Mother and son, reunited after more than 60 years, mark another milestone

Frances Dove, 87, of Chester and her long-lost son, J.T. Thomas, 64, of Summerville share memories Sunday outside the Florence Crittenton home in Charleston. It was the first time Dove had been back to the home for unwed mothers since she left Thomas behind there shortly after his birth. Buy this photo

For more than 60 years, a mother lived with the sorrow of giving her only son up for adoption at a home for unwed mothers.

She went back there Sunday to see what she remembered. Her son held her hand and shared her memories.

Frances Dove, 87, of Chester and J.T. Thomas, 64, of Summerville were reunited earlier this year. They marked another milestone Sunday. They returned to the Florence Crittenton home, where he was born and then left behind.

Dove remembered the outside of the big brick house on St. Margaret Street but little of the interior, which was extensively renovated a few years ago. Much has changed since she was there in 1949. Most mothers who stay there now keep their babies, after being trained in parenting skills, health and nutrition, finances and job readiness, Director Lisa Van Bergen said.

Dove lived with her family on a farm near Chester when she became pregnant. Her parents told her they couldn't afford a baby and sent her to the Crittenton home in Charleston. She never forgot her boy, whom she had named Robert Wayne. She never married or had another child.

Robert was adopted by a family near Charleston, who named him Jones Tillman Thomas. He joined the Marines and served in Vietnam. He was a police officer in North Charleston and Goose Creek and at the Charleston airport.

Of course Dove knew none of this until recently.

She kept her pregnancy a secret most of her life but finally told her younger sister, Mary Ellen Love. Mary Ellen's daughter-in-law, Jutanna Love, drove to Florence Crittenton to try to find out something about the son about three years ago. She didn't find out anything but brought a brick from the house back to her sister. Dove slept with the brick every night.

The family turned to the South Carolina Adoption Reunion Agency for help. Fortunately, Thomas had also contacted the agency. Mother and son met each other on March 18. They've kept in touch daily since then.

Dove and Thomas' story is included in a new book about Florence Crittenton. The book is called "Miracles on St. Margaret Street" by retired attorney and former Crittenton board member Ruth Cupp. Barbara Williams, editor emeritus of the Post and Courier, helped Cupp turn the stories into a book.

The story about Dove and Thomas was first reported in The Herald in Rock Hill for Mother's Day and was included in the book as an addendum. The book is being sold to raise money for Crittenton programs. Arcadia Publishing printed 1,500 copies at cost. If they all sell, it will raise about $30,000 for Crittenton, Arcadia sales director Joseph Walker said.

The book can be ordered from the Crittenton website at florencecrittentonsc.org.

Correction: An earlier version had Frances Dove's first name wrong. We apologize for the error.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.

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