Sunday, September 23, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa deli owner, adopted at birth, discovers five siblings at age 53

TAMPA

Jimmy Nichols walked into his new downtown deli and looked through the lunchtime crowd to find his wife Sally behind the counter. She caught his look, flashed a smile, and tears welled in their eyes.

"It's been like this since December," said Nichols, dabbing with a paper towel and trying to collect himself.

December is when a lifetime of wondering came to an end for Nichols. Adopted as an infant, the 53-year-old Tampa man finally agreed to let Sally look for the birth family he had never known. Through a private investigator, they discovered his mother had died — but that he had three half-sisters and two half-brothers.

What's more, he learned that the family had been trying to find him, too. His mother, in fact, had never stopped looking. And his siblings searched 25 years for the big brother they dreamed of someday meeting.

Jimmy Nichols lived with his yearning to know but never acted on it — not while he was growing up in Tampa, not after he met Sally here and moved to her native England, not while they were raising their two boys, not even after they returned to Tampa 10 years ago.

Nichols found the idea of a search too emotionally taxing and he was unwilling to do anything that might hurt the feelings of his adoptive mother and father.

"She's my mother — it's as simple as that," Nichols said. "And my father is my father. He taught me everything, gave me my first sports car."

His adoptive mother died in 2008, his adoptive father in 2010. Back in Tampa, Jimmy and Sally opened the English-themed Cooks delis — first in South Tampa and recently downtown — and the time seemed right to go looking for his birth mother.

Sally Nichols, 52 , found an investigator in December through The Children's Home Inc. child services organization in Tampa.

Within days, they had answers.

• • •

Jimmy Nichols' birth mother, C. Jean Thompson, died of cancer in 1986 at 45, leaving behind five children and a husband who soon remarried.

News of the death was disheartening, but Nichols found the names of his siblings in his mother's obituary and looked them up on Facebook. He took a deep breath and sent a message to one — 49-year-old Faith Reel of New York.

"Hello Faith my name is James Nichols. I would really appreciate a moment of your time," he typed. "I promise this isn't a sales call in fact it's very personal on a family level. Please may I have a moment of your time. Thank you"

Looking back over the message now, he said, it sounds foolish. Reel agrees, saying it was so vague she thought she would have to block the sender.

But the message continued with a reference that stopped her short.

"I know you cannot conceive who I am but my name is James Duncan/Nichols and I'd very much like to speak to you. Regarding Clara Thompson. Please."

The sender had used her mother's first name. No one ever used that name, Reel said.

"If you are who I think you are I have been looking for you for over 25 years," Reel replied. She gave him her phone number. For Jimmy Nichols, the tears haven't stopped since.

Here's what he learned.

Clara Jean Duncan was studying in Florida to be a pastor when she became pregnant out of wedlock. She was sent to live with her parents in Scotland, then was flown back to Tampa to give birth to James Duncan, now Jimmy Nichols, in 1963.

The birth father wanted nothing to do with Jimmy, so she put him up for adoption. She later married Walter Thompson, also a pastor, and they had five children. While he didn't stop his wife from searching for her first son, Walter Thompson didn't help her, either. She thought every day about the boy she gave up.

She was diagnosed with cancer in her late 30s, but curiously, she continued taking vacations with her best friend — leaving her family behind, Reel said.

"I'd question, 'Why would she leave her children when she's dying, to take these vacations?" Reel said.

But they weren't just vacations. Thompson was following leads to find her son. She went as far as Hawaii to locate someone named James Nichols.

"She had five children, and not that she didn't love us, but we were that effort to fill a void," Reel said. "I think she had this hole in her heart and her life that I don't know if children would fill."

• • •

Reel learned about her older brother after her mother died. She had asked her father about another brother but was told he was a myth. Reel didn't give up, though, and questioned the friend who accompanied her mother on her quests. At age 18, Reel found out her brother's name and birth city.

For years, Reel visited websites and chat rooms and sent messages trying to find him. She didn't know Jimmy and Sally Nichols were living in England.

"I just wanted to say, 'Your mom loved you and never ever wanted to give you up. She wanted to find you and let you know that'," Reel said.

Jimmy and Sally Nichols flew to Brooklyn in January to meet his half-siblings.

