Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blood gets thicker as you get older

There were four things on my agenda in Florida. First and foremost was to see my sister and her family in Sarasota.

Another was to see my good friend Carol, with whom I worked at SilverPlatter many years ago. Then there was a visit to Aunt Ruth, wife of my mother's twin brother, and who I have not seen since 1965.

Why are they all here? Sister married a Florida native when we visited in our twenties. Aunt and Uncle retired to Naples thirty years ago. My mother being from the US, it isn't surprising that there is a family connection.

Finally, though, I was on the trail of a relative on my father's side. Dad was an Australian, yet he spent his teens and early twenties in the US. This is the back story, and why there is a Naples, Florida connection on his side.

Dad's father, Babington Owen, was one of four brothers from Pen-y-Clawdd, in Monmouth, Wales. Three of these brothers left Wales to travel the world, and eventually so did their mother, the redoubtable matriarch Ada Catherine. They were all very well educated and at least two graduated from Eton and Cambridge.

Eric Vivian Rees stayed in Wales and went into the church, like his father Canon William Rees. Nugent William Craufurd was in the Royal Hussars, and he came to Australia, where he joined the Light Horse and went to Egypt during WW I, before becoming a farmer in Murgon, Qld. Babington Owen followed, after an illness nearly killed him in the damp environs of Wales. Craufurd and Owen went to Queensland. They both married Queensland girls and had children. Owen and Jessie Rees had three children, including my Dad. Mackworth Gwynne Rees, the youngest (and very good looking) brother, went to the United States.

Owen's health was never good, and he died aged 42. My Dad became the man of the house at around age 15, and had to leave school to go to work. His Uncle Mackworth had done extremely well in the US. He was an inventor with many patents in the automotive industry. He was good friends with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. He was an enthusiastic and talented electronics and radar expert. He was very wealthy, but had no children. He was also a very generous man. He offered to take my Dad to the US to finish his schooling, send him to University. This is how come I have an American mother.

On our grand tour to meet the rellies in 1965 we came to Naples to visit Mackworth and his wife Edith in their summer home. Mackworth had a big business in Detroit, where they lived in the Whittier Hotel, but Naples was where they retired to. As I was coming to Florida I thought it would be fun to revisit his home, take a driveby, see what traces are left and rekindle memories of that trip. Of course I googled him, and came across many mentions of the meeting room bearing his name in the county library. I also came across this reference in the Naples News

I was staying with Carol, Gwen and mum in a hotel nearby. We visited Aunt Ruth. The next morning, Carol and I went to the Library to see the meeting room. We asked at the desk if there was any further information, and the librarian said "We have just had someone else ask about that! I looked over and there were Gwen and Mum. We joined forces to find out the address of the house, and set off. It was an easy drive.

We parked, got out, and took some photos of the house. The owners, David and Judy Bishop, happened to be home and saw us. They offered to tell us what they knew about the house and were thrilled to find out we were relatives. We had a wonderful hour or so with them and they graciously took us through the whole house. They showed us their album which included family photos none of us had seen before! It was just fantastic, and we learned a lot. We also found that he had willed some money to the Library, hence the naming of the room in their honour. What a great day.

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