Wanda Hudgins

Special to The Herald

From the moment Catherine Ann Gill had memories, she knew that she was a special little girl — prayed for and chosen by her adoptive parents, Bill and Elizabeth Gill of Bainbridge. For Ann, there was never any negative stigma attached to the world “adoption.” She was adopted into an grew up in a warm. loving, giving family.

This is Ann’s story:

In 1951, Mollie Grace Arnold, a college-educated fashion buyer for Davidson’s Department Store in Columbus fell in love with a dashing Fort Benning Air Corps major. When Mollie told her major that she was pregnant, she expected him to profess his love for the and to ask her to marry him. Instead, he shipped out to war in Korea. She never saw him again.

Without support in the city, Mollie’s only recourse was to go home to her family in the small Southwest Georgia town of Jakin. Mollie’s mother had raised nine of her own children, so, in this time of war and uncertainty, she did not feel capable of taking on her daughter and her fatherless child. What kind of life could they possibly give this precious baby? Adoption was the right answer. Mollie fought this decision, but knew it was best for her child.

At the same time just a few miles away in Bainbridge, Dr. Earl Dupree and his wife were looking for a child to adopt as it seemed they could not have children. He learned of Mollie’s situation and planned to adopt her child. But, as so often happens in adoption situations, Mrs. Dupree got pregnant.

Dr. Dupree’s patients Bill and Elizabeth Gill had been married for 10 years and he knew they wanted a child — a perfect match! when Mollie’s baby was 3 days old, her adoption into the Gill family of Bainbridge was finalized at Seminole County Hospital, and her adoption records were sealed.

As Ann got older, she saw her friends with brothers and sisters and she desperately wanted a little brother. When she was five, her Mom and Dad adopted another little girl, but Ann’s new sister died almost immediately of pneumonia. “Why can’t I get a little brother?” was Ann’s constant thought in those days. After Daddy Gill died of a stroke when she was eight, Ann remembers wishing her mother would remarry, just so she could have a little brother. But her mother never remarried.

Life was full and good, even without a little brother. As a teenager, she fantasized that her birth father would show up and want to be a part of her life. Of course, he never did, and that was really OK with Ann. But that desire for a little brother just would not go away.

After graduation form the University of Georgia with a degree in home economics, Ann married fellow UGA graduate Joel Hudgin of Patmos. Before their wedding, Ann called Dr. Dupree to find out about her birth family medical history. Until this time, her birth family had not been important to her. She knew she was part of the family God had destined for her. This phone call to Dr. Dupree, however, sparked questions in Ann’s heart.

“Who do I look like?”

“Who will my children look like?”

“Do I have siblings out there, possibly a brother?”

Ann did learn from Dr. Dupree that it was no easy thing for her birth mother to give her up, and that Mollie was a readhead (Oh, how she loved redheads!). she also learned that her birth father was Army Air Corps. (Did that explain her love for jets, planes and air shows?)

When Ann and Joel’s little Sara was born, that genetic link to her birth parents kicked into overdrive and she could not dismiss it. With the birth of their son, Asah, the desire to know more about her birth parents grew even stronger. But adoption questions had to take a back seat, a as life got full and busy with two children to love and care for.

Elizabeth Gill, Ann’s mother, died in 1999. Ann is older now, and her children have grown up and are on their own. The “adoption” void opened up again big time. Ann had all she wanted and needed, but nothing seemed to fill that particular hole in her life. She decided to really pursue this; it had nothing to do with her strong feelings for her adoptive family. Ann remembered back to a 1993 ladies’ retreat in North Carolina. Someone sensed a ‘spirit” of rejection and hurt around her, an emotional scar. If that was true, maybe now is the time to deal with it. These strong desires to know her birth family were surely put there by God Himself, and there must be purpose in it. He would see her through this. She trusted Him.

In 2000, Ann wrote a letter of appeal to Judge Wallace Cato of Decatur County asking that he open her adoption papers. Judge Cato refused; but he did refer her to the Adoption Reunion Registry (ARR). In this call Ann was told she needed permission from her birth family to get any information. After a preliminary search, they did not find her mother or a death certificate for her. Another dead end — or so it seemed — for three more years.

In 2003, Ann received a phone call from Peggy Rothchild of the ARR. She told Ann they could now give her some non-identifying information, such as hair and eye color. Ann knew that the ARR had more information they were not telling her. This appeared to be still another dead end; instead, it was really the catapult for Ann as she “... got mad, really angry. This is my life. I have questions that need answers. But, Lord, it is in Your hands. If I am to lay this down, You will have to enable me to do it. This desire just will not let go of me.”

