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Woman sues to dispute her uncle's adoption of companion

At age 88, a childless man adopted his 72-year-old longtime male companion, squeezing out a niece in line for a hefty inheritance of more than a half million dollars.

Now Sylvia Rickard is contesting the father-son adoption by her late uncle, contending Florida law prohibits homosexuals from adopting. Rickard filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court this week challenging the adoption.

W. Donald Blackwell could leave his family trust fund only to his child, but since he was up in years and had never married, he adopted a son. When Blackwell died in 1997 from prostate cancer, the 91-year-old man left his trust fund, and all other property and possessions to his son of three years, Gordon McKesson.

Blackwell and McKesson's relationship was a sham, devised so Blackwell could leave a $660,000 trust fund to McKesson, said John Jorgensen, Rickard's attorney. The family's trust fund, drawn up in 1932, requires that Blackwell's money be passed to a child.

If Blackwell had no children, his money was to go to his sister, or if she died, to her children. Rickard is the daughter of Black-well's sister. Jorgensen wouldn't say where Rickard lives or whether she has siblings.

At the time of the adoption, Blackwell and McKesson lived together in Delray Beach at Harbour's Edge, a luxurious assisted-living facility.

According to court records, Circuit Judge Lucy Brown granted the adoption Dec. 15, 1994. Details are sealed in the adoption file _ a file that Jorgensen will try to get a court order to open.

Blackwell wrote and directed plays on Broadway in the '20s and '30s, including one with Lillian Gish, and later owned a designer menswear company called Bronzini in New York.

McKesson, now 77, has since moved to Central Florida.

Martin and Doris Penn of Boynton Beach knew Blackwell for 40 years and said he was with McKesson at least 10 of those, and they were inseparable. By their account, Blackwell was a refined, cultured man who had a Worth Avenue address and staged plays in London, said Doris Penn, 72.

Jorgensen said he will have to prove Blackwell was gay at the time of the adoption. Homosexuals are forbidden from adopting under a 1977 revision to the state's adoption laws. Florida is the only state that bans homosexual adoption.

Charlotte Danciu, a Boca Raton adoption attorney, said applicants are not officially asked by the state if they are homosexual. She reminds clients the law states only that homosexuals cannot adopt _ not bisexuals.