Reunited at last


Eric Charman & Mother

After 65-year search, Victoria retiree finds his mother.

By Judy Creighton
The Canadian Press

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

When Eric Charman immigrated to Canada from England in 1953, anyone who asked him about his roots, his family or his background was rebuffed.

"I was a bastard," says the prosperous Victoria businessman, who kept his past a secret because of the very real shame that being born out of wedlock inspired in a class-dominated society back in those days.

But 15 months ago, Charman, now 66, whose childhood was spent in an orphanage, then as a ward of an elderly couple who supplemented their pension caring for him, finally located what he'd longed for the most -- his mother.

In 1931, unmarried, working in domestic service in the home of a prominent businessman, she was immediately dismissed from her duties when her employers discovered her pregnancy.

"Mother was literally thrown out of the house, bags and all, at the age of 17," Charman explains, his voice edged with anger. "Of course she didn't have the financial capability to care for an infant."

But his motherless upbringing took a terrible emotional toll on the man, who says not a day went by in all those years that he didn't yearn to see his kin or to know more about his background.

For years, Charman would go through yellowed marriage and birth files in England, trying to track his mother Mary down. Then in 1996 while flying on a business trip from B.C. to Toronto, he read in a British newspaper about Searchlines, an agency that reunites families.

"I called the agency head Gwen Richardson in England," he recalled in a recent interview at his sprawling country estate in the Saanich peninsula outside Victoria.

Richardson warned him that to find his mother after 65 years was a tall order, but she'd persevere.

Charman had few clues to offer. During his national service, which all young men had to serve in Britain in the 1940s and 50s, he traced his birth certificate and discovered his mother's name. On that same form were the dreaded words "father unknown."

One month after contacting the agency, Richardson called from England to give Charman the good news. His mother, Mary Evans, 83, was found in a nursing home in Guilford.

"I promised Mother I'd fly over to visit," he said.

After that first reunion in December 1996, his mother made the trip to Canada last year to meet her daughter-in-law Shirley, grandson Wallace and great-granddaughters as well as Eric's stepchildren by his wife's previous marriage.

"We had a big garden party and she was the belle of the ball," he recalls. "Ever since my friends and even strangers heard my story, they all want to meet mother."

More overwhelming to Evans has been the success her only child has made of himself since she was forced to give him up at five months.

Charman is not only a prominent businessman who ran a successful realty firm in Victoria before his retirement in 1994, he served two terms as president of the Canadian Real Estate Association in 1980-81. He was a trustee of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and holds honorary life memberships in a number of associations including the international senate of the Canada Junior Chamber of Commerce.

He twice ran for the federal Conservatives, but lost both races.

Of late, Charman's tireless efforts to raise funds for the arts and community groups include paying off deficits for Victoria's symphony orchestra, opera company, art gallery and children's theatre.

His mother may be amazed at her son's success, but Charman says that "she takes it all in her stride."

Besides talking with Evans frequently by phone, Charman often flies via the North Pole from Vancouver to be with her and plans to bring her to Canada this spring when he will be given an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria.

Charman says Evans has refused to shed any light on who his father was. But he says that reuniting with his mother has drastically altered the way he approaches life.

"I used to have a chip on my shoulder, I was so angry about the unfairness of my lot in life," he admits. "Now I feel fulfilled and grateful knowing who I am."
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