Strangers find, return class ring to dying woman

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on March 26, 2010 at 10:45 PM

RENTON, Wash. -- Judy Petersen, 69, would definitely call herself a fighter.

"I'm very, very sick, very often, and I always come through," she said.

It's kind of an understatement. Petersen has battled multiple sclerosis since she was a teenager.

She wasn't supposed to make it past 28, she said. She's dealt with weighing more than 400 pounds, and confined to a wheelchair, for much of her life. Most recently, her kidneys started giving out on her.

And that's why her "Class of 1985" ring from the University of Washington means so much to her. It represents more than an accounting degree she got in her 40s, but also triumph through a rough patch in a life full of rough patches.

It's important enough to her that she wants to be buried with it.

"I was working 40 hours a week at Boeing, carrying 16 credits, had teenagers at home, all sorts of family crises going on at the time," she said. "But I managed to get that degree."

But in the last few years, she's been in and out of the hospital -- for surgery, for dialysis, for other treatments -- so you'll have to forgive her, she said, for not noticing the keepsake she always wears on her finger was suddenly... gone.

Thank goodness for Bill Brill of Kent, who found the ring, in all places, under a bench in the waiting area at Valley Medical Center in Renton.

"It was like 11 o'clock at night," said Brill, who was there on Feb. 11 because his wife was having her appendix removed. "So I picked it up, thinking who I could give it to, but there was nobody to give it to."

So Brill said he took it home and put it in their safe. This week, he showed it to his son Eric Brill, a college junior at Western Washington University.

"I thought it would be kind of an exciting thing to try to track down who it belonged to," Eric said.

"This was almost an obsession with him," said Bill. "Once he got going on it, he didn't stop until he got the answer."

Eric discovered "Judith K Petersen" engraved on the inside of the ring. With that and the class year, he contacted the UW Alumni Association through Facebook. Derek Belt, a communications specialist with the association, helped him get in touch with Judy.

"If something like that falls into your lap, you just hope you can help somebody out and get it back to them," Eric said. "I know I'd want somebody to do the same to me if they found something that belonged to me that meant that much to me."

"And to find that somebody was kind enough to look me up and kind enough to come to the house and bring it to me," said Judy, "that just shows the goodness of people... that's really neat."

Judy said she didn't feel like money was an appropriate response for her ring's return, so she offered to dog-sit for the Brills whenever they want.

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