Jul 122011
Authors: Justin Rampy

Ray Smith spent 40 years without ever knowing what happened to his biological family. Then one day his phone rang, and the woman at the other end, a producer of NBC’s “Dateline,” said she had big news for him.

“We may have located your mother and two sisters,” she said. Ray couldn’t believe his own ears, as far as he was concerned, he was sure he would spend the rest of his life without ever knowing a blood relative.

The woman asked if he would be willing to take a DNA test to confirm his identity and relation to these women. It was late May when Smith took the test, and he had no idea what was in store for him in the coming weeks.

“Waiting for the results was like waiting for your woman’s pregnancy test,” Smith said with a laugh. His fiancée Kim Petrafeso took the call from the lab while Smith was at work. Once she received the results, Smith said she broke out into tears.

In 1972, a woman named Shirley, the family babysitter, kidnapped Ray along with his two sisters Rhonda and Renee from their birth mother Jerry. The three spent their entire childhoods either being handed out to adoptive parents or moving from one motel room to another. None of them knew they were related and none of them knew their real mother.

Ray Smith was passed around foster homes since he was young. His adopted mother, Anna Lee Brown, had numerous health problems and by the age of 14, he was sent to live with a family in Colorado where he grew up a Broncos fan. After years spent in the foster program, he graduated high school, moved out and moved on with his life.

“I got a job so I could support myself,” the soft-spoken Smith said. “But my passion is music.”

Smith joined a band and is now the lead singer of the heavy metal group Immortal Dominion that plays shows all over the Denver metro-area. Currently the group is competing for KBPI’s “Best Band in Denver” title, and the group is a finalist in the competition.

He intends to marry his fiancee, Kim, next spring. They live just outside of Loveland and Smith said he enjoys taking long walks with her.
“I like it out there because it’s calm and peaceful, you know, there’s not a lot of traffic.” Smith’s said.

He works for CSU Facilities management specifically in Weber, Engineering, Statistics and sometimes the Admin building. He’s not in love with his job, but he knows the value of making a paycheck.

“I’ve been working here for about five years,” Smith said. “It keeps the bills paid.”

Then one day after work, he came home to the news that his family had been found; the DNA test was a match. By now it was early June, just a few short weeks since he was first contacted, and he was on his way to meet the family he was snatched from nearly 40 years ago.

“It was awesome that I got to meet them finally,” Smith said. “It was amazing to see them after so long. They looked just like me.”

On NBC’s Dateline, the foursome was reunited. They spent time hugging, holding hands, catching up and making plans for the future.

“The experience was sort of awkward in front of all the cameras and stuff,” Smith said. “But I was willing to do anything just to meet them.”

He now keeps in touch with both of his sisters and his birth mother, who all live in Southern California. They talk regularly about anything from what their day was like, to what happened before they met.

He said Rhonda is the most concerned day-to-day with how he is doing (the two actually share a similar sun tattoo they both got years before they met), but that he is more like his “laid-back” sister Renee.

Ray counts this experience as a miracle of the grandest kind. None of them ever thought they would know their real family, so the fact that they were reunited is truly remarkable. However, what happens now, after a lifetime spent apart?

“It hasn’t really changed my life much,” Smith said. “I have the same job and the same hobbies. It hasn’t changed what I do.”

Understandably, after 40 long years, meeting his family has changed little about Ray, other than more frequent visits to the telephone, but his boss Jay Fetig thinks it has changed his outlook.
“He is definitely happier now, you can tell,” Fetig said, and Ray agreed with him.

“I’m still the same person: quiet, soft-spoken, and I don’t talk bad about people,” he said. He will get married, continue to work, maybe win a music competition or two, but he will always have in his heart the feeling of family that he never had before.

Staff writer Justin Rampy can be reached at news@collegian.com.

More on Ray Smith

  • Smith attended two local high schools in Loveland:
    Thompson Valley High School
    Campion Academy
  • He sang Baritone in his high school choirs, apparently born to be a lead singer
  • He works from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. in buildings around Oval Dr.
  • His favorite TV shows are Axmen and Swamp Loggers even though he said he would never chose logging as a profession

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