TAMPA, Fla. – She’s a freshman at a small Southern college, a psychology major/international studies minor, cheerleader and sorority sister who, at 17, has already charted a career path.
“I’m pre-law,” says the teen, “K” for the purposes of this story. “I’ve thought about it since high school. It’s interesting that both of my biological parents are attorneys, because that’s definitely something I wanted to do before I found out all that. … I’m interested in politics.”
“All that” includes her belief that Gov. Charlie Crist is her birth father – speculation based solely on the assertion of her birth mother, Rebecca O’Dell Townsend, that she had a one-night stand with Crist in 1988 resulting in pregnancy.
Townsend named Crist as K’s father in adoption records leaked to the media during last year’s nasty Republican gubernatorial primary.
He has angrily denied it, and aides have said that the allegation, and its timing, were just an effort to damage his campaign.
K was born June 23, 1989, in St. Petersburg’s Bayshore Medical Center: 7.5 pounds with wispy brown hair and brown eyes.
At the time, Crist signed an affidavit denying paternity, freeing K for adoption.
“Parenthood by myself is not possible as I never consummated the act necessary for parenthood,” he wrote.
Two days later, she joined the Tucker family of St. Petersburg: father Marshall, mother Cecila and their biological son Kevin.
A year earlier, their adopted toddler daughter, Kristin, died suddenly.
The Tuckers knew the basics about K’s birth parents: their ages, where they grew up, what they and their parents did for a living, whether they wore glasses.
But they had no interest in learning more until last fall, when opponents of Crist’s candidacy sent documents about the adoption to state newspapers.
A Sept. 4 story in the St. Petersburg Times contained enough details about Townsend and her newborn for the Tuckers to reach a startling conclusion: Their daughter was the baby in question.
In one of several recent phone conversations with The Miami Herald, K described how her parents connected her to Townsend and, through the birth mother’s allegations, to Crist.
“Mom was reading the paper,” K says. `She said, `I think it’s about you.’ I read it, and we figured out it was. (Finding) my birth parents would be the next progression.”
Cecilia Tucker says they started by scrutinizing hospital documents for details about the birth mother, whose name was blacked out but still vaguely outlined.
From the shape of the letters, Tucker gleaned “Rebecca Wharrie” – Townsend’s last name in 1989, when she was 31 and emerging from a bad marriage.
From the records, says Tucker, “we knew the biological father was a lawyer,” as is Crist, “and his father was a doctor,” as is Crist’s father.
Ten days after the story broke, the Tuckers visited K at school. Already fearful that she might become enmeshed in a political scandal – “we didn’t know if she’d wake up with CNN outside her door,” says Tucker – they asked administrators to “shut down accessibility” to their daughter.
Until now, the teen has spoken only briefly to the press. Her parents have asked that she not be named in this story, to protect her privacy.
K’s efforts to meet her biological mother and Crist are stymied
As other news organizations picked up the story and added details, K took down her MySpace and Facebook postings. And she told her parents she wanted to meet Townsend.
Cecilia Tucker – a minister and family therapist who has arranged numerous clients’ adoption reunions – called Townsend, 48.
She identified herself to Townsend, a St. Petersburg appellate lawyer, as “the adoptive mother of the child you placed for adoption. …”
Townsend was “taken aback,” Tucker recalls. “We talked for 20 minutes. She asked me to tell her something that nobody else would know, so I said that she’d been water-skiing right up to the time she gave birth. She knew I had a daughter die.”
Cecilia Tucker didn’t ask about K’s birth father, but says Townsend “asked us if (K) looked like Charlie Crist (because) she certainly did when she was born.”
Even though Crist had denied being the father, the Tuckers thought he might speak to them.
About a week before the general election, they said, they made a back-channel attempt to reach him through a friend.
They wanted him to know that K was trying to meet Townsend, which might have consequences for Crist, according to Cecilia, a registered Republican who voted for Crist.
She calls their attempt “a professional courtesy.”
But they said they got no response, so after the election, they tried again through other intermediaries.
By Thanksgiving, she said, “we’d done everything in our power” to reach him privately.
In January, after their identity was made public by the St. Petersburg Times, the Tuckers agreed to talk to reporters. They insisted they wanted nothing from Crist – neither a DNA test nor a meeting – just an acknowledgement that he’d received the information about K’s plans.
Indeed, K says she’s less interested in meeting Crist than Townsend, with whom a tentative rendezvous during Christmas break failed to materialize.
K says she understands Townsend’s reluctance; it’s a big step, and she has been tentative herself. She has Townsend’s e-mail address but hasn’t written yet.
