"Tommy", The Christmas Miracle by The Christmas Angel, Vin Richter, Miami, Fla.
Above is the portrait of US Navy Radioman 2C Thomas "Tommy" Gerald Miller. I feel like I know him. His parents are Mr. and Mrs. Addison Tracy Miller formerly 1328 Sorollo Ave in Coral Gables, Fl. He has a twin sister Patricia Stephenson, sisters Burl and Florence and brothers Jack and Dick. I think he went to St. Teresa High School (Tibido?) and had a lifelong friend named John Wheeler (living, email for info). I know all this from his obituary which I researched in The Miami Herald and from his friend John who phoned me after the story appeared in the Miami Herald over 2 years ago.
I started this project by accident. I was showing my son our former family jewelry store located on Flagler Street in downtown Miami. It's still there and almost unchanged since my father relocated the store to Palm Beach in the late 60's. I was telling the lady who owns the current eyeglass store who I was, and she asked if I knew anything about the 40 portraits that were stored in the attic. My father later told me that those portraits had been painted by the Gold Star Women of Miami who had taken it upon themselves to paint a portrait of every Dade County soldier killed in the war. My Uncle Robert died in the Phillipines and my grandfather Joe became "ground zero" for fallen soldiers families in Miami. The portraits were stored in the attic in hopes that they would be displayed in some permanent memorial that was never built. They remained there since the mid '40's till I found them.
On the back of each portrait was the last name of each soldier. From there, I tracked down the family members so that the portrait could be returned. To date, I have found the families of 21 of the 40 portraits and Tommy will make 22. I pretty much gave up the search a while back, but every year around X Mas I do a little more research on the web, since we both know how much new information is added everyday. I had a hunch Patricia was somewhere but I could not find her. It must be a twin thing...I have a twin brother Stefan who helped me with this task.
How coincidental that you posted this such a short time ago. It gives me hope that I'll find family of the others. (to; Barbi Ennis Connolly, about Patricia Stephenson and her step-son Henry Stephenson, Jr.)
You have no idea how much joy it gives me to pack and ship a portrait to its rightful owner. The stories have been sad, joyful and poignant all at the same time. My niece Sarah wrote about this as her college essay to get into University of Pennsylvania. I had the pleasure of personally meeting several families who live in the Miami area. I have delivered portraits to sons, daughters, sisters, nieces, nephews and in one case to a best friend. I wanted to give the portrait to John Wheeler but he would not take it; certain that Patricia was somewhere.
In the middle of Christmas Eve Day, the note was delivered to BARBI THROUGH FOOTNOTE " from Vin, (below) We were able to reach Henry, who went for his beloved "Other-Mother-Pat" and she was able to SEE Tommy on the computer. . . . Could there ever be a greater Gift ? And ON Christmas Eve ! Now the painting is on it's way to her :) -B
"Vin, YOU have no idea how much joy you have brought to Patricia and her Family !"