PRINCEVILLE — With the help of the Internet and a Mainland-based company that finds missing people, the lives of Hanalei resident Mary Ledward and her mother, Dorothy Pilkington of Castro Valley, Calif., have come full circle after 53 years.
In 1952, Pilkington gave birth to a baby girl at a hospital in San Diego. But one day later, Pilkington gave her up for adoption because she felt she didn’t have the financial means to “give her a life.”
The decision has caused Pilkington grief and remorse most of her life.
The life-long unhappiness was lifted late last year after she contacted a Florida-based search company on the Internet, and investigators located Ledward on Kaua’i.
Pilkington, now 72, a homemaker and a mother of three other grown children, came to Kaua’i last week to meet Ledward for the first time in 53 years.
Pilkington and Lou Ann Stamp, 49, Pilkington’s other daughter and Ledward’s younger sister who lives in Idaho and Alaska, flew from Idaho to Kaua’i, touching down at the Lihu’e Airport on the evening of Jan. 18.
Ledward and her husband, Jimmy, a construction worker and home builder who is part Hawaiian, failed to connect with Pilkington and Stamp at the airport. But they caught up with each other by the Shell station off Kuhio Highway in Kilauea later that evening.
The mother and daughter had exchanged photographs and talked by phone before the meeting. There was no shedding of tears — at least not on the part of Pilkington — only a mother’s intense curiosity about a daughter she had given up at birth, a yearning to reunite and happiness.
“It is not about sadness. It is only about happiness,” Pilkington said during a meeting with her daughter and The Garden Island at a Princeville Resort condominium last week.
Pilkington said meeting her daughter gave new meaning to her life.
“It is unreal,” she said quietly as she eyed Ledward in the condo kitchen.
“Great” was the way Stamp described seeing her big sister for the first time.
Ledward said she was raised in California by two loving adoptive parents and lived a life that “wasn’t lacking” in any financial or emotional way.
But as an adult and mother of four children, all grown, Ledward said she is now ready to find out who her mother was and is — and to become part of a new family network that consists of several hundred family members living on the Mainland.
Ledward’s bond with her biological mother was cut one day after she was born on July 7, 1952, at Mercy Hospital in San Diego where Pilkington and her young husband, Ronald Pilkington, lived and were house-sitting at the time.
“I was 19 years old; we had nothing,” Pilkington recalled. “She was my first child.”
As Pilkington held her daughter in her arms, she had one driving thought in her mind: “We had to give her a better life than we could give.”
The only option was adoption.
“When I had to give her away, I saw her only for a few minutes,” Pilkington said. “It was the toughest thing I think I have ever had to do.”
The child was adopted by Hilbert and Marciel Jones of Point Loma, Calif.
He taught vocational courses at San Diego City College and she was a homemaker who worked for a time as a clerk with the San Diego Police Department.
Ledward said life with her adoptive parents was like “Leave It To Beaver” or “Father Knows Best,” television shows about strong family ties in 1950s America.
“I knew I was adopted, but they were loving parents. I was never lacking. I never had a space to fill,” Ledward said.
For her, life revolved around sports, diving, surfing and volleyball.
She graduated from Point Loma High School in 1970, and because she wanted to be in a place where there was “warm, clean water” to pursue her water sports in, she moved to Kaua’i after turning 18. The easy pace of tropical living suited her. She had a child, and later on met Jimmy Ledward.
That happened when her child and Ledward’s son both attended Hanalei Elementary School in the mid-1970s.
Mary and Jimmy wed, had two other children, and lived happily as a family. Life was harmonious. She managed a chain of small retail stores on Kaua’i.
But ripples appeared in the quiet pond of her life in 1999, when her adoptive father passed away in California, and again in 2004, when her adoptive mother died.
Their deaths changed her life, she said. “I was 52 years old, and I re-thought my lifestyle, and downsized and worked less,” Ledward said.
Since she likes canoe paddling, she decided to do more of that with her husband and began training for the annual Molokai to O’ahu race.
She eventually left the employment of a management company on Kaua’i, and with time on her hands, turned her attention to papers related to her adoptive parents’ estate.
She came across papers that called out to her — her adoption papers.
Ledward had lived a full life with her adoptive parents, but she still wanted to find out more about her origins.
“I went through the papers, found a telephone number on the adoption papers and called it,” she said.
The number was for the adoption agency that processed her adoption. A staff person told Ledward she didn’t have records of the adoption proceedings but would get back to her.
Ledward didn’t pursue it any further after she got hired to work at a local retail store, and became busy.
“I got a letter from the adoption agency that said that if I wanted to pursue finding my natural mom, I would have to send registered letters to Sacramento, Calif.,” where the California Department of Health keeps birth records, Ledward said.
“I didn’t pursue it. It was not that I didn’t want to find my mother. I was too busy.”
So she filed away the letter, She found it again last August, and was contacted by a “private investigator who called me at work about my biological mother trying to find me.”
Pilkington had stepped up efforts in August 1999 to find Ledward.
“Because I had always wanted to find her,” Pilkington said. “I am 72 years old and I wanted some time with her. Finding my daughter was the void that needed to be filled.”
She hired two companies to try to find her daughter, but they weren’t successful.
Pilkington didn’t give up, and after reading articles about how other families found lost members, she got in touch with International Locator Inc., a worldwide investigations and research firm with headquarters in Ft. Myers, Fla., on the company’s Web site at International-locator.com.
Ledward’s disbelief swept over her after an investigator with the company contacted her. “I thought someone was trying to rip me off,” Ledward said.
But she became a believer after talking with Pilkington and exchanging photos that showed physical similarities.
To her surprise, results came in a week, and “I found Mary,” Pilkington said with a smile and glow on her face.
Ledward said she will never forget her adoptive parents, because they were so loving. But now that they are gone, she has a chance to reconnect with the person who brought her into this world.
“It is really kind of over-whelming,” she said.
While Pilkington and Stamp will be flying back to the Mainland this week, she is looking forward to spending much more time with her newfound daughter.
“I want to know her,” Pilkington said.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.