Family of strangers united Long search ends joyfully

July 26, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Just like everyone else waiting for Delta flight 1626 yesterday at BWI, Margo Ashley examined each passenger who walked out of the gate, looking for that familiar face. Except she was looking for a familiar face she had never seen before.

Her face brimming with emotion, her hands clutching a bouquet of roses, Ms. Ashley and her brother John Ashley Jr. were waiting to meet Mary Ellen Reid.

When Mrs. Reid emerged from the gate and realized that this was her welcoming party, it was not only a look of emotion that crossed her face, it was also one of satisfaction. For this woman from Oklahoma City had spent the last 23 years looking for a half-sister and half-brother she had never known.

She found them at 2 p.m. yesterday at Gate B-1 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The reasons for their separation go back to a domestic dispute now buried under nearly four decades of memory. Suffice it to say that Mary Ellen and her older brother, Joe, were the children of the first marriage of Genevieve Wright of Clarksburg, W.Va. Margo -- born less than two years after Mary Ellen -- and John were children of a second marriage.

By that time, Mary Ellen and Joe were being raised by their paternal grandparents in Oklahoma City.

Genevieve and her second husband, a soldier, were being moved around by the military. Then Genevieve was killed in a car crash in San Diego. She was buried there, and Margo and John were sent to live with their father's parents.

"We looked for her two kids [the Ashleys], but we never could find them," said Genevieve's brother, Bob Wright, who was also present for yesterday's reunion.

Genevieve's family thought the children -- the Ashleys -- had been sent back to England because their father's family was from there. In fact, they were being raised by their grandparents at Deep Creek Lake, not that far from Clarksburg. Because they were so young when their mother died, they knew nothing of her family or her children by a first marriage.

And, growing up in Oklahoma, Mary Ellen knew nothing of them. But as a teen-ager, she asked about her mother and learned about her grandparents in West Virginia. She went to visit, and it was from them that she learned of her two half-siblings as well as her Uncle Bob, who lived in Owings Mills.

"That was 23 years ago," she said. "I started looking then and always said that I'd look for my brother and sister until the day I died.

"I just always wondered and worried about them, about how they grew up, if they were taken good care of, if they were OK."

Ms. Ashley said she understands that impulse. "I know when my mother died, I was only about 6 years old, but I felt a real responsibility to take care of my little brother," she said. "Mary Ellen was older than us so she probably felt the same way when she learned about us."

Mrs. Reid also had another motivation. "I never knew my mother, but I knew that I had family, a sister and brother, and it was like a part of her was out there somewhere. I made up my mind I'd find them."

Eight years ago, she made a special trip to her mother's grave in San Diego. It was Memorial Day. She put a note to her brother and sister on the gravestone, thinking that if they still lived in the area, they might visit it on that holiday. She contacted the Salvation Army. She wrote to the television series "Unsolved Mysteries."

She badgered Army officials for years until they located and wrote to Margo and John's father in Delaware. He contacted her 18 months ago, but claimed not to know where his son and daughter were. Mrs. Reid kept calling him, and in one conversation, he mentioned that they might be living in the Baltimore area. Actually, Ms. Ashley and her brother still live at Deep Creek Lake, though she works as a private nurse in Glen Burnie during the week.

Talking to her uncle, Mr. Wright, one night, Mrs. Reid discovered their mutual interest in fishing and decided to come up for an outing on the Chesapeake Bay and meet him for the first time.

Knowing there was a chance her sister and brother lived in the area, she decided to try a classified ad. She called the library to get the name of the local paper and was directed to The Sun. A lost check delayed the ad's publication -- Mrs. Reid was frantic that it wouldn't get in before her visit -- but on July 19 her notice ran in the personals: "Margaret Alice (Margo) or John F. Ashley Jr. Call your sister Mary Ellen" with her phone number in Oklahoma City.

"It was a shot in the dark," she said.

Little did she know what a long shot it was. As Mr. Ashley tells the story, a friend of his in the Deep Creek area reads the papers from Pittsburgh, but they are on strike so he picked up The Sun last weekend. He doesn't usually read classifieds, but the ad caught his eye as he was turning the pages at work. He got in touch with Ms. Ashley, who called the number and identified herself.

"Hi, I'm your sister," replied Mrs. Reid.

"But I don't have a sister," Ms. Ashley replied.

The story came tumbling out.

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