Jenny Lucas was Jenny Lee-Smith when she won the inaugural Women’s British Open at Fulford in 1976. Because she was an amateur, she did not take home the £210 winner’s check. However, she was the recipient of a handsome gold pin bearing the words “British Open Winner,” which she treasures to this day.
Born on December 2, 1948, Jenny was given up for adoption a couple of months later – an arrangement of which everyone in her wider family seemed to be aware.
Everyone but her.
The first she heard of it came from the mouths of cousins who were arguing over the loss of a book. The then-14-year-old Jenny, who had lost her much-loved adoptive father to cancer some two years earlier, was about to contribute her two-pence worth to the debate when she was told to mind her own business.
The cruel follow-up line was nothing if not devastating.
“You’re not even part of this family. Your mam is not year real mother.”
How that hurt.
It was, in fairness, an era when parents were not always inclined to spell things out to an adopted child, while it was probably only with difficulty that Jenny’s mother had at one point mentioned to her only child that she had been “chosen.” Jenny had bracketed that piece of information with the fairy stories she used to be told at bedtime.
Of course, she wanted to know more about her real parents but, with her mother no less traumatized by the latest turn of events than she was, the conversation which should have happened never did.
In 1975, it became possible for an adopted child to gain access to original birth certificates and adoption records and when, at the start of the 1980s, Lucas retired from what had been a pretty lucrative golf career, she went into action.
Jenny, though she struggled to conceal the anger she felt for her mother at that point, eventually decided that it was wrong to put too much pressure on a loving parent who was still grieving the loss of a husband who had meant so much to both of them.
With that in mind, she put her mounting stack of questions on hold during teenage years in which she became a first-class swimmer before putting more of an emphasis on the golf she had learned from her parents before being tutored by the great John Jacobs.
After winning the British Open, Lucas turned professional in 1977 and proceeded to win two WPGA (as the Ladies European Tour was then known) Orders of Merit and a total of 10 events in Europe. She also notched a top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour and loves to tell of the day when she took a picture of the leaderboard at a moment when she was one slot ahead of her great heroine, Nancy Lopez.
In 1975, it became possible for an adopted child to gain access to original birth certificates and adoption records and when, at the start of the 1980s, Lucas retired from what had been a pretty lucrative golf career, she went into action. As was the norm, she was allocated an adoption counsellor who was able to advise that her mother was called Mercia. There was no father’s name on the relevant form.
Though not in a position to pass on Mercia’s details, the intermediary was able to give Lucas a contact number for her mother’s sister, Dorrie.
Dorrie’s instincts, when she met Jenny, were to give her an apologetic hug. She rang Mercia while Jenny was with her and asked if she would like to speak to her daughter, but the answer was in the negative. “Too much water has gone under the bridge,” came the explanation.
That was one more shock to Jenny’s system. Her birth mother had rejected her once. Now she was doing the same again.
Perhaps by way of comforting her niece, Dorrie released a couple of other family secrets as she and Jenny parted company. Namely, that she had a sister and a brother.
Time passed. Jenny found herself a lovely partner by name of Sam Lucas, a keen golfer who was in the construction business, and the couple had two children. Katie was born in 1989, and Ben a couple of years later before this happy family headed for Florida in 1998. They planned to stay for two years but made it seven.
Yet still there was this small voice inside telling Jenny that she should find out more about her origins. The search took on a new lease when, in 2003, a cousin called Wendy discovered Mercia’s whereabouts.
On a trip back to the UK, Jenny and Sam took Mercia by surprise.
Mercia was startled beyond belief when they arrived at her door but, on this occasion, she hugged her daughter. For Jenny, that was enough. Yet there was a downside to the visit. Mercia wanted her to get out of the house in a hurry because she was expecting her daughter, Helen. In other words, the story was hardly a closed book.
Sam, who had done so well in life, was by then making periodic visits to Romania to help rebuild hospitals in that then-impoverished land. On one occasion, when Jenny had gone with him to see the good work, a nurse handed them a baby boy wrapped in a grey rag.
The staff asked if they would take him back to their home in Kent on the grounds that the mother could not keep him. The brother had been stoned by the villagers because of the disgrace his sister had brought on them all, and the mother knew that she would be killed if she hung on to the infant.
In an exchange of messages which happened over some time, Lucas would learn that Helen’s upbringing by her birth mother had been at the opposite end of the spectrum to hers. Mercia had been hideously cold and cruel, as had Tommy, the man she took to be her father.
So happy were Sam and Jenny to oblige that they broke all the rules back home – it could have cost them two years in jail – but took him just the same and dealt with the form-filling as per the advice of their lawyers.
Before too long, the police came looking for “the illegal immigrant” but, on seeing that the immigrant in question was still a baby – he was called Josh – they were in no hurry to take him away. Mercifully, the Kent County Council soon was able to confirm that the various papers seemed to be in order.
Josh, now 29, was told from the start that he was adopted. He gets on famously with everyone and, today, is the owner of a flourishing landscaping business.
It was not until Mercia died and Jenny was able to get hold of a copy of the death certificate that she discovered Helen’s email address – she was then living in Texas with her husband, Dennis – and plucked up the courage to get in touch. The message started with the line, “I believe you’re my half-sister.”
In an exchange of messages which happened over some time, Lucas would learn that Helen’s upbringing by her birth mother had been at the opposite end of the spectrum to hers.
Mercia had been hideously cold and cruel, as had Tommy, the man she took to be her father. He had whipped her and blamed her for everything that went wrong between him and Mercia.
As she and Jenny would learn, this was almost certainly related to how he knew that Mercia had had a fling with an American airman and that the latter was Helen’s father.
Barely had the sisters combined with Jacquie Buttress to write their extraordinary if complex story in a book, My Secret Sister, which would make the bestseller list, than the last of a series of tests revealed that Jenny and Helen were, in fact, twins.
Helen’s birthday was not the April 1, 1950 date she had always thought it to be – she had aged well over a year overnight.
Not too many would rejoice in making such a discovery, but Helen, like Jenny, found herself crying with laughter.
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