Project 2996: Dora Marie Menchaca

Dora Marie Menchaca died on Flight 77, the airplane that hit the Pentagon.

She was 45 years old, and she worked for Amgen, Inc. in Thousand Oaks, California, developing and testing better drugs to fight cancer and pneumonia. In fact, she was their associate director of research. Her home was in Santa Monica.

She was one of six siblings. Her heritage was Hispanic. She came from a poor background but worked hard and was smart. She attended Providence High School, a Catholic school in San Antonio, but she had to go to Central Catholic for calculus. She went to Notre Dame for her bachelor’s and master’s, and was the first in her family to attend college.

I found some info that she had a first husband but later divorced, but that might not be trustworthy or it might be about another Dora Menchaca. (There seem to be a few out there!)

She met her husband, Earl Dorsey, in grad school at UCLA, while working on her doctorate in epidemiology. They fell in love and got married, and lived happily ever after.

Her job and field made her urge her husband to get a prostate cancer test. He finally gave in and got one, and was shocked to find out that he had it. Early treatment made the difference for him. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to save her dad from the same disease; he joined her after a month after her death.

She once helped a man she occasionally played soccer with, giving him grocery certificates to help the family and a beautiful note. Her husband never knew until after her death; she kept her small charities and kindnesses secret.

She had been in DC for hearings with the FDA on a new prostate cancer drug. Her meetings ended a day sooner than expected, so she changed her tickets to standby to fly home to California quicker, to her husband and their two kids, Imani and Jaryd. Her oncologist colleague, Dr. Scott Fields, also changed his tickets, but he flew United. He asked her to come along, but her frequent flyer miles were on American, and it made no financial sense. He says he will always wonder if he should have argued harder, and if he could have changed her mind. (But of course, it was just chance that the terrorists didn’t fly his United flight, too.)

When she made it onto the plane, she left her husband a voicemail. It had been prearranged that she should do that, in order not to wake up their toddler son who slept with his dad when Mom was away from home.

In her last minutes alive, she wrote her husband a note. It miraculously survived the crash and the burning of the Pentagon.

Here’s a video of her brother John Menchaca, remembering her. Another video of John Menchaca at a memorial service for her in San Gabriel.

A high school friend from San Antonio, Texas remembers her.

Amgen honored her memory with a reflection garden at their headquarters (featuring her favorite roses) and a patient care center wing at UCLA’s hospital.

A list of Notre Dame alumni who died on September 11.

Dora Marie Menchaca: wife and mother, scientist and businesswoman. She saved lives. May she rest in peace.

Never forget.

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