After years of speculation, wondering and searching, 91-year-olds Donald and Joyce May know the identity of Joyce’s biological father.
Earlier this year, the Lynchburg, Va., pair found out, with the help of their son, his name — Robert Alfred Clarke — and his final resting place — the Whatcoat United Methodist Cemetery in Snow Hill.
Clarke died of lung cancer in Norfolk in 1972.
The Mays, who have been married 70 years, are left now with theories about why Joyce’s mother, who gave her up for adoption when she was 9, never told the truth about the father.
“(Joyce’s) mother told her the guy died a long time ago. We think she just didn’t want to tell the story about him,” Donald said. “Keep it a secret, from embarrassment (of having a child out of wedlock). Right away, we found out through searches and we got in touch with a family in Norfolk, Virginia, that knew him and had a picture of him, which we got. We know where he’s buried in Maryland and we have a picture of his gravesite.”
The Mays said they have no plans to visit Snow Hill to see the gravesite.
Joyce’s biological parents had a brief tryst in Detroit, where she was born and raised. What they know of Clarke is that he was from the Eastern Shore and worked in real estate. About three years after Joyce was born, he married another woman.
Joyce’s mother carried on as a single mother for the first several years of Joyce’s life but decided to give her up for adoption to give her a chance at a more stable life.
Donald and Joyce met in Detroit and married in 1950. Around 1980, they moved to Lynchburg.
Joyce said that after the age of 16, no one really talked much about her biological father. The general thought is that, whoever he was, he was gone, possibly dead.
Donald said that they wanted to get a Bible verse added to the gravestone, Galatians 6:1, but the gravesite managers haven’t been responsive. The verse would convey a feeling of forgiveness and salvaging something worthwhile and dignifying out of a tumultuous life experience.
At the end of it, the Mays are just happy to know what Clarke looked like.
“Joyce is appreciative of what we found and it kind of proves that her father was not a deadbeat dad,” Donald said. “We suspected he never knew she was born, that he got her mother pregnant. That’s probably why her mother didn’t say too much because she wanted to keep it a secret.”