If it never happens, she says, she’ll “be OK with it. … I don’t want to force anything on anybody that they don’t want.”
Townsend declined to comment for this story.
While K has often tried to picture her birth mother, she says she never thought much about her birth father, because fathers `don’t play such a big role in adoptions. My biological father kind of signed the papers like, `Didn’t happen; time to get rid of it.'”
What she has been looking for is what adoption specialists say most adopted children seek: a familiar face. An explanation of personality traits.
K says she has “never not known” she was adopted, but isn’t sure when she began “realizing there are other people I was born from.”
When she started asking, “my parents pulled out some of the adoption things – documents, my original birth certificate where everything is blacked out – and I remember trying to look through the black for the names.”
She doesn’t resemble the rest of the Tucker family: “My brother has blond hair, blue eyes and he’s 6-5. I’m 5-5 with dark hair and dark eyes.”
From 1995-2005, Cecilia Tucker penned a weekly column for the St. Petersburg Times called IT (Indomitable Teen). Written in a teenager’s voice, it addressed issues like eating disorders, sex, and once, adoption.
K contributed, says Cecilia.
“It was about a girl looking in the mirror and wondering, `Whose nose is this? Whose eyes are these?'”
The Tuckers could be a poster-family for “traditional values.” They live behind a white picket fence in the split-level ranch where their kids grew up. K’s oil paintings of farm scenes adorn the walls of a living room dominated by a giant TV. Two small dogs nestle on the leather sofa and the recliner.
Cecilia, 55, was born in Kentucky, her father a carpenter, her mother a nurse. Marshall, 51, was born in Tennessee and lived in Miami before moving to St. Petersburg as a preschooler.
The son of a pharmacist and a library aide, he’s also a pharmacist, now operations manager for a company that supplies home infusion equipment.
They met at the Baptist church around the corner from where they now live. Cecilia, then a Western Kentucky University student on a church mission, was the part-time youth minister.
They met again after Marshall graduated from the University of Florida a decade later and married in 1981.
Cecilia is voluble and forthright. Marshall, a registered Democrat, is reserved, happy to let his wife do the talking.
Before the wedding, Cecila says that the minister, `thinking we were incredibly different … said, `Are you sure this is what you want?’ He was being funny.”
Two years later, Kevin Tucker was born. Now 24, he’s a doctoral candidate in analytical chemistry at the University of Illinois.
Then the Tuckers adopted Kristin, at 4 days old. They didn’t know she was born with a hole in her diaphragm. When she was 16 months old, the hole tore open. She died on Oct. 8, 1988, just about the time K was conceived, the Tuckers figure.
“Being a minister, I call that a `Godcidence,” says Cecilia. K, she says, “was absolutely beautiful.”
She was also difficult: colicky and willful, “a pistol,” K admits, laughing. “Really stubborn. My parents had to keep me in line. I would not listen.”
Sent to time out, she’d “lie half outside my room and half inside and scream to punish them for punishing me.”
But she was always studious.
“I decided school was important. If I get bad grades, I’m going home. My parents aren’t about to pay $30,000 a year so I can mess up.”
To listen to K on the phone is to hear a fast-talking youngster who slips seamlessly between “like”-infested teenspeak and mature analysis of her own future: “I want to do international or corporate law. I want to study in China. The economy is growing exponentially over there and that’s where business is.”
In one of the story’s greater ironies, K says she has been close to Townsend’s two college-age children many times without knowing it.
“They’re from St. Pete, so obviously we know so many of the same people, and it’s ridiculous how many times I’ve almost met these kids. We all went to St. Pete High together (K graduated from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School) … We went to the same gym.”
She has seen their photos on Facebook and sees little resemblance.
They’ve talked but not met.
“I told them I wasn’t going to meet them until I at least talked to Rebecca,” K explains. “I kind of feel like that would be going behind her back, sneaking into her family.”
Since K’s desire to find her birth parents came to light, the Tuckers have had to fend off suspicion that they were involved in a political dirty trick. They vigorously deny leaking the adoption records and resent that their daughter’s life was disrupted.
They worry that Crist’s political enemies will raise the issue every time he runs for office, and that after K turns 18, the media, which left her alone as a minor, will consider her fair game.
K herself thinks that Crist might quietly seek her out after she turns 18, and she’d be pleased to meet him.
“I really like him as a guy. I think he’s respectable and like I would have voted for him. … Whether he lied about paternity or not, I don’t think it’s an issue with morals.”
But if she never meets Crist, she says it won’t be “a big deal. … I love my family, and they’re really important to me, and we’re really close.”


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