Three more years passed. Before Christmas 2006, Ann’s husband, Joel, asked what she’d like for Christmas. Very quietly and soberly, Ann answered, “I want to know who my birth mother is. Joel, I have to know.” Joel very wisely told Ann they would pursue this; but, she had to be willing to accept, with grace, whatever they found. She had to be fully prepared.

In January 2007, Ann again called ARR and talked to Peggy Rothchild. Ms. Rothchild told Ann there was so much more technology available now to help them. On Feb. 14, Ann was told her birth mother had been found, but had refused “permission to contact.” Ann later found out that Mollie had actually hung up on the ARR caller.

A few days later Ms. Rothchild called Ann with more information — Ann had a sibling — a brother! She could now write a letter to her brother for “permission contact,” send it ARR and they would forward the letter to her brother Edward Weisback. Of coarse, Ann wasted no time writing that letter to her brother Edward Weisback. Ann was ON a business trip at this time, and every male face she looked into caused her to wonder if he was her brother.

When Ms. Rothchild contacted Ed, he was at the hospital in Phenix City, Ala., visiting his mother, Mollie. Ed grew up an only child and had no idea he had an older sister his mother had given out for adoption. After the initial shock of finding out that he had a sister, he got excited. he read Ann’s letter and immediately emailed her “permission to contact,” Ann emailed back with lots of questions. At 10 p.m., Ed decided to call Ann and they talked almost two hours for the very first time. The siblings discovered lots of “coincidences.”

These are some of Ann’s discoveries:

She grew up just 31 miles from her birth family.

Ann’s daughter Sara Elizabeth has her two maternal grandmothers’ names

Mollie’s major in college was Home Economics

Ann worked and lived in Donalsonville and is related to many people there.

One of Ann’s cousins worked in her office building.

Ann had commented to one young man in Bainbridge that he looked amazingly like her son, Asah. He is her cousin.

So many puzzle pieces came together for her now. Ed agreed to meet Ann for the first time at her office in Donalsonville. He walked in with a bouquet of roses, they hugged, talked more and clicked. He’s been her “little” brother ever since.

Ed told Ann that Mollie was in the rehab center in Phenix City after having hip surgery, and he’d like to take her to meet their mother. Before Ed and Ann visited, they agreed now was not the time to tell Mollie who Ann was. They introduced her as Ed’s “friend.” In Ann’s words, “I took her violets. I felt very unemotional and detached when I met this tiny, frail lady with the beautiful blue eyes. I watched the camaraderie — the smart remarks back and forth, the obvious love — between mother and son. As I left that day, Mollie held my hands and told me to take care of Ed. I didn’t realize that would be our only meeting. Mollie died unexpectedly of a blood clot just twelve days later. Ed told me before she died she was very agitated and "looking for her baby.” When Ann learned that Mollie had died the emotions she’d felt so void of flooded to the surface.

At Mollie’s visitation, Ed introduced Ann to his family as his sister. Everyone received her well, and there were so many there that she already knew.

At this time, little things took on huge proportions — the dress Mollie had on was yellow and blue — Ann’s favorite colors. Mollie was wearing a strand of costume jewelry pearls. Ann thought, but said nothing to anyone, “That necklace is my mother’s. It is something personal that belonged to her."

"Lord, I want that pearl necklace if you’ll work it out for me.”

After the visitation and before the funeral, Ed came to see Ann. he brought with a gift — a jewelry box containing her mother’s beautiful, real pearl earrings and necklace — three strands! Ed’s father brought them home from Japan in 1946 for his mother, Ed’s grandmother. They had been passed down to Mollie after Grandmother Sara died. Now, Ed wanted his sister to have these “ ... pearl(s) of great value ... .” I asked Ed why he took those pearls to Ann at that particular time. He knew they were special, and he wanted to give a special gift to his sister. This one act of generosity on Ed’s part spoke volumes to Ann about the character and generosity of this 45 year old, single brother. God is so real and when He gives, He gives the real thing. He delights in giving perfect gifts! Little did Ed know, that to Ann, he, her very special brother, is the “ ... pearl of great value ... .”

Joel and Ann retired recently, and they have moved back to Joel’s home on the family farm in the Patmos Community IN Baker County. Ed visited frequently, and one day he told Ann that he would love to live in the home next to them in the country. Ann knew that the lady who lived there had be in the home a long time and would probably never sell. The very next week a “for sale” sign went up on the property. Ed immediately bought it and now lives next door to his sister.

Ann’s family has enlarged tremendously, and that huge void that plagued Ann all her life has been filled to overflowing.