The Extraordinary Adoption Journey of Jenny Lee-Smith

November 9 is International Adoption Day, and the month of November is Adoption Awareness Month in the United States. This is the first in a series of stories to celebrate the miracle of adoption

She had lived most of her life managing hard things, plowing forward through pressures that made the heart leap and breath quicken. Jenny Lucas grew up Jenny Lee-Smith before marrying Sam Lucas and raising three wonderful children. Under her maiden name, she played on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tours, winning a dozen times in Europe and twice capturing the LET Order of Merit in 1981 and 1982. Prior to that, in 1976 while still an amateur, she etched her name in the history books as the first-ever champion of the AIG Women’s Open, an event that, while decades away from becoming a major championship and part of the R&A and LPGA Tour, was still considered one of the most prestigious events in the women’s European game.

But long before hoisting her first trophy, Jenny had learned to manage her life and her emotions in ways that made the pressures of a golf tournament seem trivial.

She was only 12 years old when the first love of her life, her father, passed away from cancer. He had been the man who introduced her to golf, giving Jenny a cut-down set of Slazenger clubs when she was barely out of diapers. Six decades later, there was still a melancholy whisper in Jenny’s voice as she said, “He never really got to see me play.”

Two years after the loss of her father, Jenny had another painful blow to process. While dealing with the angst that afflicts all 14-year-old girls and battling the rebellious instincts that plague children who lose a father young, Jenny was at a family gathering when her cousins began arguing over the loss of a favored book. When Jenny offered her opinion, one of the other children snapped, “Be quiet, you’re not even a part of this family. Your mom is not your real mother.”

That is how Jenny learned she was adopted.

Jenny with her birth mother.

Her mother had made vague references to Jenny being “chosen” for them, a gift and a treasure, the kind of princess language that a little girl would never connect with adoption. Of course, Jenny the teenager wanted to know more. But they were English, with stiff upper lips and a genetic disposition to shove bygone unpleasantries into the darkness. Jenny was born three years after Victory in Europe Day. Her parents had lived the nightmares of the Blitz. Monuments were still being erected; names still being etched on headstones and church walls. All had lost friends and family. With Jenny and her mother left to fend for themselves, conversations about Jenny’s biological background never came up.

By age 17, she toyed with golf, playing the game here and there. Then, an interaction with a legend changed her life.

“John Jacobs opened golf centers all around the country,” Jenny said. “I was 17 and took my first lesson from him. At the time I was a 28 handicap. He watched me hit a bucket of balls and said, ‘One day you’ll play for England.’ The next year I was down to a four. Two years later, I did play for England.”

Inspired by Jacobs’ unbridled confidence in her, a trait her father had also shown and one she had almost forgotten, Jenny became one of the best amateur players in Europe. In 1974, at age 25, she won what would turn out to be the final playing of the Wills Women’s International Match Play at Wentworth, defeating her fellow countrywoman Elizabeth Head 3 and 1 in the finals.

Later that summer, she traveled 5,300 miles to San Francisco Golf Club where she represented Great Britain and Ireland in the Curtis Cup. The outcome of those matches was a U.S. rout. The only historically significant milestones were the good play of Jane Booth, who would later become half of the first mother-daughter duo to compete in the Curtis Cup when her daughter Kellee teed it up in 1996, and the debut of an amateur stalwart named Carol Semple Thompson. Still, for Jenny, she had done the unthinkable, going from a 28-handicap as a 17-year-old to playing for Great Britain on the world stage. John Jacobs had been right.

Jenny represented England four times in the Women’s Home Internationals, winning three of them. She also played for the victorious English side in the Commonwealth Trophy in 1975. In 1976, the summer she won the first AIG Women’s Open, she represented her country again in the Curtis Cup at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.

“It was the U.S. Bicentennial and the end of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976,” Jenny said. “Both (Curtis Cup) teams were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen, which was an incredible honor.

“Later, John Jacobs wrote me a letter saying how proud he was. He said, ‘I thought you had so much talent, and I thought you would play for England, but you’ve gone one-step further and won the British Open. That’s an amazing accomplishment.’

“That spurred me to turn pro and get my LPGA Tour card.”

