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A 'euphoric reunion': Michigan woman finds biological mother here
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Beth Heal (left) rushes to embrace her mother, Betty Brown, on Tuesday in Martinsville. Brown, who was 22 and in the midst of a divorce while pregnant, gave Heal up for adoption and never expected to see her again. Decades later, the two met for the first time. (Contributed photos)
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

By HOLLY KOZELSKY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Betty Brown of Martinsville never expected to hold her baby daughter.

Now, 57 years after giving birth to her and giving her up for adoption, she has.

On Tuesday, Betty Brown and her daughter, Beth Heal, met for the first time in a tearful hug in front of Brown’s apartment. The two described their meeting as “euphoric,” and Brown crossed her arms over her chest, adding that she wanted to trap that good feeling there so it remained with her always.

“It’s an emotion I’ve never felt,” she said.

Brown is so happy to meet Heal that “I want the whole world to know,” she said. “All the people it would shock are now dead,” she laughed Wednesday — her daughter’s 57th birthday.

‘The best kept secret in Martinsville’

When Brown (then Betty Perdue) was 22 years old, she was pregnant and not able to keep the baby. She was going through a divorce and had two toddlers, and she and her father feared she would lose custody of her two children if the pregnancy was discovered.

They told others that Brown had gone off to Michigan to look for work. In reality, she stayed with a family who were friends of friends. Only Brown’s father knew the truth. Her mother died in the 1980s, never having been aware of this granddaughter, Brown said.

“My father never spoke of it” for the rest of his life, Brown said.

“It was the best kept secret in Martinsville,” Heal quipped.

The experience was “devastating,” Brown said with tears in her eyes. “I never saw her. I knew if I did, I couldn’t leave her.”

“Baby Girl Perdue” was born on Aug. 29, 1955, in Flint Mich., and was placed for adoption.

Brown went on to marry a second time and have four more children. She worked as a telephone operator, then for DuPont for 15 years and at Speedway Center Inc. for 23 years. She retired at 73 and now is 79.

Brown said her daughter’s birth was a tragic secret to carry “with nobody to talk to.” She would just “lay in bed and think and wonder” about the child. “There was no way” she could confide her heartache to anyone, she said.

Meanwhile, a few rumors did leak out. Hoping to comfort a family member who had a stillborn baby, Brown told the tale of loss of her own infant.

Over the years, Brown said, the story got passed around and distorted. When Brown realized that some people suspected and were wondering about it, she still did not talk about it.

No secrets

Meanwhile, Heal said, she had a marvelous childhood and was brought up by a loving couple.

“In my world, adoption was just another word that was talked about freely in my home. I always knew I was adopted.

“I had a great childhood and as I got older, in the back of my mind, I was always wondering. I always wondered if I had brothers and sisters.”

However, to spare her adoptive mother’s feelings, Heal did not begin the search for her birth mother until after her adoptive mother died in March 2011.

In January, she petitioned Genesee (Mich.) Probate Court for information. The adoption records were sealed. Though the court could not release her birth mother’s name or other identifying information, it gave her some basic information about family circumstances at the time.

“I used as many resources as I could” to make sense of it all, but when she didn’t get anywhere, “I was just overwhelmed so I hired a private investigator, Ron Mattioli,” Heal said.

The detective told her “it wasn’t a case, it was a mission for him” to reunite the family, she said. It ended up being “the hardest case he had in 20 years, but it was the most fun,” she said.

Heal is a retired educational assistant and a school secretary.

Her husband, Brad, was tremendously supportive throughout the whole thing, mother and daughter said. He is retired from 31 years in the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan and now has a handyman business. The couple have two children and five grandchildren.

Finding key information

The key to solving the case came on Brown’s birthday, April 5. Heal had emailed 52 counties in Virginia asking for divorce information, because she knew her mother was going through a divorce.

“Martinsville wrote me back and said they did have one,” Heal said, and sent her the information, which included Brown’s maiden name.

“Once we had her maiden name, Ron said, ‘Bingo! This is it,’” Heal recalled.

That gave her enough information to track down the family. Rather than shock Brown with the news, she decided to go through Brown’s oldest daughter, Velvyn Perdue Shirley of Leland, N.C. Heal believed Shirley would know the best way to handle it.

Heal waited a few days to pull herself together before making the call. The two sisters who never had met talked for 45 minutes.

This was something her mother needed to hear in person, Shirley decided, and it would be a week before she could get back to Virginia to tell her. On a Saturday, she did.

After Shirley told her Heal wanted to meet her, “I was in shock,” said Brown. “I said (to Shirley) ‘You’ve been doing some research.’ She said, ‘No, I have not. Baby Girl Perdue is all grown now’” and capable of doing her own research.

Brown called her other children one by one to share the news.

Her children from her first marriage are Shirley and Bill “Butch” Perdue of Georgia. From her second marriage, born after Heal, are Susan Brown of Leland, Molly Young of Burlington, N.C., Linda Blake of Roanoke and Phyllis Cross of Cascade.

“Are they happy?” Brown said of her other children. “Oh my God, they are ecstatic. I had five daughters, and now I have six.”

‘An amazing ride’

When the Heals pulled up to Brown’s apartment Tuesday evening, there were balloons and decorattions on the porch and yard. The two women ran into each other’s arms. Brad Heal captured the moment on film.

Beth Heal said she was prepared for rejection from her birth family but “never in my life did I expect to be welcomed into a family like this. ... It’s been an amazing, incredible ride. I knew I could be set up for a heartache,” but she was met with love.

Heal added that her adoptive parents did not have other children, and Brown “gave my mom and dad a gift that a lot of us are unable to give. It was very unselfish. Very amazing.”

On Wednesday, Cross and Young met their sister. This weekend, the Heals plan to take Brown to visit their other siblings.

Brown credits the research capabilities of the Internet for making this reunion possible.

“I have a whole new feeling about the Internet,” she said. “Most of the old people don’t care about it because they can’t do it, but if it wasn’t for that ...,” she faltered, glancing toward Heal, implying that the women otherwise would not have found each other.


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