Father and daughter reunite after 60 years
By BRIAN SAXTON
March 9, 2006, 4:44 PM EST
DANBURY, Conn. -- Walking together in the pale winter sunlight, they look like any other father and daughter taking an afternoon stroll.
Arm-in-arm and bundled up against the cold, Profilio Vincente, 87, and Suzanne Rice, 60, are talking about old times and family.
But time is short. They have a lot of catching up to do. They haven't seen each other for nearly 60 years and they're about to part again.
It was only last month a paper trail stretching across three continents finally brought them together at Vincente's home in Danbury.
"I never dreamed this would happen," he said. "I thought I had lost her completely. "
Suzanne, who flew from her home in Perth, Australia, for the reunion, was just as overcome.
"It's just unbelievable," Suzanne said. "I feel I'm in a dream. My feet still haven't hit the ground."
Rice came to Danbury with her husband, Winston, daughter, Lisa Rice-Rickman, and 4-year-old grandson, Harry.
"Finally meeting my father has filled in all the gaps I'd thought about over the years," Rice said. "Part of me is very much like my mother, but there are other parts that belong to my father. As a human being, I now feel more whole."
Velma Vincente, 77, Vincente's wife of nearly 41 years, also has embraced Rice as her long-lost stepdaughter.
Velma and Profilio Vincentes have a daughter of their own, Antolina, 38, who is a doctor's assistant at Emory University in Atlanta. Velma also has three daughters from a previous marriage.
Last week, Profilio Vincente recounted the days when he first met Rice's mother, Nora Oram, and the years when they drifted apart.
It was 1943 and Britain was at war. Oram was 20 years old and working at a school in the small southern English town of Overton.
Not far away, Vincente, 24, then a leading aircraftman, was stationed as a bombardier at the Royal Air Force base of Long Parish.
Before joining the service, Vincente had left his native Belize in the Caribbean to work in England as a lumberjack as part of the war effort to clear woodland for airfields.
"I went to Overton for the weekend and I was talking to a man on the street when suddenly this girl pushed past me and punched me in the stomach," Vincente said. "Then she turned back and smiled at me."
She was Nora Oram and it was love at first sight.
"We soon discovered we both liked dancing so I invited her to a dance," Vincente said. "From then on, we were together a lot."
The young couple developed a romantic relationship and had a daughter they named Suzanne. But it was war time, and Vincente said they got engaged but never had time to get married.
Then in 1945, Vincente was suddenly called back to Belize, then known as British Honduras, because the government wanted volunteers to fight an invasion threat from neighboring Guatemala.
"It all happened so quickly and without notice," Vincente said. "I just couldn't reach Nora at the time ... I'd always planned to go back to England to see her, but I never got the chance."
Vincente said he managed to find their address and wrote to them, but the letters came back.
"I missed them so much I kept on writing, but I never had a reply. Finally, I just lost touch."
In 1964 Vincente came to America to live with his father in Brooklyn. Three years later he married Velma, who had been widowed. The couple spent much of their married life as soldier missionaries for the Salvation Army in more than 10 states.
They moved to Danbury eight years ago and are still missionaries with Salvation Army's Danbury corps.
Rice remembers the years growing up in Britain without her father. "We talked about him a lot but we never knew where he was. My mother brought me up and I only knew what I was told."
Rice's mother, who eventually married, died in 2003 at age 79 without ever seeing Vincente again.
Rice herself married in 1963 and when she was in her 50s returned to school and earned a degree in English from Winchester College in southern England.
She first picked up a trail leading to her father in 1981, when her son, Simon, a dancer with Britain's Royal Ballet, was performing in New York City.
"My son likes genealogy, so while he was in New York he found a way of contacting my father through other members of the family living there," Rice said.
"Later we received a letter from my father, who was then in Springfield, Mass., that had been forwarded from another family member," Rice said.
That re-connection was brief. "He sent us pictures but we still never got together," Rice said. "By that time my father was moving around a lot and we lost contact again."
The distance widened even more in 2004, when Rice and her husband moved to Australia to be near their married daughter and her family.
The gap was finally closed only a few weeks ago, when Rice's son, Simon, 42, now a freelance choreographer, asked his girlfriend's sister to try to find the Vincentes on the Internet.
"She found my father's name and his last known address, so we contacted him," Rice said.
When they finally came face to face, Vincente said he was immediately reminded of several family traits.
"Suzanne has a lot of my own mother's ways and her own mother's looks," Vincente said.