grandfather, Sir WInston Churchill” width=”562″ height=”410″ />Eight o’clock one morning in the summer of 1956, Jim and Jeanlee Noonan went to a hotel near the state Capitol where somebody handed them a newborn baby girl.
Naming her Rhonda, they took their new daughter home to Tonkawa, near the Kansas state line two hours north of Oklahoma City, where Jeanlee’s father was an old friend and golfing buddy with a member of Gov. Raymond Gary’s administration.
It took powerful friends to arrange a “special adoption” outside of normal channels.
“My parents just wanted a baby,” says Rhonda Noonan, now 54 years old and the director of clinical services at the Shadow Mountain psychiatric facility in Tulsa.
“They didn’t ask too many questions or pay too much attention to the particulars.”
Noonan can remember being 12, or perhaps 14 years old, and sitting on a porch swing with her maternal grandmother, who repeated a comment she overheard during the unusual adoption process.
“If you knew the last name of the baby,” one caseworker told another, perhaps not realizing the baby’s new grandmother could hear, “you would know immediately who it was, because they’re famous.”
Too young to care, Noonan didn’t think much of it at the time. But years later, that offhand remark would turn out to be a vital clue in Noonan’s search for her real father.
‘A set up’
In her 20s, Noonan struggled to form lasting relationships, taking what she calls a leave-you-before-you-leave-me strategy. A therapist friend suggested that it might help to resolve some lingering questions about her own identity.
She had a loving family and a good upbringing, Noonan says.
“But like a lot of adopted children, I felt something was missing. I thought if I could figure out my genetics, I could figure out me.
It would take nearly 30 years to piece together the whole story, an epic she hopes to recount someday in an autobiography.
In the short version, a turning point came in 1990 when Noonan won a court order to receive an original birth certificate, which eventually led to more records from the state Department of Human Services.
Her birth mother, according to records and Noonan’s personal research, hung out at a bar that was frequented by government officials, as well as military officers from nearby Tinker Air Force Base.
At the bar in late 1955, her mother encountered the man listed in state records as her birth father. But after tracking him down in recent years, Noonan became convinced that he was a scapegoat.
“My mother had to be at least two months pregnant by the time they met,” she says. “It was a setup.”
Besides, this individual was a humble federal bureaucrat, hardly the type of person who would be able to call upon the Governor’s Office to help keep the adoption quiet.
He didn’t meet the description of somebody “famous.”
‘It all fits’
In declining health at the age of 80, Winston Churchill resigned as Britain’s prime minister on April 5, 1955, and announced his retirement from politics.
Grateful for his leadership through Britain’s “darkest hour” in World War II, the queen offered him a title of nobility and a seat in the House of Lords, but Churchill refused.
Inheriting a title would dash his son’s hope for a political career of his own, since noblemen can’t be elected to the House of Commons.
As it turned out, Randolph Churchill never succeeded in politics after all. But in 1955, as a prominent British journalist, Randolph was still widely expected to follow in his father’s famous footsteps, perhaps all the way to No. 10 Downing St.
In October of that year, according to Noonan’s research, Randolph passed through Oklahoma City as a correspondent for The Times of London, reporting on the early back-room maneuvering of those seeking to become the Democratic nominee in the 1956 presidential election.
Oklahoma’s Gov. Gary was backing New York Gov. Averell Harriman, a leading candidate who also happened to be friends with Churchill from his time as the U.S. ambassador to Britain.
While in town, did Randolph drop into a bar near Tinker Air Force Base?
Was he looking for company?
“He certainly knew people who were known to hang out there,” Noonan says. “He was famous. He was well-connected. It all fits.”
‘Had to figure out’
She can’t prove it, Noonan admits.
No records include Randolph’s name. And no DNA test has been conducted, although Noonan says she would welcome it.
Her birth mother, now elderly, has refused to talk to her. And Randolph died in 1968 at the age of 57.
The only written evidence comes from a former DHS official, now deceased, who signed a hand-written statement after Noonan asked if her suspicions were correct.
In the brief statement, the official describes a meeting in which Randolph Churchill signed adoption papers. But the official confirmed Randolph’s identity only after Noonan broached the name first.
“No one used the name Churchill with me,” Noonan says. “It was something I had to figure out.”
In photographs, she resembles Randolph, Noonan says. And when making a point, she tends to raise an eyebrow, the way Winston had a well-known habit of doing.
“Will anybody else believe it? I don’t know,” Noonan says. “But it explains so much about me. Now I can look at myself and know why I’m the way I am.”
In a nationwide poll in 2002, the British public chose Winston Churchill as “the greatest Briton of all time.”
His political career began in 1900, when he was elected as a Conservative member of Parliament. He first entered the British Cabinet eight years later.
Churchill became prime minister during the early months of World War II, and quickly won affection among both Britons and Americans, inspiring courage during what he described as his country’s “darkest hour,” the German bombing campaign over the summer of 1940.
One of his most famous quotes was said in praise of the airmen who defended British cities: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
He died Jan. 24, 1965, at age 90.