From secrecy to celebrity: The story of Molly Daly
By Reina Pike
Molly Daly lives in Hillsboro, Oregon. She works part-time and spends her free time doing art projects and playing music. She likes spending time with her family and friends. She loves water, especially at the beach.
But things haven't always been like this for her. Molly Daly was diagnosed with mental retardation at age two and was sent to Fairview Training Center when she was only three years old.
It took her brother Jeff Daly many years to accept the loss of his younger sister.
"Every time I asked `where's Molly,' I'd be sent to my room," he said. "We were not to discuss Molly."
For many years Jeff honored the wishes of his mother and he essentially forgot about Molly.
But everything changed after his parents died in 2004. Jeff and his wife Cindy set out to find Molly and 47 years after she was sent away, Jeff was reunited with his sister. "Where's Molly?," is a documentary that shows Molly and Jeff 's history and their reunion. It will be shown at this year's Salem Film Festival on April 20 at 6:45 p.m.
The film spans the lives of Jeff and Molly and shows their mother as a strong-minded woman whose life plan, Jeff says, "Just didn't include a retarded daughter." It also shows the history and difficult living situations that were experienced at Fairview Training Center, a Salem facility once known as the Oregon State Institute for the Feeble Minded.
"We know Molly was given many drugs and that she was taken to the state hospital at least once, which means there is the possibility of shock therapy," says Cindy.
But today Molly appears to be a happy adult. And she and Jeff are busy making up for lost time.
"She spends a lot of time with us," Jeff says. "We visit her about every two weeks and she vacations at the beach with us twice a year."
Jeff, who was described by his wife as "the class clown," is perhaps the best brother a girl like Molly could ask for. In the movie you see them walking together, him pushing her wheelchair, talking to her and being silly.
"I always talk to her," he said. "She might not answer me back, but she is just like us -- she loves the interaction with me. She deserves no less."
Jeff was told in no uncertain terms by his mother that he was not to go looking for Molly. In fact, she threatened to cut him off from the family if he did. Jeff understood that his mother had made her decision to send Molly away based on social pressures of the `50s and lack of information. What he didn't count on was that her attitude towards Molly would affect his family today.
"My family refuses to see Molly, to meet her," he says. "I just don't understand it. My aunt and cousins came to one of the screenings of this film in Portland. And I reached out to them. I asked them to talk to me after they saw the movie and that I hoped we could be a family again. But they left without speaking to me. It was very upsetting and a loss for all of us."
Molly has another brother, Tim, who is younger than both she and Jeff. He also refuses to have anything to do with Molly. "I just don't understand," says Jeff. `This is what upsets us most. How can my mother still have so much control over her family years after her death? I believe they all could learn something about tolerance and compassion if they just met Molly one time."
Ironically, Jeff has lost his family despite abiding by his mother's wishes while she was alive.
But the relationship that Jeff and Molly have gained has significantly changed both their lives.
"I didn't recognize as an adult that I had Molly was gone. Once Molly was back in my life I felt whole for the first time." And Molly, Jeff says, has certainly changed. "She looks different and behaves in a different manner today than she did three years ago."
When they first met her, she barely spoke and was in a wheelchair, but was far from a vegetable, which is how she was described when she was committed to Fairview.
It's hard to say how much different Molly would have been under other circumstances. With limited medical records and knowledge of her past, there is no way to know for certain. Jeff and Cindy instead help Molly focus on the future.
"She loves to learn," says Cindy. "She learns new words every day. More importantly, she is learning how to communicate in a positive way. She used to react very negatively. We would give her something and she would throw it on the floor. Now she sets it on the table. At Fairview she wouldn't get any attention for being good, but we give her a lot of positive reinforcement and you can really tell the difference in her behavior. She still has the ability to learn."
For Jeff and Molly, finding each other was just the beginning.
"Making the film was therapeutic for me and Molly," says Jeff.
Since then they have gone on to work with Senate President Peter Courtney on "Molly's Bill," which made finding former Fairview patients easier for their families.
"I look forward to many more positive changes in my future with Molly," Jeff says.
Molly's story is not a rare one. Thousands of people were committed to Fairview during the `50s and `60s. Since making the film, Jeff and Cindy have devoted much of their time to helping others find their siblings and family members who were locked up so many years ago. They've received hundreds of e-mails from people looking for assistance on how to find information.
"We know there are hundreds if not thousands of families out there actively looking for their loved ones as a result of seeing or hearing about our movie," Jeff says. "THAT makes us very happy!"