Right away, they told him, "Let's drop the half. You're just the big brother."

They made an instant connection. In one weekend, Jimmy Nichols said, he felt he had known his brothers and sisters his whole life.

"It was healing for all of us to say to him, 'Our mom loved you and wanted a relationship with you. She just couldn't find you,'" Reel said. "I think she was smiling down and loving the moment we were just hanging there talking."

Jimmy Nichols always wished he could have siblings, but he has no regrets about how life turned out for him.

He now is advocating for legislation that would make it easier to track down birth families so others like him might never have to fear an arduous journey for answers. Florida Senate Bill 434 would make it easier for children who were adopted to gain access to their original birth certificates, opening the door to their early medical backgrounds and original identities.

Nichols has been in contact with the bill's sponsor in the state House, Rep. Richard Stark, D-Tallahassee, and is willing to tell his own story before any forum where it might help.

But now that he has the answers in his own life, he understands why things happened as they did for him.

"My birth mother did the right thing," he concluded.

He just wishes he could have let her know that while she was still alive.

Contact Hannah Farrow at [email protected]

Comments
This is what happens to a shy octopus on ecstasy

This is what happens to a shy octopus on ecstasy

If you give an octopus MDMA, it will get touchy and want to mingle.What sounds like the premise of a children's book set at Burning Man is, in fact, the conclusion of a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology. Neuroscientist Gül ...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Snell wins No. 21 as Rays beat Blue Jays 5-2

Snell wins No. 21 as Rays beat Blue Jays 5-2

TORONTO – Blake Snell earned his team record and majors-most 21st win on Sunday as the Rays beat the Blue Jays 5-2.The victory improved the Rays to 87-68 and kept alive their slimmest chances to make the playoffs, though perhaps for only a few ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Find A Friend: Sweet Caroline the Tabby Kitten

Find A Friend: Sweet Caroline the Tabby Kitten

Put your paws in the air like you just don’t care! Sweet Caroline thinks good times never seemed so good. A bundle of gray stripes and spots, she and her litter mates were rescued at three weeks of age. Caroline’s the most social of the...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Women's Expo to feature Tampa Bay Times staffers

Women's Expo to feature Tampa Bay Times staffers

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Times presents its inaugural Tampa Bay Women’s Expo and the event will include an opportunity to meet many of its key women staff writers and editors.Susan Taylor Martin (Senior Correspondent/Real Estate) and Manag...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

Editor’s note: Academy of the Holy Names junior Tress Jacobs spent the summer of 2018 shadowing Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper. To conclude the experience, she interviewed Academy alumnus Kim Wilmath Hill and filed this report.By Tres...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to  testify at Kavanaugh hearing

Christine Blasey Ford reaches deal to testify at Kavanaugh hearing

The woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers has committed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, her lawyers said Sunday. The lawyers said some details — including whe...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Stolen smokes: Florida man gets 20 years for cigarette theft

Stolen smokes: Florida man gets 20 years for cigarette theft

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A Florida man who stole $600 worth of cigarettes from a convenience store has been sentenced to 20 years in state prison.A jury in Pensacola convicted 48-year-old Robert Spellman of burglary and grand theft in August. Authori...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Steelers-Buccaneers: Where is Ronald Jones?

Sound-Smarter-Than-Your-Friends Guide to Steelers-Buccaneers: Where is Ronald Jones?

One of the dominant storylines heading into Monday Night Football between the first-place Buccaneers and the last-place Steelers will be the things we didn’t expect to see. It’s the team that usually melts down against the team that actua...
Updated: 4 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Jays, with Snell seeking No. 21

For starters: Rays at Jays, with Snell seeking No. 21

UPDATE, 12:14: Snell takes the mound today leading the AL in wins, ERA (1.97) and opponents average (.179). … Cash noted that Snell "is in elite company now with the Rays, and he has the chance to stand alone." …  The Rays note that ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Matt Baker’s AP Top 25 ballot: Florida’s new top team

Matt Baker’s AP Top 25 ballot: Florida’s new top team

After four full weekends of college football, here's what I know:There is one great team (Alabama). There are three very good teams (Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson).After that? There are a lot of flawed teams with messy results that seem bunched tog...
Updated: 5 hours ago