TAMPA — When Freddie Brinson interviewed parents hoping to adopt foster children, they would paint a picture of their perfect home life.
But it was the problems they tried to gloss over that she would hone in on. Foster children frequently come with emotional and behavioral problems. Brinson believed they would have a better chance with families who know how to overcome adversity, said Lauren Breto, who worked with Mrs. Brinson for 10 years.
“She knew it would take imperfect parents to raise imperfect children,” said Breto, an adoption supervisor at Eckerd Connects. “She would focus on pulling out the strengths of what families have overcome.”
Mrs. Brinson died March 24 after having a second stroke within a year. She was 68.
During three decades in child welfare, “Miss Freddie” helped hundreds of foster children find a permanent home through adoption. For 12 years, hers was the first voice that nervous, wanabee parents heard when calling the adoption inquiry line. She played matchmaker at numerous events where prospective parents could meet and bond with foster kids. She was the driving force behind Wednesday’s Child, a feature that ran on 10News WTSP, showcasing foster kids who needed a home.
Mrs. Brinson practiced what she preached, too. She and her husband adopted Beatrice Brinson when she was only 2 months old.
Her devotion to children was recognized by a lifetime achievement award from the Children’s Board of Hillsborough through the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay. In 2014, the Tampa Bay Lightning honored Mrs. Brinson as their Lightning Community Hero of the year.
Angelique Johnson-Deese was 15 when she met Mrs. Brinson. She had been in foster care for nine years.
Mrs. Brinson’s big smile and infectious warmth reminded her of her grandmother.
“She made you feel like one of her kids,” she said.
Mrs. Brinson gave Johnson-Deese a ride to the event the day she met the family that would adopt her. And she was there at the courthouse when a judge made the adoption final. By then, Johnson-Deese was 17 and at risk of aging out of the system without a family.
Johnson-Deese is now 26 and a mortgage underwriter. But she would still regularly hear from Mrs. Brinson.
“I know she helped many many kids feel wanted,” she said. “It’s sad she won’t be able to provide kids with the ‘Freddie’ experience.”
Mrs. Brinson was born in Savannah Ga., and moved to the Plant City area when she was about 2. A graduate of the Lakeland Senior High class of 1969, she earned a degree at Fisk University in Nashville.
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When she returned to Hillsborough County, the girl called Freddie married a boy called Frederick.
Frederick Brinson was a childhood friend. Their families attended the same church.
The couple was married for 43 years. Beatrice Brinson was their only child. They have four grandchildren.
When her husband became a pastor and, later, an associate minister at Mt. Moriah and MB Church in Plant City, Mrs. Brinson served in leadership roles in the Florida chapter of the Association of Minister’s Wives and Minister’s Widows.
“She was sweet; she was lovable,” Frederick Brinson said. “Anyone who came into contact with her could feel the love that she generated.”