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Siblings Again See Kindness of Strangers

Families: Foster father organizes tribute to four orphans' mother, who died last year.

September 15, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Strangers who earlier this year saved four orphaned brothers and sisters from being split up and sent to separate foster homes stepped forward once more Saturday night--this time to help the children bring closure to their ordeal.

Dozens gathered for a memorial service organized by the youngsters' foster father to honor the memory of Katherine Lee, the mother of 15-year-old twins Shane and Patrick; Emily, 14; and Grace, 12.

"I look around this room at every one of you. If it weren't for you, I would not have the privilege of continuing to raise her children," said their new father, Gavin Glynn, as he stood next to a flower-covered table bearing a box containing Katherine Lee's ashes.

"There's not a day that goes by that I am not so grateful that she taught these children to never give up--and they haven't."

Incense was burned, prayers were said and tenor Bob Mack sang "You Are So Beautiful"--a song that Katherine Lee once performed as a percussionist with Joe Cocker's band. As the music filled the room at the Los Angeles Friendship Center, Emily dabbed her eyes and Grace buried her head on Patrick's shoulder.

"This gives them permission to move on, but to know they have a spiritual connection with their mother," Glynn explained. "They needed an opportunity to thank their teachers and other people who changed the course of their lives forever."

If the gathering at the Mid-City-area Buddhist center was unusual, so is the way people from throughout Los Angeles have rallied to help the children since Lee's death last December.

Lee, a 46-year-old employee of a Venice moving and storage company, was stricken with a heart attack at the family's North Hollywood home. Although the children quickly called 911 and Patrick followed directions from the emergency operator and performed CPR until paramedics arrived, their mother died later at UCLA Medical Center.

A family friend took in the four children until her landlord demanded that they leave by Feb. 1. The eviction order prompted a counselor at Fairfax High School, where Shane and Patrick are students, to launch a frantic campaign to find a place for the four to live before they were swept into the county's 51,000-child foster-care system.

"We're fine, we have each other," the boys had told counselor Amanda Jiggins. But she knew better. Teenagers are notoriously hard to place in foster homes.

"I was so worried that the second they got into the system they'd be dispersed," said Jiggins, who attended Saturday night's service. "The boys had said it: They had each other. That was the only thing they had left."

Within a few days, the search turned up Glynn, who heard about the children through a gay fathers support group called Pop Luck. Because the 41-year-old television writer was already adopting an 8-year-son, Iby, he was certified as a foster father. The Lee children moved immediately into his five-bedroom West Adams District home.

A Times story on Feb. 2 described the orphans' unusual placement and prompted hundreds of others to become involved with their new lives.

Readers donated food, clothing and gift certificates. One signed over a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban large enough carry all of Glynn's instant family. Others donated desks and other furniture, a freezer and a king-size kitchen table. Los Feliz Costco store manager Kevin Green donated $300 a month in groceries in perpetuity.

Nearly $40,000 was contributed by readers to a college fund for the children. Donations continue to be accepted at "Lee Children's Irrevocable Trust," Merrill Lynch Private Client Group, 16830 Ventura Blvd. No. 601, Encino, CA 91436.

The Korean-American Federation of Los Angeles collected $4,000 for the youngsters, who share a Korean, Hawaiian, Samoan and Irish background. A Los Angeles couple, Steven and Suzie Cha, invited the children into their home and began taking them to Koreatown restaurants to introduce them to the Korean culture, according to Glynn.

Kelly Chun, a deputy district attorney, volunteered to mentor Emily and Grace. "They shop and do girl things together," Glynn said.

Lawyer Diane Stanfield pledged free legal service for the adoption process--which includes a search for Lee's former husband, who walked out on the family a dozen years ago.

One reader was partly responsible for Saturday's memorial service. Richard Hart, a concert producer, helped find Katherine Lee's missing remains.

For months after her death Lee's body could not be located. Initially, those helping the children speculated that it might have gone for medical research or been disposed of after going unclaimed.

But Hart prevailed upon a friend who works for the county to snip through red tape and track down the cremated remains, which had been cataloged under a combination of her maiden and married names. He and Grant Gochin, a Chatsworth resident involved with Pop Luck, paid the $500 cremation fee.

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