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Florida retirees adopt 63-year-old daughter

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

Hope was never the problem. She had plenty of that. What she didn’t have were shoes. Or the feeling someone loved her.

Pat Chasse was a troubled 15-year-old girl in the fall of 1971, living in southern Vermont. She was raised by a single mother she didn’t get along with, never knew her father, and her family was poor. In fact, they didn’t own a car. She wanted a better life, and knew she had to leave to find it.

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She hopped into a van with some friends, owning just the clothes on her body, no shoes, and they drove three hours to Burlington, a city with a shelter. Once she saw Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains in the background, she knew she wanted to stay.

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The people at the shelter took her in, gave her shoes and a bed. They also told her she needed to enroll in school and to knock on doors until she found a family to stay with, as there were no foster homes in town. The next day she walked two miles until she reached Burlington High School, where her life would change forever.

Who knows how these things happen? Or why? What if Richard Happy, the school’s guidance counselor, had been sick that day? What if he had been in a meeting down the hall? Or in the bathroom? But he wasn’t. He was in his office when Patricia walked in.

Richard and his wife, Diane, already had two children of their own. They also had been foster parents to several kids, experiences that hadn’t always worked out. They were apprehensive about taking in another, but there was just something about Patricia. Richard was intrigued by her smile, but even more by her story and desire to better her situation.

“He said, ‘I’d like to talk to my wife about you,’’’ she said. “I cried all the way back to the shelter. I was just so hopeful something would happen.”

The next thing anyone knew, Patricia was at their house for dinner. They talked. That sealed it. They wanted to take a chance on her, they said, and took her in as a foster child, the process made easier because they were already approved by the state.

The couple was in their 30s, and it was not financially feasible for them to formally adopt her at the time. Instead, Diane drew up an informal “certificate of adoption” on a piece of paper that said Patricia was a “full member in good standing of the Happy family.” It was signed on Aug. 1, 1972, by all the family members.

Patricia now had a home. Diane gave her vitamins with her breakfast each morning, and a ceramic turtle that said on the bottom: “Because you are so slow to believe you are truly loved.”

The couple helped Patricia secure her driver’s license, open a savings account, introduced her to music like Peter, Paul and Mary. And books. She graduated high school, got engaged, attended college, and when she got married, Richard paid for the wedding. Time passed. Patricia lost an 8-month-old granddaughter. The family was there for her. She divorced in 2009 after 30 years. There for her again. It was at that point that someone suggested Patricia change her last name from Chasse to Happy. She did. And it felt good.

Patricia Happy remained in Burlington, working as a paralegal, her birth mother died, and Richard and Diane moved to Sarasota, where they have lived for 30 years. They have stayed in touch, stayed close and have taken vacations together. One was to Spain, another to Vietnam.

Around Christmas in 2018, Richard was reading an article in the Herald-Tribune about adult adoption, and it dawned on him: Why not formally adopt Patricia? After all this time — nearly 50 years — why not make it official?

He sent Patricia a text on Christmas Day. What did she think? Did she want to be adopted? She sat in her Toyota Prius and cried.

“Shocked isn’t even the right word,” she said. “I was so happy. I’m telling you, there are no two people like them on the planet.”

On March 27, 2019, Richard and Diane adopted Patricia at the Sarasota County courthouse.

Richard was 80, Diane 78, and Patricia 63.

Richard walked out of the courthouse holding a balloon that read: It’s a Girl!

“We already had our love and our memories and our lives,” Patricia said. “I guess it was a period at the end of a sentence.”

The sentence began with a 15-year-old girl walking into a high school guidance counselor’s office in the fall of 1971 with borrowed shoes and no place to live.

All she wanted was to better herself.

And that is why, Richard said of his daughter, “She is my hero.”

Contact columnist Chris Anderson at chris.anderson@heraldtribune.com.