Jenny joined the LPGA Tour in 1977. She lived in Florida for a while and competed as a member for seven years. But late in 1978, a group of women were approached by a beer company with an offer for a 10-tournament women’s European tour. The upstart organization needed star power, and Jenny Lee-Smith was near the top of that list. “So, I was a founding member of the European Tour,” she said 44 years later.

It was originally called the WPGA but would later morph into the Ladies European Tour or LET as it’s colloquially known today. That is where Jenny would excel, winning seven times in two years and capturing at least one win a season from 1979 through 1984 when family life and a bad back reset her priorities.  


The first three winners of the British Women's Open (l-r) Vivienne Saunders of England winner at Lindrick in 1977, Trish Wilson The Chairman of the Ladies Golf Union, Janet Melville of England winner at Foxhills in 1978 and Jenny Lee-Smith of England winner at Fulford in 1976 pose for a picture at the welcome reception in the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey as a preview for the 2016 Ricoh Women's British Open on July 27, 2016 in Woburn, England.

Post retirement, Jenny began to research her family history. A law passed in 1975 allowed adopted children to petition for their birth records. According to Jenny, “When I was adopted in 1948, most adoptions were closed. Now, many of them are open so a child can find out about her parentage. That wasn’t the case with me. I had to go through social services and had to have counseling for about six weeks before this counselor felt that I was fit enough mentally and emotionally to cope with possibly another rejection.

“I was given my mother’s name (Mercia). There was no father on the birth certificate, just her name. She actually lived just round the corner from my cousin in the northeast of England.”

Jenny had been born in Newcastle, a coal town on the Tyne within jogging distance of Hadrian’s Wall and a region with a more of a Scottish sense of distrust for the English of the south. For centuries, Londoners looked down their noses at the industrial north, and “Geordies”, the nickname given to residents of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, considered those hailing from south of Birmingham to be erudite snobs. Even the name Geordie had social connotations. No one was sure where it originated, or if it described the people or their accents – a syncopated meter closer to the rhythmic clips of Edinburgh than the word-heavy yaws heard south of Cambridgeshire.

But that didn’t stop Londoners from using “Geordie” as a pejorative, like “rube” or “redneck.” One etymological theory had the word coming from the Geordie brand of lanterns used in the mines, which made sense. Even though the city was once a ship-building hub and home to one of England’s first commercial printers, and despite the fact that Gray Street, the main thoroughfare through town, a block from the train station, was a model of neoclassical architecture with a giant library that predated the London Library by half a century, Newcastle was so synonymous with coal that it spawned one of the most common expressions in the English language: “carrying coals to Newcastle,” which means a redundant action, like “selling ice to Eskimos.” 

The history of golf in the area was not something Jenny pondered. She couldn’t have cared less that the first record of the game in Newcastle dated back to 1646 when Charles I whacked the featherie around the field where he was being held prisoner. She had other things on her mind.

“I went to see my cousin,” Jenny said. “So, I went knocking on doors one day and found my (biological) aunt, my mother’s sister. My adopted parents had kept my birth name, Jennifer. This lady said, ‘Who are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m Jennifer.’ She cried and hugged and kissed me.

She said, ‘I’ll call Mercia,’ which was my mother’s name. But my mother said to my aunt that she didn’t want to talk to me because too much water had passed under the bridge.

“That was it for that moment.”

Later, when Jenny and Sam passed through Newcastle after a wedding, they decided to give a potential reunion one more shot. If her birth mother slammed the door in her face, at least Jenny knew that she had done all she could.

“I had my cousin and my husband and me, and he was a tall chap,” Jenny said. “We sort of hid behind him while he knocked on (Mercia’s) door. She came to the door, and he said, ‘Oh Mercia, it’s been a long time.’ She was totally confused. Then he stepped away and said, ‘This is Jennifer behind me.’

“She hugged and kissed me and apologized. She said it was tough (back then). It was the end of the war and there was no money. The entire time she was on edge. Finally, she said, ‘My daughter, Helen, is coming in from Texas. If she arrives, please don’t say anything. She doesn’t know anything about you.’”

Helen didn’t appear that day in person, but a flood of new feelings did. Jenny had at least one sibling. For an only child who had lost her father at age 12, this news hit like a hammer. But Jenny also didn’t want to cause a rift. Mercia didn’t want Helen to know, so that was how it would be, at least for a while.

