Pastor reunites with daughter after 49 years of searching
By the Rev. Edmond Daniel
My first child, Kelly Robin, was born at Cumberland Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, Oct. 11, 1966. Her mother, Sharon, and I were far too young and immature to know how to be parents. At the time of Kelly’s birth, her mother was 15 years old and I was 16. Sharon and I attempted being mom and dad for the first four months of Kelly’s life. At that point, Sharon asked if our baby could live with and be taken care of by my mother, who immediately said yes.
I worked menial jobs while in high school to help support Kelly until my 17th birthday, when I joined the army during the Vietnam War. For the next 11 months, all went well. Kelly was well taken care of, with me and Kelly’s mother making frequent visits to assist. However, during my time away I fell in love and, in March 1968, we were married. Within weeks of the wedding I was levied to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training on a new missile system that the army had put in their General Sheraton tanks.
During my time at Fort Knox, Kelly’s mother, aware of my new marriage, decided she was going to take our baby away. Because of the depth of my training, we were allowed no leave time and very little time off. Kelly became the object of a court battle, and I was not made aware that anything was taking place.
At the end of my training I came home expecting see my baby, who was now 19 months old, but she was gone.
Infuriated and distraught, I vowed I would find my child, and soon I began my search.
However, it was as if Sharon and her entire family had fallen off the edge of the earth along with my daughter Kelly. I spent the first two years using all my available time and resources traveling from Maryland where I was stationed to New York trying to run down leads. We made almost weekly journeys checking anything we could gather—not easy on an E4’s paycheck. Finally, with the help of an attorney and a private detective, I discovered Kelly was in the care of Sharon’s mother and that Sharon no longer had custody of our child, though I could not get any information on Kelly’s actual location. When I went to social services and begged for paternal rights, I was told that it might be detrimental to her mother to have me involved in her life at this point.
Over the next four or five years my attorney filed writ after writ of habeas corpus demanding that the state present Kelly in court. In each instance we traveled to New York from Maryland and the state failed to produce her every time. Finally my attorney advised me that the state could continue to do this forever and that it might work better if we just try a more personal approach of checking records at vital statistics systems.
As time went by and the search engines became more accessible and carried more information, our hopes increased with the possibility that maybe we would be able to find her. I dealt with the fear constantly of the possibility that she might not even be alive. We searched under the names that we believed she would be carrying.
Over the years our family grew to 10 children including Kelly. Kelly was known to each and every one of them. I had one picture of Kelly that was taken when she was about 16 months old. She was sitting on a bench near our home in Fort Green Projects. She was dressed in a dark blue coat and bonnet, light blue dress and white tights and shoes. That picture was a four-inch snapshot originally. I had it blown up to an 11- by 14-inch photo, and this was Kelly to our family and our world. All of her siblings came to know and love her from that picture. She was always a special part of our lives and not one reunion or gathering took place without her being talked about.
Everything changed this January at our family gathering in Hilton Head as we were putting together a family timeline. I mentioned something I thought they all knew: that our oldest son, Edmond II, and Kelly shared the same birthday, Oct. 11. This seemed to spark a whole new field of interest, and daughter No. 5, Tanya, an information technology specialist for the Britton Corporation in Myrtle Beach, went full force on her search.
Within four days—after 49 years and nine months—Tanya had the first real lead. She made contact with one of Kelly’s relatives, who connected them. On the night when the call from Kelly’s cousin was returned, it was around 2 a.m. Tanya and Kelly—now almost 52 years old—connected at around 2:30 a.m., and they talked for two hours. After that, there was no question in their minds that this was real.
The next day, my wife and children who live in the Myrtle Beach area played a wonderful trick on me. They sat me down at the dining room table and said they had something they wanted me to see.
I am not very technologically inclined and until that day had never video-chatted, so I was not sure what was going on. All of a sudden, this beautiful face appeared on the computer on the table. She said, “Hi, do you know who I am?” and started to cry.
All I could say was “Kelly.” I was overcome—she looked like my twin, as well as the twin of my mom and several of her siblings. We all were crying because God had made the impossible possible.
I had never given up, and it turns out she had never given up, either. Kelly, who has been married for more than 30 years now with the last name O’Neal, had told her three children and six grandchildren that she had a father somewhere who loved her and was looking for—and that she believed she also had brothers and sisters.
That Friday evening, we connected again and talked and cried from 8 p.m. until 5:30 a.m.
Two weeks later Kelly and her husband flew from Connecticut to Myrtle Beach. All of her siblings journeyed here from Jacksonville, Florida, and Atlanta, all except her sister, Shevill, who passed away July 25, 2015, from brain cancer. But I know her spirit was with us.
All my children treated each other as though they had grown up together, and she calls my wife “Momma.” God has given us a gift greater then any lottery win no matter the amount.
In April, my wife and I and maybe a few of our children will be traveling to Connecticut in April to continue the celebration and to meet our three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. In the meantime, we talk several times a week and text often.
Sometimes I am still afraid this is all a dream and I am going to wake up, but it is not. God is good, and everything takes place in His time.
My advice to everyone from the pulpit at Trinity United Methodist Church, North Myrtle Beach, where I am appointed as associate pastor is simply this: God is good all the time, so never give up.
Even if it takes 49 years and 9 months to see your dreams come true.
Daniel is associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, North Myrtle Beach.