Police detective Clay Hamilton has a 12-year-old boy, and he always suspected that he had another, much older son out in the world somewhere. But to find out that long-lost son was working alongside him was a surprise for the ages.
Hamilton and his 37-year-old son Chris appeared live on TODAY Friday, relating their amazing tale of how the pair found each other against long odds. Also on hand was their boss, Petersburg, Va., Police Chief John Dixon, who played a major role in uniting the father and son.
In a story punctuated by lost love, mistaken names and identities, and some pure luck, Walker, a sergeant on the Petersburg police force, told Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira that the recent death of his grandmother spurred a long-overdue revelation from his mother, Debra Walker.
“[My mother] said, ‘I have something to tell you,’ ” Walker related. “The name on your birth certificate as your father is not your father. His name is Clay Hamilton.’ “
Walker did an Internet search but could find no logical matches for what his mother had told him about his real dad. “I didn’t think anything else of it,” he told Lauer and Vieira.
But Walker began noticing a coworker named Clay Hamilton. Hamilton had recently joined the force after retiring from the Richmond, Va., police department, where he’d worked for 24 years with Dixon. Hamilton, bored in retirement, contacted his pal Dixon, who had relocated to the Petersburg police department.
“He had an opening and he hired me,” Hamilton told TODAY.
Although Hamilton and Walker didn’t have much contact in the cop shop — Hamilton had night duty while Walker worked days — the similarities between the two didn’t go unnoticed by Chief Dixon.
“They look alike, some of the same demeanor, both even-toned, good guys,” Dixon said. “Both are good cops.”
Then Hamilton was transferred to day work, and Walker got to know him a little better. But Walker had largely dismissed any notion that Hamilton could be his father, since Hamilton informed him his name was short for Claiborne, not Clayton.
Still, the pair continued talking.
“Chris asked me a couple of times, ‘Do you remember, did you ever party with anybody in Goochland County, did you ever know certain people?’ ” Hamilton told Lauer and Vieira. “I said [that] I used to go to Goochland, I do have some friends there, and I used to date a girl by the name of Billy Joe Walker.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton continued to press his mother on the subject of his father. “She called and I said, ‘Are you sure that this gentleman’s name is Clayton?’ And she said, `I’m absolutely adamant.’ I said, `This guy at work, his name is Claiborne, he grew up in Richmond.’ And she said, `I’m absolutely certain his name was Clayton.’ And I said, `OK, but you know who Billie Joe Walker was?’
“There was a pause and then she said, ‘That’s your dad.’ ”
As it turned out, Chris didn’t realize his mom’s teenage nickname was Billie Joe, and Clay Hamilton didn’t realize her real name was actually Debra. And to boot, Debra Walker thought she had dated a Clayton, not a Claiborne, in her teens.
That confusion was part of the reason the pair had never connected. Hamilton told Lauer and Vieira that Billie Joe was estranged from her husband when they dated, but when she became pregnant, she reconciled with him. She told Hamilton she intended to name her child Thomas Claiborne Walker, but later in life, when he did searches, that name didn’t appear on any records.
To make things more difficult, Hamilton told Lauer and Vieira he was never able to reconnect with his former girlfriend to find out the fate of the child. “I knew her by the name of Billie Joe, and her actual name was Debbie.”
Hamilton added he “was not shocked when (Chris) told me, because I had always suspected I may have a son out there.”
And despite not knowing his dad, Walker turns out to be a chip off the old block. Their similarities include such personal traits as a love for spicy food and a penchant for impulse buying. More importantly, their lives have traveled the same path. Both joined the military after high school, and both followed that into careers in police work.