One enjoyed privilege, the other hardship… The sisters raised 30 miles apart but in cruelly different worlds
08:38 GMT, 11 April 2012
Although it was a sunny Saturday afternoon, six-year-old Helen Lumsden was shut inside the pit cottage she shared with her parents in Seghill, Northumberland, desperately working through her list of chores.
If she didn’t peel the vegetables for dinner properly she might upset her father Tommy, which could mean a black eye – or worse.
Meanwhile, 30 miles away, eight-year-old Jenny Lee Smith was running around barefoot on the vast expanse of sand at Embleton beach.
Reunited: Helen Edwards, left, with Jenny Lucas, are now looking forward to spending the rest of their lives as sisters
After a day of golf with her beloved
father, Sidney, with a little club he’d made just for her, she would
soon be beckoned in for dinner at their holiday bungalow by her smiling
scenes, which took place 55 years ago, couldn’t be more different
examples of a post-war upbringing in the North-East. But these two
little girls have something in common. They are sisters, though back
then neither knew the other existed.
had been put up for adoption at six weeks old and brought up to believe
she was her parents’ biological child, while Helen was raised by their
mother and her violent stepfather — who she thought was her natural
father — unaware that she had a sister.
It’s easy to forget that
they have known each other for barely five years. They
embrace easily and often, and giggle together like schoolgirls
In the mid-Eighties, after Jenny found out she was adopted, she launched a search to find out where she came from — which finally led to the little sister she never knew she had.
It would be another half a century
before they would come face to face and discover the depth of the
deception that had kept them apart.
After a tearful reunion in a hotel lobby in 2007, the sisters are inseparable. They talk on the phone constantly and make regular trips between their homes in Kent and Northumberland. They are even writing a book about their experiences.
‘In the normal course of events, we would have grown up together,’ says Helen, 61. ‘That early childhood together was taken away from us. But Jenny and I have shared our pain, our joy, our anger and our disappointments. And we’re certainly making up for all that lost time.’
When The Mail reported their
incredible story last month, many were touched by the sisterly love
Helen and Jenny felt for each other — despite spending decades apart.
watching them drinking tea in Jenny’s kitchen, it’s easy to forget that
these two women have known each other for barely five years. They
embrace easily and often, and giggle together like schoolgirls.
Early days: Helen aged around two with her biological father Wilfred Harrison, left, and Jenny aged 18 months with her adoptive mother and father in 1950, right
But even now, there’s no disguising how much their contrasting childhoods have affected their adult lives. While Jenny, the elder sister, was given up by their mother, it was she who went on to have the loving upbringing that Helen could only dream of.
Growing up in a Victorian terrace in the middle-class Newcastle suburb of West Jesmond, with the loving support of her adoptive parents, Jenny, now 63, shot into the public eye as a golfer when she won the ladies’ British Open in 1976.
She lives in a country home, complete with swimming pool and sprawling gardens, in Tenterden, Kent, with her construction company owner husband Sam Lucas, 67.
They have three children, Katie, 22, Ben, 20, and Josh, 18, who was adopted from Romania, and spend weekends in Bruges, evenings at West End shows and holidays on luxury cruise liners.
/04/11/article-2127973-12231CBF000005DC-693_306x429.jpg” width=”306″ height=”429″ alt=”Jenny on the cover of the WGA Official Handbook after winning the Hambro Life trophy in 1981 ” class=”blkBorder” />
Jenny on the cover of the WGA Official Handbook after winning the Hambro Life trophy in 1981
'I learned from a young age that life was tough. I never understood why, but when he argued with my mother, he would turn on me. It was always my fault.’
Despite being a bright girl who was always top of the class, Helen’s academic work began to suffer and she failed the 11-plus. Her life revolved around her household chores. At 15, she was pulled out of school to work full-time in a local clothes shop. Her wages went to her parents.
‘I felt so envious of the girls at the grammar school — that was the future I’d dreamed of,’ she says. ‘George had joined the Merchant Navy and was away for months, and I felt so lonely.’
Then, to her dismay, her parents uprooted her at the age of 16 to start a new life in South Africa. ‘It felt as if we were running away from something. It seemed that every time I established any semblance of a life of my own, they plucked me away.’
In Newcastle, life couldn’t have been more different for Jenny. While her parents weren’t wealthy — her mother owned a hairdressing salon, her father was a gas works manager — they made sure she wanted for nothing.
‘They worked all hours of the day and night to give me the things that they didn’t have,’ she says. ‘They sent me to Newcastle Church High School, which was a struggle for them because it was fee-paying, but they encouraged me to take dance classes, violin lessons and swimming coaching.’
Jenny’s childhood wasn’t free of
heartache, though. When she was only 12, her father, who had been a
heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died just months later.
She and her mother were bereft, but if anything, it made Connie even more determined to give Jenny a good life.
she would be in her salon from 8am until midnight, especially in the
run-up to Christmas when it was busiest, to keep me in private school.
Despite our grief, we were a happy and close-knit household.’
the bottom dropped out of her world when, aged 14, an older cousin
blurted out during an argument that Jenny was adopted. In floods of
tears, she asked her mother if it was true.
Tenterdon, Kent, where Jenny lives in a large country home with swimming pool and sprawling gardens
‘She admitted it was, but she just didn’t want to talk about it. I would find out later that she’d had a miscarriage in her late 30s that stopped her having children.’
Unwilling to upset her mother and destroy their close relationship, Jenny went into denial and threw herself into sport. She had started golf lessons, knowing her father would have approved, and went on to get a job as a receptionist at a golf club when she left school at 16.
