Scots woman’s search for birth mum takes her across Atlantic

Looking back now, she assumes they thought it was better she knew, perhaps prompted by their conscience.

“I can remember running into my bedroom being upset – but that was about it,” says Norah.

Her dad John’s first wife was also named Norah and they gave the baby that name when they adopted her in September 1955.

But just a year later, mum Norah was knocked down and killed outside Clydebank Town Hall, our sister title the Dumbarton Reporter states.

Gran Evelyn Gibson helped John raise Norah until she was three when John married Margaret Buchanan, known as Peggy.

As she started her working life in the travel industry, she began the search for birth mum.

That missing “something” was always there, even as life took priority.

Norah lost her first son, Kenneth McMaster, at just six hours old. But she went on to have Andrew, Gregor, Ross and Lesley.

And Norah was conscious she didn’t want to upset her adoptive parents with the desire to find her birth mum.

In 1992, dad John passed away and Norah resumed her search, checking records in Edinburgh. She learned her given name was Anne, born to Margaret Campbell of Clydebank.

Norah searched the limited welfare records at Clydebank Town Hall. She even tapped on a few doors of Margaret Campbells in Clydebank. Nothing.

And then, four years ago, she was encouraged to apply for ITV’s Long Lost Family.

One of her initial interviews was over Skype while sitting at Loch Lomond Shores and Norah just let it all out for the first time.

Ten months later, in the middle of a thunderstorm in Dumbarton’s Levengrove Park, the producers called and said: “We have found your birth mum.”

Margaret, known as Rita, was alive and well, and living in Canada.

“It was the most surreal feeling,” says Norah. “I started to write to her and got a few short letters back. It was difficult at first. It took a good year to communicate properly.”

There were many attempts to write that first letter. She said it was the hardest thing she ever had to do, and a moment she never thought would be possible.

Norah, who works for the charity Enable in Helensburgh, slowly started including pictures of her children and grandchildren, and of her growing up.

“Then I phoned her one day on Mother’s Day. She told me I had a [half] brother, Ian living in Ontario.”

Norah’s son Gregor urged her to write to her new brother, Ian Fair, living in Ontario. That five-page letter is the “best thing” Norah ever did.

“He is amazing,” she beams. “He was over the moon and said he always knew there was something, and had a feeling he had a connection to Scotland, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.”

In November 2016, Rita and Ian visited Scotland.

Norah waited at Glasgow Airport as everyone emerged from the gate with no sign of mum.

“She’s changed her mind,” she worried.

Rita never got to hold Norah after she was born at Overtoun House in Dumbarton.

A full 61 years later, the 4ft11ins woman walked out of the gate, flung her arms up and said “here I am” – and cuddled her daughter for the very first time.

There followed an “absolutely amazing” two weeks of revisiting the sights in Clydebank and what Norah dubbed, “the scene of the crime”, Overtoun House.

“A lot of women back then didn’t have a choice,” says Norah. “I wanted her to not have any guilt.”

ita explained how her baby was taken out of the room and nobody understood how she felt.

“Nobody asked me what I wanted to do,” Norah’s mum told her.

In the decades after, Rita’s family knew nothing about Norah. It has made for a journey of discovery for two families on either side of the Atlantic in the past three years.

And it has changed Rita as well.

“It has created such a difference in her life in Canada,” explains Norah. “Now she can talk about me.

“Her sister said she’s a completely different person.”

She adds: “It was a relief for me to find her.”

In October, Norah visited her second family in Canada, with a massive Thanksgiving celebration. That has brought mum and daughter even closer together and Rita feels even more able to talk about things now.

It hasn’t always been easy. At one point, with so many family members around, Rita hit the table and declared, “I’m just getting to know Norah”. They got more moments together after that.

Rita, now aged 85, would introduce her daughter to people in the shops and at the hairdressers.

“Going to the hairdressers, I had tears because that was normal – that’s what you would do with your mum.”

This Christmas, Norah will do a video call to her mum as has become a holiday tradition. She knows how important family is, and that she would never have stopped looking for hers.

“Mum and dad gave me an amazing upbringing – they’re your family,” she says. “It’s just that blood link that makes the difference.

“A whole big cloud has lifted. It’s about who I am.

“There was no way I was leaving this earth without knowing who my mum was. I got two families out of it.”

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