Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Andrew Cavanaugh

Andrew Cavanaugh: He had unforgettable reunion with three children

OLDSMAR — Andrew Cavanaugh never gave up trying to find his first three children. He carried their photos in his wallet for 45 years, and a handkerchief in his pocket for whenever he thought about them.

After so much time, he wondered if he would ever find out what had become of them. Were they even alive? Did they know he existed?

Meanwhile, John, Randy and Candy Shuler never suspected their family tree was even slightly bent. Their parents were Johnnie and Jacqueline Shuler. That, at least, is what they had always been told.

But that was a lie. Johnnie Shuler was not their biological father, even though they always thought he was. So they had no reason to suspect their father was looking for them.

"He talked about them all the time," said Mr. Cavanaugh's wife, Armaleen, 81. "He asked everybody who might possibly know where they were."

Mr. Cavanaugh finally connected with his long-lost children in 2001. He died Monday, in a car crash. He was 79. His life story is one of blood relatives kept apart by a secret.

A native of St. Ignace, Mich., Mr. Cavanaugh got married at 17. He and his wife, Jacqueline, had three children. On the battlefields of Korea, he got a letter from Jacqueline: She wanted a divorce.

Her new husband, Shuler, became an Air Force officer who was stationed around the world. The parents never told the three children that Shuler was not their biological father — or that a fourth child they had together was actually a half sister.

"We grew up thinking that we were all four brothers and sisters, and that we all belonged to him," said Candy Shuler, 60.

The Shulers lived in Southeast Asia and the United States and always kept their phone number unlisted.

Mr. Cavanaugh remarried, too. He drove a truck and worked for a sign company.

In the last year of her life, Jacqueline Shuler began to drop clues. She said that they had been adopted, and that their biological father, whom she declined to name, might live in Tampa.

She died in 1997. A couple of years later, Candy Shuler, then 50, visited a terminally ill uncle in Arkansas and pressed him for information about her father.

"He went into his room," Shuler said, "and he came out with a St. Ignace phone book, where we all came from. And he handed me the phone book and he said, 'His name is Andrew Cavanaugh.' "

"You feel stunned," Shuler said. "Questions start hitting you, like 'Why? Why didn't they tell us? Why did they keep it a secret?' "

Through directory assistance, her brother, John, found Mr. Cavanaugh in Oldsmar, where he had lived since 1964. "This is your son," said John Cavanaugh, now 57.

On the other end of the line, his father wept.

In 2002, the two long-separated families met in Oldsmar.

"Bless his heart, he cried for two days," stepdaughter Shannon Baker, 58, said of Mr. Cavanaugh.

Sometimes, anger mixes with the elation. "We grew up with aunts, uncles and grandparents that weren't even really, biologically ours," Candy Shuler said. Nor did they meet Mr. Cavanaugh's new, blended family: five children with Armaleen (one of whom they will never meet; Michael Cavanaugh drowned at 18), or the four from her first marriage.

Each family had qualms about how it would be received by the other. "We wondered if they would resent us," Candy Shuler said. But over eight years, dozens of extended family members have strengthened relationships.

On Monday, this feel-good story took an unexpected turn.

Mr. Cavanaugh, who took a daily walk in Philippe Park, was headed there shortly before noon when his 2004 Buick Century collided with another car at State Road 580. He died six hours later at Mease Countryside Hospital. Dozens of family members gathered Friday morning at Philippe Park to begin a daylong celebration of Mr. Cavanaugh's life. As at previous reunions, there were tears and hugs all around.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

Andrew James Cavanaugh

Born: June 5, 1930.

Died: June 15, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Armaleen; sons John and Randy Shuler, daughters, Candy Shuler, Andrea Moceri, Julie Stine, Heile Cary and Marshell Richards; step-sons, Gerald and Christopher Bicknell; stepdaughters, Shannon Baker and Kimberly Fontaine; brother, Herbert Cavanaugh; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Andrew Cavanaugh: He had unforgettable reunion with three children 06/20/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 8:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs' annual Women of RED preseason party attracts nearly 2,000

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Theresa Jones is primarily a college football fan, but she wanted to get a taste of the Bucs. So the 46-year-old Tampa resident bought a ticket for the team's Women of RED Ultimate Football Party at Raymond James Stadium on Friday.

    Lee White of Seminole tries on a helmet at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers female fans descended upon Raymond James Stadium for the ultimate football party, the 2017 Women of RED: The Takeover, supported by Moffitt Cancer Center. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times

  2. Bucs' Ali Marpet: Move to center could pay off big

    Bucs

    TAMPA — No player works as closely with Jameis Winston as the center. Only those two touch the ball on every play. Together they make — if you will — snap judgements about defensive alignments.

     Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ali Marpet #74 warm up prior to preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) 700069805
  3. Inside the Rays continuing historically bad slump

    Blogs

    The numbers tell the story of the Rays inexplicable ongoing offensive slump, and the words detail how tough it has been to deal with.

  4. How Rays' Chris Archer is branching out on Twitter

    The Heater

    Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer (22) leans on the railing of the dugout during the All-Star game at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times

  5. Candidates for governor get emotional talking about their gay siblings

    Blogs

    Occasionally in today's hyper-rehearsed and contrived world of political campaigns one witnesses moments that are so honest and real, we can't help but understand we're not just listening to another politician give his or her stump speech; We're listening to a human being who understands personal pain at least as well …

    Chris King talking to reporters in Tallahassee