For 15 years, Deborah Courtney has opened her heart and home to neglected and abused children. The single Scottsdale mother admits she has encountered rough sailing along the way.
Yet, she has tried to steer the eight children who have been in her care toward the right path.
Courtney’s actions earned her a seven-day Caribbean cruise courtesy of Princess Cruises in its 40th anniversary celebration. Of 12,000 nationwide entrants, 40 winners were chosen. Scottsdale was the first stop for winner notification.
Courtney, 53, a patient service representative at Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, was nominated by two co-workers, neither of whom knew the other suggested her.
Actor Gavin MacLeod, who played Capt. Merrill Stubing in the 1970s and ‘80s television series "The Love Boat," reprised his role for the surprise notification Monday.
MacLeod said Courtney didn’t recognize him clad in captain’s hat and jacket and bearing flowers.
"She thought I was a delivery man," said MacLeod, a Princess Cruises spokesman. "She had no idea what was happening."
Courtney began taking in foster children after her daughter, Sarah, who was in fourth grade at the time, saw a TV commercial about adoption and asked if she could have a sister.
"It started with one and just grew over the years," said Courtney, who has cared for three of the foster children through high school and college.
Besides taking care of a family of girls, Courtney is studying at night to become a medical assistant. Her cohorts fooled her by saying there was a 6 a.m. staff meeting and that if she saw any cameras, it was Mayo of Rochester, Minn., filming for a documentary.
"Hearing a story like Courtney’s makes you really respect a person," MacLeod said. "Instead of saying ‘It takes so much out of me,’ she talks about what she’s gotten from the children who have been in her care."