Donna Wilhelm’s personal journey, full of zigzags, reinventions, and unexpected twists, before she discovered her life’s mission


A Life of My Own: A Memoir

Donna Wilhelm

La Reunion

Hardcover (also available as an e-book), 978-1-9419-2091-6, 150 pgs., $30

November 19, 2019


Some people find their life pathways early and stick to them throughout storied careers and long marriages. Most of the rest of us envy their luck, their successes, and their visible happiness, while wishing we could bring similar focus and stability to our own lives.


Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves on paths that fade sooner than expected. A career suddenly dies. A business collapses. A marriage fails. An accident or illness throws everything into turmoil and jeopardy. Feeling lost, unsure, and unfulfilled, we struggle to find new pathways that can heal and reshape our lives.


Donna Wilhelm’s richly detailed new memoir examines both her “lifelong quest for enlightenment, connection, and a sense of belonging” and her personal journey that became full of zigzags, reinventions, and unexpected twists before she finally discovered her life’s mission.


Born in 1943, the Dallas philanthropist, arts advocate, and artist grew up in an immigrants’ boarding house run by her Polish mother in Hartford, Connecticut. Her parents tried to keep secret that she had been adopted, and they watched over her with both overbearance and physical cruelty.


In school, she was a “lonely child,” yet discovered she had a talent for art. Once she got out on her own, her life began taking detours: college student, corporate secretary, and “wandering woman” searching for adventures, meanings, and Mr. Right. Then: wife of a rising corporate executive, devoted mother, fiber artist, jewelry designer, middle-aged divorcee after more than three decades of marriage, and seeker of her birth mother.


Donna Wilhelm writes that because she “invested fully” in the success of her husband’s career, she  “relinquished building my own credentials and a professional career of my own.” Her husband’s climb up the success ladder required nine moves within the United States and overseas. “Each of the nine moves took three years to settle in. That meant that during our thirty-two-year marriage, I’d spent twenty-seven years settling in and only five years of feeling truly settled.”


Very soon there would be different challenges to overcome. “As a consequence of identifying myself primarily through Bob’s career and relying on his community status, I’d lost my own identity and emotional well-being,” she recalls. Also, by leaving money decisions to her husband, she had left herself “financially ignorant” and now needed to quickly learn how to manage her resources. To make matters tougher, one of her children suffered a serious medical problem, and Donna Wilhelm herself became a cancer patient.


Once she struggled past these difficulties and setbacks, she vowed “never to take my restored health for granted or to waste precious time.” She also realized she now wanted to “help others make the most of their lives.”


A Life of My Own details how she achieved transformation from “a local charitable check writer into a global, strategic philanthropist.” Within the well-written descriptions of her experiences, thoughts, and emotions, she offers numerous insights that can help others who are now seeking to rediscover who they are and how they might redirect their lives onto new, more fulfilling pathways.


Donna Wilhelm is a philanthropist and arts advocate in Dallas, Texas. Following the 9/11 attacks, Wilhelm became one of fourteen philanthropists to form the Pluralism Fund, dedicated to building the capacity of women and girls in Iran and Pakistan. She holds many board and advisory capacities with Dallas area nonprofits, including KERA North Texas Public Broadcasting and the World Affairs Council. She graduated from the City University of New York with a degree in Art History and Studio Art and did post-graduate work in jewelry design at New York's Parsons School of Design.