In late May of 1985, I received the gift of a lifetime when my dear friend, attorney Ira Uhrig, located my biological father. Kova Meredith was living on a farm in rural Kentucky, and had recently rented a home in Louisville. I was twenty. My father was seventy.
Thanks to Ira, I gained a father, siblings, aunts, and uncles that I’d never known. Now a judge in Washington, Ira Uhrig tells about the experience that changed our lives, and restored my birth name, changing me from Libby Ponder to Lizbeth Meredith.
Q. How did you become interested in reuniting families?
While in my second year of college, I had the opportunity to hear of an organization that was forming for the purpose of helping adopted parents and children reunite. They were originally called “Birthright”, but they changed their name when they learned that a pro-life group already used that name. They became W.A.R.M., for Washington Adoption Reunion Movement. I knew my roommate and his sister were both adopted, so I convinced him to attend the meetings.
Within a short while, through the considerable efforts of many people (and I am honored to have played a small role), he was able to locate his father. When he and his father reunited and I had a chance to spend time with them, I was struck with awe as to how much they were alike – not just in physical resemblance, but in posture, speech, mannerisms, and in every way imaginable, yet they had never had any contact whatsoever or spent one moment of time together before the reunification. I then took it upon myself as a mission of sorts to do whatever I could to help facilitate this type of reunification whenever possible.
What were the first steps back then in finding a missing family member?
Back in the ’70s and ’80’s, it involved a good bit of detective work…numerous phone calls, searching out newspaper articles, mailing letters to possible relatives or even past business contacts. It sometimes took many months to even come up with a clue.
Of course, things like the WARM Confidential Intermediary System make this all much easier, but I dealt with many cases as an attorney where the adoptee or the parent did not want to use the services of any organization, perhaps because these organizations were still relatively new back then and there was still a large degree of societal opposition to reunifications. Fortunately, these organizations are much better-known these days there is less hesitance for the parties to seek out their parents or children, and society is recognizing these reunifications as something that can be very important to the birth parent, to the child, and to the adoptive parents as well.
When my friend Libby told me she had been adopted, I asked her if I could help her search for her father. She had very little information about him …only his name and her city of birth. Libby was one of my best friends in the world, and I would have done anything for her, so though this seemed a daunting task with so little information, I set out to find her dad, thinking all the while that I might meet with failure, but not accepting failure as an option.
I’d like to say that it was my brilliant investigative techniques that led me to finding Libby’s dad, but it was simply luck and/or divine intervention. The very first thing I did was to call directory assistance in the town where I expected he might be living (thinking I might find some relatives who could help me), but I was completely surprised to find that he had a listed phone number. Imagine further the joy I felt when I called that number, spoke to him, and told him that his daughter would like to meet him. He told me he had been looking for her for 20 years.
Oh…about the divine intervention part, I should add that had I made my call to directory assistance just an hour earlier, I would have come up with nothing, as he just had his phone service connected that day and it was a brand new listing. In fact, my call was the very first call to that number, and he had assumed it was the phone company calling to see if the phone was working properly.
I have done many reunifications that were far more difficult, but I can tell you that reuniting Libby and her dad was quite probably the most rewarding thing that I have ever done in my life. To this day I keep in my desk a copy of Libby’s Name Change Order that was entered on June 7, 1985 (exactly 27 years ago to the day as I type this) which allowed her to once again bear her birth name.
|First reunion with my father and some of my siblings, June, 1985.
How has technology changed the location process?
In the years that have passed, the Internet makes these type of searches much easier…I suppose that is obvious. And the widespread use of the Confidential Intermediary System in my State is a great help as well.
When I was sworn-in as a Superior Court Judge (coincidentally, in the same courtroom where I got the name change for Libby), I became the Judge in my county who is primarily responsible for all of the Confidential Intermediary requests. And each time I sign one, I am able to re-live to some extent the joy I shared with my college roommate, with numerous friends and clients, and, most of all, with my friend Libby, in reuniting parent and child — sometimes for the first time ever.