Former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula died Monday, May 4, at the age of 90. Shula was a longtime NFL coach who holds the most regular season and total wins in the league’s history and also holds the record of being the only head coach to ever lead an undefeated NFL team — the 1972 Dolphins.
The Miami Dolphins posted about his death on Twitter:
Shula is survived by his wife, Mary Anne, and his five children, Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike. Here’s what you need to know about Shula’s wife of 26 years, Mary Anne Stephens:
1. The Two Married on October 16, 1993, After Having Both Been Previously Married
Stephens and Shula married on October 16, 1993. The two met at a New Year’s Day party in 1992 on Indian Creek Island, Florida, at golfer Ray Floyd’s home. They started dating that spring, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Both of them were married previously. Shula became Stephens’ fourth husband, and Shula was a widower after his first wife, Dorothy Bartish, died of breast cancer in 1991.
Shula was 63 when they married and Stephens was 48. The ceremony was small and private at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Miami Beach. The wedding wasn’t publicized and the details were private until the last minute. According to an article at the time, Carl Taseff, an assistant coach for the Dolphins, said: “Good for him. I figured he’d get married sooner, but I’m happy for him.”
2. Stephens Is the Fifth of Six Children & Grew Up in Coal Hill, Arkansas
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Stephens was born the fifth of six kids and grew up in a small town called Coal Hill, Arkansas, located between the Ozarks and the Arkansas River valley. Her father was a soybean and cotton farmer as well as a rancher and her mother worked as a nurse and Bible teacher.
A former mayor of Coal Hill and neighbor of the family, Ben Yates, said: “They were a mighty poor family. You could look through the cracks on the floor and see the chickens underneath.” Stephens moved out at the age of 15 to live with her older sister, Colleen, and Colleen’s husband, who was in the military.
3. Mary Anne Is a Generous Philanthropist Who Has Supported Many Causes
Shula’s wife is very active in various charities and has supported many different organizations. She was named the Arkansas Citizen of the Year in 1990 by March of Dimes for her charity work. The award emphasized her work to help students with learning disabilities after she led a fundraiser for a national learning center at the University of the Ozarks in Arkansas. The drive raised $28 million.
She also hosted a gala in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau Hilton for the Miami Heart Institute. As the chairwoman of the gala, Stephens raised over $400,000, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Her friend Maria Floyd, who ended up introducing Stephens to Shula, said: “Mary Anne has the ability to get people on the bandwagon and participate, if she believes in a cause.”
4. Stephens Was Involved in a High-Profile Alimony Settlement After Her Third Divorce
Shula was Stephens’ fourth husband. She was previously married to John Maddox Smith when she was 18 and James Keller at the age of 24 and had a daughter and two sons from these marriages. She met her third husband, Jackson Stephens, at a political event. Stephens was a rich and powerful financier from Little Rock, Arkansas, according to the Sun-Sentinel. The marriage at the time was described by a friend: “A person married to a Stephens in Arkansas is pretty much like somebody who might be married to a Rockefeller in New York.”
In 1991, the two divorced after a decade of marriage. Jackson Stephens was said to be worth $380 million at the time, and through the settlement, Mary Anne kept their home on Indian Creek Island, Florida, and received $1 million a year for the rest of her life. It’s the same home that Shula and Mary Anne Stephens would live in together years later, a 13,300-square-foot house said to be worth $4.14 million.
Mary Anne has appeared in court in alimony disputes with Stephens’ son Warren since Stephens’ death in 2005. According to Mary Anne, Warren’s attempts to “distribute some jewelry and paintings from his father’s estate” meant she worried that “the assets of the estate would be drained.”
5. Stephens Was Very Supportive of Her Husband Shula & They Were Said to Be ‘Blissfully Happy’ Together
Stephens and Shula were said to be very happy together by those close to the couple. Sports Illustrated wrote: “Shula and Stephens smooch in public, hold hands at the dinner table and nibble off each other’s plates.” Stephens pushed her husband to be more adventurous “and to try things that he hasn’t done before, like dancing to rock ‘n’ roll, zipping around in her boat and snorkeling.”
One of Shula’s friends said: “It’s great to see a guy his age in love and able to express it. Mary Anne has a way of tearing down the guard he has always had with his players and everyone else. For the first time in the 20 years that I’ve known him, this defense mechanism is broken.”
Stephens’ sister Colleen said: “Don and Mary Anne are blissfully happy together. They have fun, hold hands. They’re very romantic and have a lot of respect for each other.” Stephens even appeared as a success story on the NutriSystem website, saying she lost 23 pounds.