Due to her natural talent and the hours spent practising her swing, by the age of 22 she had joined the Northumberland team. Just six years later she won the British Open.
‘My mother came to watch me play when
she could,’ says Jenny. ‘She was fantastically proud. She was always my
The most important thing they share is the sheer joy at having found each other after all these years
But there was still that nagging curiosity in the back of her mind about her birth family.
She applied for her birth certificate in 1985, but it wasn’t until after her mother’s death in 1997 — when she had a family of her own — that she had a breakthrough. The information on her birth certificate led her to a long-lost cousin and eventually, through research on the electoral roll, an address for her birth mother.
After sending two letters, she got a terse response asking her to ‘stop bothering a sick old lady’. Reeling from this rejection, but determined to get answers, in August 2004 she finally decided to visit her biological mother Mercia’s home with her husband Sam and children in tow.
Miles apart: Helen lives in a modest semi in Morpeth, Northumberland, with her second husband Dennis Edwards
Standing on the doorstep, Jenny was terrified. But then an elderly lady appeared at the door.
‘Sam said “This is Jennifer” and she took me into her arms. There were lots of tears.’
were invited in, and just as Jenny had dreamed of for years, mother and
daughter had an emotional reunion. ‘We stayed a couple of hours, but
there were so many questions I forgot to ask. I was just so swept up in
it all,’ says Jenny.
was very apologetic. She kept saying it had been so hard in those
post-war years. I wept buckets the whole way through and kept shaking. I
think we were both overwhelmed.
‘It was Sam who kept the conversation going. I almost felt I was outside my body looking in.’
Just two months later, news reached Jenny that Mercia had died. During that one precious visit, her mother had mentioned a daughter, Helen.
It was in May 2007 that Helen received the email that would change her life for ever
Could this be a half-sister who was still alive Jenny took to genealogy website Genes Reunited and managed to track down another cousin, who gave her Helen’s email address. She agonised for days over the message she finally sent.
Meanwhile, Helen was totally unaware of Jenny’s existence. Following her stepfather Tommy’s death in 1971, she left South Africa and moved back to Britain, where she settled with first husband Simon. But after that marriage broke down after 32 years, Helen fell in love with a Texan, remarried and moved to America.
She had only occasional contact with her mother Mercia — who was very much against her daughter’s divorce and didn’t hesitate to say so.
‘I often visited my brother George’s widow in Fort Worth, Texas, and on one of these trips I met Dennis, my second husband, at a barbecue,’ says Helen. ‘We got married and lived there for five or six years.’
Helen was still in America when in May 2007 she received the email that would change her life for ever.
‘I shouted for Dennis to read it,’ she says. ‘It started: “My name is Jenny Lucas, there’s no easy way to say this, but I believe you are my half-sister.” I was shaking from head to foot in shock.
‘Dennis thought it was a scam, but after reading it again and again, we both realised it was true. I stayed up until 5am writing a reply. I needed to know the whole story.’
Siblings: The sisters pose together in Jenny's garden at her home in Kent. They say it is as if they've found the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle
Jenny, waiting desperately back in England and terrified about another rejection, was flooded with relief when a reply came through. After that, the two women wrote a flurry of emails before agreeing to meet.
Helen was already in the process of moving back to Britain, so a meeting was planned in a Northumberland hotel in summer 2007.
‘I walked around the corner and saw Helen there smiling at me,’ says Jenny. ‘We hugged each other straightaway — we had an instant connection.’
Helen nods. ‘I had butterflies in my tummy, but I knew it was her the moment I saw her. It was just as if we’d known each other for ever.’
But despite the joyous reunion, there were more shocks to come. A DNA test in 2010 revealed they shared the same father: a man called Wilfred Harrison, with whom their mother had a lengthy affair while married to her first husband, and who had died several years earlier. Helen and Jenny were full sisters.
Rather than being good news, the first
thing Helen felt was uncontrollable anger. ‘I had felt compassion for my
mother — I know how hard it was post-war and I thought it must have
been an awful decision to make to give up a child,’ she says.
Helen admits that hearing about Jenny's ‘idyllic’ childhood
shone a light on how bad hers had been
‘But now I had discovered my father Tommy was not my father. And it turned out that my whole family, even George, had known.
‘Everyone had lied to me. And I couldn’t even confront my mother about it. Suddenly it explained why Tommy had taken his temper out on me — I must have been a constant stress in their marriage. She had got away with it.’
Though Helen swears she never felt any jealousy towards Jenny, she does admit that hearing of her ‘idyllic’ childhood shone a light on how bad hers had been.
Jenny also had her own pain to deal with. For one, she had never got to meet her brother George, who died of prostate cancer in 1995.
‘I do feel resentful about not meeting George. I’ve looked at his picture and wondered if maybe I ever bumped into him without knowing who he was. But I can’t really feel angry with Mercia for giving me up — it gave my parents the opportunity to choose me.’ The bond that has formed between the sisters has helped to salve these wounds.
They have discovered lots of little coincidences — they both own chihuahuas, they were in the same area of Florida only days apart and may even have been in the same operating theatre when Jenny had surgery on her back in the hospital where Helen worked.
But the most important thing they share is the sheer joy at having found each other after all these years.
‘Now we’ve got each other, we’re looking forward to the rest of our lives as sisters,’ says Jenny.
‘It’s brilliant! It’s like a part of our lives has opened up that had never been there before. She is the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.’