Some 25 years ago, Kathleen Cooper had asked the older girl who looked so much like her if they were sisters. And Joanne Campbell, who knew the truth of their relationship but had been told not to tell, said no.
Wednesday in the TODAY studio, the two women finally met as sisters, falling into each other’s arms and sobbing as the other two members of their long-separated family, half brothers Randy Joubert and Gary Nisbet, waited their turn to embrace the sister they had once despaired of ever meeting.
It was a thoroughly happy ending to a story that began two months ago in a furniture store in Maine and ended Wednesday in the TODAY studio.
On Tuesday, full brothers Randy Joubert, 36, and Gary Nisbet, 35, had told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira the story of how they met in July when Joubert took a job at the furniture store in Maine where Nisbet had been working for years. After being told repeatedly how much like brothers they looked, Joubert confirmed last week that they were, indeed, brothers who had been taken from their abusive mother 35 years ago and adopted by different families.
When their story hit the local media, their 40-year-old half sister, Joanne Campbell, who also lived in Maine, had gone to the furniture story to meet her half brothers. Campbell appeared with her brothers on TODAY and all said that there was one more family member still unaccounted for, a sister who was born Claire Marie.
Watching on TV
That turned out to be Cooper, and she was dumbstruck as she watched TODAY at her Sarasota, Fla., home and realized those were her siblings. She called NBC, and Wednesday on live television got to meet her two half brothers and her older sister for the first time.
“I said, ‘That’s Joanne,’ ” Cooper told Vieira, recounting what it was like watching the show Tuesday and seeing the siblings she never thought she’d meet. “I always knew that was my sister. I just knew it.”
Cooper, a 39-year-old single mom, said to herself, “ ‘Oh, gosh, this is going to turn out. This is going to be my family.’ She said my name and I just lost it.”
“She has no idea about this story, but I went to school with her,” Joanne divulged Wednesday. “I knew my freshman year that she was my sister, but I was told she didn’t know, so I respected that.”
That was when Cooper, who goes by “Kat,” told about her adoptive sister asking Joanne whether she had a sister. “She said, ‘No, I don’t.’ But we looked alike,” Cooper said. “She said no, so we just dropped it and let it go.”
It was all forgotten Wednesday as the siblings, together for the first time in their lives, glowed and talked about how wonderfully everything had worked out.
Separated as toddlers
“I think we’re all dumbfounded. But we can start getting to know each other now,” Joubert said. Already, they were thinking about getting together to celebrate the upcoming holidays as a family for the first time.
Even their adoptive families are thrilled, they said.
“My mother’s through the roof in Florida,” Joubert said. “She’s going nuts. She’s excited, happy.”
It was Nisbet and Joubert’s physical resemblance that led to their finally figuring out their common background. Sitting together in the TODAY studio Tuesday, they didn’t look so much like brothers as like twin brothers. Both are stocky and wear glasses. Both sport close-cropped goatees. They even chose similar outfits to wear to the show, and spoke with the same abbreviated grammar peculiar to Maine, where they were separated as toddlers and grew up with adoptive families.
Joubert knew he had a brother and two half siblings. He had searched their birth names in state adoption records earlier in the year when Maine became one of just eight states that have made it easier for adoptees to find their birth parents and siblings. But Nisbet was unaware he had siblings.
“I had no clue that I had a brother,” Nisbet told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday in New York.
‘He kind of looked like me’
Joubert said that although he knew he had siblings, he didn’t know how he would find them. That’s when, in July, he found himself sharing the cab of a delivery truck with his brother when he took a job with Dow Furniture in Waldoboro, Maine. It had been 35 years since the brothers, who are just 11 months apart, had been separated.
Finally, Joubert said, “Something clicked. I don’t know what it was.” He worked up the nerve to ask Nisbet some personal questions.
He recalled the conversation: “Gary, don’t take this personal. I’m not trying to offend you, but were you adopted?”
Nisbet said he was.
Joubert asked for Nisbet’s birth date. When the answer was June 10, 1974, Joubert said, “I know that.”
“I was blown away,” Nisbet said.
Finding one half sister
But wait. The story gets better.
After the brothers decided to tell their story to the local media, Joanne Campbell, 41, got a call from her fiance, who read her a newspaper story about Joubert and Nisbet.
“I had a brother named Randy Allen and a brother named Gaylord. I never knew where they were,” said Campbell, who joined her brothers on TODAY. “When he read it to me, he said, ‘I think those are your brothers.’ I said, ‘No way. It can’t be.’ He said, ‘I’m pretty sure it is.’ ”
Campbell also lived in Maine, not that far away from her brothers.
“I grabbed my mom’s birth certificate, her Social Security card and her medical records and headed to Dow Furniture,” she told Vieira. Her emotions were in what could mildly be described as turmoil.
“Let’s just say I was crying so bad and speeding. I was hoping to get stopped by a cop so he could escort me there, ’cause I probably shouldn’t have been driving,” Campbell said. “I couldn’t see. I was just sobbing so bad.”
When she got to the store, the brothers were out on a delivery call.
“As we’re driving up, we see this little woman, five feet tall, 100 pounds, documents in her hand, shaking and crying,” Joubert said.
When they got out of the truck Joanne said, “I think I’m your sister.”
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The brothers looked incredulous, so Campbell showed them the proof.
“She shows me the documents and she told me her name. I’d searched for her. I’d gotten her name off the obituary of my mother,” Joubert said.
“It was just incredible. I knew I had a sister — a half sister — out there somewhere,” Nisbet added.
New law helped
“We all cried and hugged. It was a pretty crazy moment,” Joanne said.
All are still trying to wrap their minds around what’s happened.
“I knew he’d been taken by the state. I found out his name. Only in January I figured this out,” Joubert said. “I said, his name is going to be different, how in the world am I going to find out his name? To realize I’m riding a truck with him — it’s a bizarre world — it’s crazy. There’s so much emotion, I can’t wrap my brain around what’s going on.”
All said they wouldn’t have found each other if it weren’t for a relatively new law in Maine that makes it easier for adoptees to access their birth records. By coincidence, the owner of Dow Furniture is a former state senator who played a big role in getting the legislation passed.
“There’s 42 other states that currently do not have open adoption records, and 6 million adoptees waiting to get info like we got,” Joubert told Vieira. “I just wanted to throw that in there.”
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