Jeff '74 and Cindy Simonsen Daly '80 :
Finding a sister leads to "Molly's Bill"
By LeeAnn Kriegh '94
In 2004, Jeff '74 and Cindy Simonsen Daly '80 walked into a Hillsboro, Ore., group home and found Jeff's sister, Molly Daly, 47 years after she was taken from Jeff's family. As a young child she had been moved to the Salem, Ore., Fairview Hospital and Training Center, once called the "State Institution for the Feeble-Minded."
That remarkable family reunion is but one part of the Daly's story about the difference people can make in the lives of others. It's a story that stretches back to the Daly's days at Pacific and through their current attempt to bring Molly's story to life through film.
Jeff and Cindy attended high school together in Astoria, Ore., and coincidentally the two friends ended up at Pacific at the same time. Jeff was a communications major whose senior-year internship at KATU in Portland led to a successful career as a cameraman. Cindy's story was much different. She dropped out of high school to have a child and, by the age of 23, had three children. Though she dreamed of attending college, she instead worked in the University's Admissions Office, certain she could never succeed as a student.
Physical education Professor Robert Allord saw things differently. "He changed what I thought I could do," said Cindy. "He gave me the power to move forward and do something in my life." Allord offered a kinesiology class that included sessions in the gym working with individuals with Down's Syndrome. "He told me, 'You have children, you know about children, you should just take this class.' He convinced me I could do it."
The kinesiology class gave Cindy the confidence to continue her studies, and eventually she earned an MBA and became vice president of external affairs at AT&T. The class also taught Cindy about working with disabled people, lessons that would prove important years later.
When she and Jeff reunited through their 25th high school reunion and married two years later, Cindy learned of Jeff's disabled sister, whom the family had sent to Fairview when Molly was three and Jeff was six. Jeff hadn't seen his sister in the intervening years, and his parents refused to discuss her. "It was a sign of the times," said Cindy. "Families were told to take their children to Fairview and leave them. Jeff's mom said she'd disown him if he went to visit Molly."
When Jeff's parents died, Jeff found a laminated card with Molly's name, birthday, and Social Security number inside his father's wallet. Using that information, Jeff and Cindy were able to find Molly at a group home in Hillsboro, where they saw her for the first time a day later.
Jeff said it was a moment he will never forget. "It felt like 47 years were gone in an instant. I knew it was her right away, and I think she knew who I was, too."
In fact, the Dalys discovered that Molly is, in Jeff's words, "not so disabled as we'd been told." He said, "Every time I see her, she's giddy. There is some love and some hope there." For the first time in her adult life, Molly, who is now 51, has a family around her. "It's about time she has a chance to get a little bit of love," Jeff said.
Since reuniting with Molly, the Dalys have worked to ensure other families in Oregon and across the country can reconnect with their loved ones. In 2005, Jeff and Cindy helped spur the passage of "Molly's Bill," the first bill of its kind in the country, which requires the state of Oregon to notify disabled residents or their care providers when a relative wants to make contact.
Jeff and Cindy know of at least seven families that have been reunited with help from Molly's Bill, and the Dalys are now attempting to pass similar bills in other states. It is a labor of love - as is the documentary film they have spent three years making about Molly's story.
As a professional cameraman, Jeff has covered the Super Bowl and 22 major golf tournaments. He has, he said, "been around the world many, many, many times." Now, for the first time, he is producing his own documentary, with the camera focused on his own life and his sister's. He and Cindy plan to enter the film into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
In the meantime, the Dalys spend as much time as they can with Molly, who is benefiting from art and music therapy, and has learned the names of several relatives. When she sees Jeff, Cindy said, Molly is always filled with joy, hugging him and calling him "brother."