In the meantime, Jenny and Sam had another adoption story in their future.


“My husband has a company that does painting, spraying and building work, and he set up a charity to provide construction work in areas of need throughout Europe,” Jenny said. “Through the charity, he did some work in a children’s hospital and elder-care home in Transylvania, the northern part of Romania. He said on his second visit, ‘You have to come with me.’

“At that time, we had toddlers – my daughter was three and my son was one and a half – but I went on the second visit with him anyway. On that visit, we met this little scrap of a baby boy. His mother had been sent away from her family for the last three months of the pregnancy because it was such a disgrace to the family. She was 19 and her parents had told her they would kill her and the baby if she went home with a baby. The nurse (at the children’s hospital) handed over this tiny little 5-day-old baby.”

There were no clothes or diapers. The child had been swaddled in a dirty gray rag, the kind of thing you’d find lying on a garage floor. The nurse brought him out, unfolded the rag, shrugged her shoulders and said to Jenny, “Do you want it?”

Jenny looked at Sam through a haze of tears. His only response was, “Don’t worry.” They would make it work. They had to.

The nurse found the birth mother, and with proper payment from Sam, the Lucases set about committing a felony. They had the mother fly back to England with them and the baby. The birth mother told customs agents that she was in the country on a holiday and would only be there a couple of days. It wasn’t actually that long.

“She handed him over to me in a car park with no emotion,” Jenny said. “Not a tear. I asked if she wanted photos or Christmas cards or anything, and she didn’t want anything.”

After hiring a lawyer and getting their lawless adoption worked out, the Lucases named their son Joshua. He also became a solid amateur golfer.

Jenny had three loving and successful children, a wonderful husband, and an historic career in golf. But there was still unfinished business.


Helen and Jenny
“I’m 73, and I didn’t find my sister until I was 55,” she said. “I searched for a lot of years but my mother was still alive, and I didn’t want to hurt her. Then, in 2005, I said, ‘I really need to find Helen,’ who I assumed was my half-sister.

“I found my birth mother’s death certificate and it was signed by a name I didn’t recognize, a Deborah. That turned out to be Helen’s daughter. Helen had been living in Texas at the time.”

Helen had been in the states for many years and had worked as a surgical assistant for the same orthopedic surgeon who did Jenny’s back procedure. That meant that Helen had almost certainly assisted in a surgery on a sister she didn’t know she had.

Finally, after a great deal of searching, Jenny got a message through a DNA company called Genes Reunited. It was simple and straightforward. “Hi, my name is Melanie and I’m your cousin. You have two sisters, one living in Texas and one in the Northeast. You have a brother who passed away.”

“He was living in Florida about 80 miles away from me,” Jenny said of her late brother, a hint of a quiver in her voice.

“I wrote this long email to Helen,” Jenny said. “She couldn’t believe it at first, but I had too many details for it not to be true. When she moved back to the UK we met up. The moment I walked in she said, ‘I would have known you even if you hadn’t introduced yourself. You’re the spitting image of our mother.’”

There were plenty of other sibling similarities, the smile, the mannerisms. “When I met her, I had two chihuahuas and she had two chihuahuas,” Jenny said. “We both had similar back pains, which I had always assumed came from golf but turned out to be hereditary. It was all too much of a coincidence.”

More surprises were on the way.

“Helen thought her birthday was April 5, 1950,” Jenny said. “I knew that I was born on December 2, 1948. So, we did a sibling DNA test and it turned out we were twins. Helen had always been tall for her age. It turns out she was 16 months older than she thought she was.”

There was no one left to provide an explanation, but Jenny spoke with a midwife who had worked in the region during the time of their birth. The midwife told her, “Helen was likely the smaller twin and not expected to live. In those days in England after the war, as long as her birth wasn’t registered, they wouldn’t have to pay for the funeral. That was the law in those days, although not registering a birth was against the law.”

After a while, Mercia could no longer hide the fact that this child existed, so Helen’s birth certificate was dated 16 months after her actual birth. “It was an entire web of deceit,” Jenny said.

No more. The sisters speak often. They wrote a book together, My Secret Sister, and they maintain a blog

“It’s sort of funny, Helen isn’t sporty at all,” Jenny said of one main differences between the two. “But she is my sister.”