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A Daughter's Search Begins at Door of State Hospital

Genealogy: Adopted woman seeks mother's identity. Pending closure of facility makes effort more urgent.

December 30, 1996|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For most of her 34 years, Theresa Ann Gray has viewed her life as rootless and incomplete, like a jigsaw puzzle short some key pieces.

Much of her adulthood has been spent searching for the woman who gave her life from a Camarillo State Hospital bed 27 minutes before midnight on a crisp spring night in 1962.

The auburn-haired birth mother, a mental patient at the state hospital, gave the infant Theresa up for adoption weeks after she was born.

The balance of Gray's life has been a hunt for her background and identity.

"I just don't have anyone in my life right now," said Gray, whose adoptive parents are both deceased. "I'm getting older and time is going by very fast. I want to know my blood. I have that right."

Now getting by on public assistance in a Pensacola, Fla., suburb, Gray said the impending closure of Camarillo State Hospital has sparked a new urgency in finding her biological relatives.

"If I found them, I would feel alive again," said Gray, a former waitress now on disability. "Not knowing makes you feel like you're not a whole person. You're alive, but you don't feel like you're alive.

"I want to see my flesh and blood."

Only recently has Gray jump-started her longtime effort to locate her blood relatives. She knows this much for certain:

* She was born at Camarillo State Hospital on April 28, 1962, to a woman with freckles whose name is unclear. The circumstances surrounding the pregnant woman's admission to the state hospital are murky.

* Gray's birth certificate lists her adoptive parents as the parents of record.

* A private investigation in the 1980s turned up the name Theresa Marie Keene as the potential birth mother, but Camarillo State has no record of a patient by that name.

* Gray was adopted by a Ventura County family, and she moved from Thousand Oaks to Florida as a young girl. The Brodowskis, Mathew and Lois, had no biological children and have both since died.

* The birth mother was released from Camarillo State a month after she gave birth.

* Confidentiality rules at both the state hospital and the county social services office make many records unavailable.

As an adult, Gray moved cross-country several times, coming closest to finding her birth family while living in Northern California in the mid-1980s.

That trail ended, however, with a stalled private investigation and a four-page letter from the Ventura County social worker who supervised her adoption during the weeks after she was born.

Barbara Hutchason only vaguely remembers the pregnant, 22-year-old unwed patient who turned up at Camarillo State Hospital in the spring of 1962. The name Keene rings a bell, but Hutchason is not sure if that was the woman's name.

"She was a pretty girl, kind of long hair and kind of frail-looking," said Hutchason, who is now retired and lives in Ventura.

"They were poor, and the grandmother was very demanding and demeaning," Hutchason said. "It was like the girl had no self-confidence and let herself get pushed around by other people."

*

By March of 1962, the woman Gray knows as Theresa Marie Keene was soon to give birth and short on options. Hutchason said the woman was obliged to care for an ailing mother and may have feigned mental illness as a means to escape that responsibility.

"Since she was acting 'crazy,' someone committed your birth mother and then the concern over her physical condition took over," Hutchason wrote to Gray in 1986.

In a recent interview, she added: "The main thing I remember about [Gray's] mother is that I tended to believe her story that she acted crazy to get away from her mother.

"She might not have been mentally ill, but she didn't have good coping skills," Hutchason said. "As she found out, that can get you into a lot of trouble."

Unwed mothers in the early 1960s had a much more difficult time than their counterparts these days, Hutchason said. Adoption was practically the only option available to the young mother, she said.

Gray's birth mother "didn't have a job and she didn't have a place to live when she got out," Hutchason said. "She really did not want to give the baby up, but she didn't know what else to do."

What's more, Hutchason told Gray in the 1986 letter, the birth father was an irresponsible young man of few means. About the time Gray was conceived, the man also impregnated another woman, a married friend of Gray's mother, Hutchason said.

"He thought this was funny and thought it would be really great if both women went to the same doctor," Hutchason wrote. "Your birth father did not offer your birth mother any help, and she does not think he offered anything to the other woman either."

*

Hutchason said that Gray's birth mother was given information about the adopting family, and that pictures were sent to the woman. "She seemed pleased to get them," Hutchason noted.

Nonetheless, the woman, who would be about 57 years old now, has never contacted the Ventura County Public Social Services Agency looking for her daughter.

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