make it through surgery," Doris says.
Two hours later, Fred Tryon was dead.
Now Doris is alone, for the first time in 45years.
But she's not just burdened with the sorrow of losing a husband. She's also facing nearly $20,000 in medical bills related to attempts to save Fred's life.
By taking work where he could find it, Fred had been able to keep his wife insured. But he couldn't afford medical insurance for himself after APS unilaterally redefined his retirement. He died 12 days before he would have become eligible for Medicare.
APS also is withholding payment of a life insurance policy, saying Fred waived the policy when he "quit."
Fred Tryon never made a fuss over the loss of his APS benefits, and his union didn't learn what happened until last month.
Since Fred's sudden death, however, Doris Tryon has contacted APS personnel officials. She wants to know why she and Fred were dropped from the insurance plan, and why no death benefits have been paid.
Doris says that Lorraine Harris, the APS benefits manager who first told Fred he could retire with full benefits, now says Fred quit.
"She said, 'I spoke to your husband several times, and he fully understood that he had been terminated, and he was not retiring,'" Doris says Harris told her.
That explanation doesn't sit well with Doris, and it is refuted both by documents and by common sense. Why, Doris wonders, would the company give Fred a gold watch for retiring if he had really just quit? If he quit, why has APS said it will begin paying pension benefits to Doris next month? Why did the company send letters outlining Fred's retirement benefits if he hadn't retired?