Mary Jo Buttafuoco keynote begins sorority's philanthropy week

Monday, October 17, 2011 | 10:55 p.m. CDT; updated 11:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — Mary Jo Buttafuoco was shot at point-blank range in her head by a 17-year-old woman who was having an affair with her husband in 1992.

Alpha Chi Omega began its philanthropy week by sponsoring Buttafuoco's keynote speech Monday night at Jesse Hall. More than 150 people in Jesse Auditorium listened attentively to her story and laughed at the occasional jokes she made.

The Alpha Chi Omega Foundation helps victims of domestic violence, according to a news release from the sorority. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"I am, what I like to refer to it as is, a living murder victim," she said as she began her story.

Buttafuoco was in her backyard the morning of May 19, 1992, she said. A little while before noon, she saw a teenager standing outside her front door and went to talk with the woman, who told Buttafuoco her husband was having an affair. After the conversation, Buttafuoco turned and opened her door to go back into her house when she heard a bang.

"My last conscious thought was 'where did she get the bat?'," she told the audience Monday night. When she woke up she didn't know she was shot.

Buttafuoco then told the audience how a concussion she received early in her life made her repeat a grade and shattered her self-esteem.

No one knew about the dangers of head injuries in the 60s and 70s, she said. People blamed Buttafuoco's problems on puberty and laziness, and her parents held her back to repeat sixth grade after school officials advised them to do so.

"Something in me died," she said, of being required to repeat the grade. It had a spiraling effect on her self esteem.

"I just knew I felt so bad about myself that I needed to find people who felt worse about themselves," she said. "That's where I met Joey."

Buttafuoco met her husband, who would later have an affair with a 16-year-old, in ninth-grade social studies. She said he was the class clown. They began dating in 11th grade.

"Whatever dating meant, you know, you meet at the locker after school and that's a date," she said, eliciting laughs from the audience.

Buttafuoco went on to describe the courtship and early marriage with Joe. When she was pregnant with her first child, she found a sense of responsibility that escaped him as he became addicted to drugs.

"The drugs didn't stop with him," she said. "This went on for 10 years with him."

In 1988, Joe went into rehab and returned drug-free, she said.

"He became the man I wanted him to be," Buttafuoco said. "What I did not know was Joe was a sociopath. What I mean by that is he could lie and lie and lie, without feeling guilty."

After she recovered from the shooting, Mary Jo waited seven years before she finally divorced Joe, she said. She struggled with an addiction to pain pills and eventually went to rehab to recover from the addiction.

"It was there that I learned, through a slow process, how to deal with what happened to me," she said. "Once I started to think better about myself I realized 'I'm done'." She left her husband and began her life new.

Monday's keynote event was the beginning of Alpha Chi Omega's philanthropy week, Vice President of Philanthropy Sarah Semmel said. They will be having a barbecue on Oct. 28 and a dodgeball tournament on Oct. 30.

"I thought (the keynote) was awesome," audience member Hillary Caldwell said. "I really liked how she joked about it a little bit, you can tell she's really kind of accepted what's going on and she's dealt with all her issues. She's a really good role model and it was a really interesting night."

Buttafuoco learned an important life lesson throughout her recovery, she said.

"If you don't value yourself, you can't value anyone else."

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