FAIRHOPE, Ala. (WKRG) — Nominations for this year’s Remarkable Women contest poured in, and Pat Lee was chosen as the winner! Lee is very well-known around the Gulf Coast, and her humanitarian work is known around the world!
Lee is described as “one of a kind.” That woman who says she “got a calling from God” to save children abandoned in other countries and bring them here to the U.S. to match them with loving families hasn’t lost her drive, 50 years into it. Lee says she has placed more than 2,000 children from: Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Nepal, India, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Chile with families in America, and she’s known by them all as Grandma Pat.
“Grandma Pat” says one night, out of the blue, God spoke to her about adoption.
“God was very specific that I was to adopt. And so I thought about it and prayed about it. God was telling me a five-year-old,” Lee told Cherish Lombard.
Lee says she was turned away from local adoption agencies because she and her husband already had four children, and they were on a fixed income. Then, someone asked if she had considered international adoption.
In 1975, Lee found the little boy who would become her son in Vietnam, and she says God had a surprise for her. That little boy had a sister.
“We adopted those two children. So then after that, you know, I felt like God was saying, okay, we’re not done,” said Lee.
In 1980, Lee adopted her daughter, Mary Beth, from India. Mary Beth would later go back to India, to adopt a little girl of her own.
“What if that my birth mother had not left me at that hospital that day, what would my life be like. Without that abandonment, without that loss, without those pieces of my adoption, I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today,” said Mary Beth Nelson.
She says her mother showered her with love and is a big part of why she decided to adopt her daughter, Evie.
“She was like a cheerleader. I think she was more excited! Of course, we were nervous and scared and everything else. She was ready to go,” Nelson said.
Bill and Jeri Harrison say Lee also encouraged their decision to adopt their daughter, Skye, from China — a “then baby girl,” who’s now 24-years-old.
“We just admire Pat so much. She has put her life out there over and over for so many humanitarian causes. She creates families, and I know a lot of people work very hard at creating wonderful things. But creating families is the most special,” said Jeri Harrison.
As for Pat and her husband, they created their own family of 12, with their children at one point ranging in age from newborn to 16.
Lee started her first non-profit in 1988 before opening her second, Children of the World, in 1996, which she still runs today. She says it was India that “hooked her.”
She said, “When I would go to India, the children were dying on the street.”
Lee says she couldn’t stand to see it, and although she didn’t have a lot of money, she found ways to make hundreds of trips to orphanages in foreign countries over the years through word of mouth and help from her brother.
“My brother was a captain with Eastern Airlines. In fact, he says, I am the one who brought Eastern Airlines down because they kept having to give me free tickets,” Lee laughed.
Ashley and Brady Franklin took a trip with Lee five years ago that made their dream of having a family come true.
“I’ve always wanted to, of course, have a biological child, but was unable to do that so it was the next obvious choice,” said Ashley.
The Franklins say like so many couples who have to accept the reality that they can’t conceive, they were heartbroken, until Pat brought then six-month-old Addison into their lives.
“Her faith and her love is just so large it reached around the world and brought Addison to us and made our family whole,” said Brady.
Parag Mahatekar says if not for Pat, he wouldn’t have his son, Brayden; and without Brayden, he wouldn’t have met his wife.
“When Brayden was three-years-old we were out playing in the park and we decided to go pick up a pizza for dinner. There was my beautiful wife who did not know it yet. Julia comes over to me and goes, “My daughter would like to play with your son,” and I said, “Sure, but only after he finishes eating his dinner,”‘ laughed Mahatekar.
There are hundreds of similar stories, all with Grandma Pat at the center of them. When she realized she couldn’t bring every child here to the states, Lee put a focus on relief efforts overseas.
“Setting up places where children could come and get food, baby food, all this type thing,” said Lee, “and so then you call all your Facebook friends, all your church members and say, hey, for $10 a month, you can sponsor a child.”
Word about Lee’s work spread, and she started setting up adoptions within the U.S.
“I began to get calls from girls that would say, you know, I’ve just found out I’m pregnant or we just found out our daughter’s pregnant,” said Lee. “I took them to all the doctor’s appointments. When the babies were born I was there at the hospital.”
Lee says she considers every family she’s touched her family and tries to stay in touch with every single one.
“I’ve got, gosh, kids that I placed 25 years ago. They’re still calling me and coming by here,” Lee recalled.
Lee also provides support to pregnant victims of sex trafficking. She helped comminutes rebuild after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, and installed water purification systems in India, Mexico and Peru. She started a free health clinic in India for the poor, which is still operational, and she continues to aid a leprosy colony in India.
Lee says nothing prepared her for this life and the calling to build families but she’s glad God chose her.
“There are no unwanted children, just unfound parents. There are millions throughout the world that are waiting for forever families,” Lee said.
Lee says she’ll continue her mission of making families whole, until God tells her that her work on Earth is done.
You can learn more about ‘Children of the World’ here: https://www.childrenoftheworld.com/