Lost & Found A brother finds his long-lost sister
in a Hillsboro group home

Friday, March 17, 2006
By JoAnn Boatwright
The Hillsboro Argus

The Argus

For most of his life, Jeff Daly forgot he even had a sister.

Then, one day he found Molly Jo Daly living in a Hillsboro group home.

In the early 1950s, Jeff and Molly lived with their parents in an old Victorian house in Astoria, where their father was a seafood company executive. Jeff, the oldest, was a healthy, happy boy. Molly, born several years later, had a clubfoot and a lazy eye, and because she wasn't walking or talking at 18 months, was diagnosed as "profoundly retarded."

The doctor recommended that Molly be placed at Fairview Hospital and Training Center in Salem and, just days before her third birthday, Molly simply disappeared. Jeff, then 6, was told to forget about Molly and forbidden to speak Molly's name.

So, on the surface he did. But deep inside, Jeff hadn't forgotten.

The siblings' life journeys had taken widely different paths - Molly's to more than three decades at Fairview Hospital and Training Center in Salem; Jeff's to a career as an award-winning film maker.

When Molly went to Fairview, she was one of more than 2,000 residents at the facility, created in 1907 "for the training, care and custody of feeble-minded, idiotic and epileptic persons."

She was often considered a trouble maker who caused a ruckus - throwing food, hitting people and plugging toilets - to get the attention she so craved. She wore most of her clothes at once so they wouldn't be stolen. And, with an IQ of between 30 and 60, she managed to learn about 130 words.

"Civil Rights finally reached people with disabilities in 1975," said Cindy, when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was signed into federal law.

By the early 1990s, Molly, like thousands of other Oregonians who had lived at Fairview, live in a group home with several other people with similar disabilities.

Jeff, on the other hand, grew up, attended Pacific University, where he majored in communications and met Cindy, who worked in the university's admissions office, took classes in recreational therapy and worked with returning Vietnam veterans at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in Hillsboro.

After graduating from Pacific, Jeff worked at KATU in Portland and eventually started SFO Productions, a California-based company with contracts with CBS (60 Minutes), CBS Sports and ESPN Classic. He's won two Emmys and one Peabody and recently returned from Hawaii where he photographed golfer Michelle Wei.

Their lives came together again after nearly 47 years, in 2004, after both their parents had died and Jeff, then in his early 50s, found in their house information that lead him to search for his nearly-forgotten sister.

At the prompting of Cindy, Jeff followed the few clues available and quickly tracked down Molly in a Hillsboro supervised group home where she had lived for nearly 10 years.

Their tearful reunion has been followed by lots of happy visits that have enhanced both of their lives.

Jeff and Cindy celebrated Molly's 50th birthday with her first-ever party, taken Molly and her housemates to the Oregon Zoo and spent weekends with Molly at their beach house at Seaside.

They teach Molly new words, bring gifts for Molly and her housemates, and enjoy just horsing around coloring with crayons or tossing stuffed animals across the dining room table at each other. She has taken up horseback riding, loves swimming and takes her job in paper recycling very seriously.

But, in spite of the years they were apart and joy the Dalys have found in their reunion, Jeff considers his family one of the lucky ones.

Not long after Jeff found Molly, the Dalys learned that Cindy's brother-in-law also had a sister who had been sent to Fairview. It took them months to find that sister and only then because someone broke Oregon's privacy laws by revealing where she was.

The Dalys were prompted to get the law changed that protected the former Fairview residents' privacy, but resulted in their being lost to their families forever.

In 2005, the Dalys celebrated the passage of Oregon's "Molly's Bill," sponsored by State Sen. Peter Courtney. The bill, the first of its kind in the country, requires that the Oregon Department of Human Services, which oversees programs for the state's disabled residents, to notify them or their care providers when a relative wants to make contact.

The Dalys are thrilled that the bill still protects people with disabilities, yet allows families to reunite.

Now, they are attempting to pass similar bills state-by-state so that thousands of other families across the country can contact relatives with disabilities placed in facilities in times when it was considered the best thing to do.

Jeff is putting the finishing touches on a documentary about Molly, Molly's Bill and the many people like her who were locked away for so many years.

"There are so many people with similar stories," said Jeff on a snowy March morning's visit with Molly. "We hope the film with generate discussion."

The project has yielded new information about Molly, said Cindy. Interviews with some of Molly's caretakers at Fairview has revealed she was a joker and a trickster. "They filled in some of the gaps in Molly's childhood."

They plan screenings in Salem and Hillsboro when the film is completed.

"Sister's Keeper," a March 2006 story on Jeff and Molly in Reader's Digest magazine, has brought more attention to the issue. Since the article was published the Daly's website, wheresmolly.net, has been getting more than 4,000 hits a day compared to the 120 a week it was getting before.

Cindy answers each one, with hopes that other families will be enriched by finding their own formerly institutionalized members.

"Molly has taught us that we are each dealt a hand of cards and how we play them is our choice," said Jeff.

"She left the family at age three, but sill has mannerisms that are core family. She is funny and very loving," he added. "While growing up in an institution is not the best environment, the care providers there taught her love and gave her the strength to pull through."

The Daly's children and grandchildren have learned more about compassion and giving through knowing their Aunt Molly, they said.

"Molly is very demanding of Jeff's attention," Cindy said of their visits.

And Jeff adds, "She deserves all the attention she wants - she's gone without my attention for 47 years and I'm making up for lost time."

Molly lives in one of two Community Services, Inc., group homes in Hillsboro for people with disabilites. The company operates 11 such homes in Washington County and two in Multnomah County.

The state pays around $100,000 for each resident's care each year, said Lynn Boose, CSI chief executive officer. Round-the-clock staffing and labor-intensive work are hallmarks of the industry which cares for society's people with disabilities, he added."

The idea is that these people will thrive in the community," said Boose, whose CSI is one of 60 service providers for Oregon's 3,500 residents of group homes and adult foster facilities.

©2006 The Hillsboro Argus