Remarkable mom overcomes challenges for sons

2011-05-05T00:00:00Z Remarkable mom overcomes challenges for sonsOpinion by Barbara Russek Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

This Sunday, those of us fortunate enough to have Mother with us will express appreciation for her caring, guidance, encouragement and all the other things that have helped make us who we are today.

But how do you honor a mother who was in desperate circumstances, who was told by a clergyman to put her two sons up for adoption, and who refused to abandon her children?

Through her belief in a higher power, plus the help of strangers, she found a way to not only keep her two sons but help them build successful lives.

I met this amazing mother, Judith Blair, a few weeks ago. The Salvation Army had organized a high tea fundraiser at The Westin La Paloma, "Lights, Camera, Fashion," and I was there. It was fun watching local celebs strut their stuff, and the scones and other finger foods added a touch of class. But Judith Blair telling me her compelling story after the show was the highlight of the afternoon.

Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Judith's future looked bright. She had a twin brother, was editor of her high school yearbook, sang in the church choir and even modeled on the weekends. Judith also had a passion for sports. Later she entered Miami University, majoring in health and physical education.

hard times ahead

After her marriage in 1972, Judith's life started to unravel. Her husband was given to bouts of rage, she said. Lack of financial resources also contributed to a very unhappy home life.

Judith remembers vividly Christmas 1974, when her sons Joseph and Jonathan were only 6 months and 20 months old.

"I was very financially challenged," Judith recalled. "Two weeks before Christmas, I went through the line at the Salvation Army and accepted toys for my children and also a food voucher. Two days after Christmas I experienced the final episode of domestic abuse. I found myself on the snowy streets of Akron, Ohio, with my sons and nowhere to go. After arresting my husband, a policeman suggested I call the Salvation Army."

First she called her cousin, a pastor, for help, but he refused. Then she called the Salvation Army. The agency provided a room at a downtown hotel and also a food voucher. Judith and her boys were at that hotel only through the weekend. During the two weeks her husband was detained, she went to a social service agency to sign up for welfare and food stamps, found a cheap one-bedroom apartment and filed for divorce.

"I did whatever it took"

Shortly thereafter, Judith met an author/evangelist who was speaking at her church. She told him of her family's circumstances. He suggested that for the children's good, she give them up for adoption.

"I had lost most everything - family, possessions, et cetera. Did I now have to lose my sons?" she said.

After much prayer, fasting and soul searching, Judith knew the answer was a resounding "No."

"There is no greater responsibility than the nurturing, molding and upbringing of another human being," Judith said. "The ensuing years were challenging, yet so fulfilling. My boys have been the greatest joys of my life."

The family had to move often. During one of those moves Judith found a home to rent in a safe location. Unfortunately, she was denied because, she said, her children were biracial. She didn't have the money or time to fight for her rights and had to find housing elsewhere. Within a few months she was able to move into government-subsidized housing.

Luckily, around that time she found work as a contributing editor and typesetter for a religious magazine. She has since held a variety of jobs, such as selling encyclopedias door to door, working as a property manager and also as a family service director for a funeral home.

"Bottom line," Judith remembers, "I did whatever it took - as long as it was legal, moral and ethical - to make it through."

She's always giving

Even with all the challenges in her life, Judith found time to teach Jonathan and Joseph to play basketball. She also coached their Little League team, the Spurs, in Texas. Jonathan was a great role model for younger brother Joseph. Working since the age of 15, he still found time to play basketball in high school, though not in college. He is currently business manager for a restaurant in Palm Springs, Calif.

Joseph grew to be 6' 10", excelled at the sport and was recruited by nationally ranked university teams. He decided on Arizona and played for the University of Arizona from 1992 to 1996, helping the team make it to the 1994 Final Four. Later he played professionally in Europe. Today he is executive director of the Arizona Basketball Alumni Foundation, which he founded and for which Judith volunteers.

Ten years ago, Judith found yet another way to give of herself. Through attending Joseph's basketball games at the UA, she became acquainted with a professor who needed a kidney. After praying over the matter, Judith decided to donate one of hers.

Her health was not compromised by the donation, and the transplant recipient survives to this day.

Never give up

Today Judith, proud mother of two and grandmother of seven, looks back on the past 36 years since she was first helped by the Salvation Army. Her message to others is to look to God, lose your pride, keep working at something and never, never give up.

As May 8 approaches, I wish a wonderful Mother's Day to Judith Blair and all the other great moms out there. You stepped up for the hardest and most rewarding job in the world.

Email Barbara Russek at Babette2@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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