SANDSTON, Va. (WRIC) — Larry Stewart watches for updates on the flight arrival board at Richmond International Airport. He’s waiting and wondering what the future holds.
Larry waits anxiously to see his daughter for the first time since when she was born in 1988.
“We’ve got a lot of making up to do,” he says.
This is the moment Larry and his daughter, Drew Stewart, have thought about for 27 years, her entire life. Drew flew to Richmond from Corpus Christi, Texas.
She cries as she takes that first step forward through the TSA checkpoint to meet her dad for the first time.
“Thank you for coming,” she sobs as she hugs and kisses Larry while holding her toddler son Ty closely.
Drew and Larry were separated by what can only be described as life taking them in two very different directions.
Larry met Drew’s mom while they were both soldiers, one serving in the Maryland and the other in Virginia.
In 1988, the year Drew was born, Larry was sent to Germany and then fought in the Gulf War. He physically moved and then emotionally moved on with the woman who would become his wife.
Military moves, marriage, and a name change came for Drew’s mother, too.
Drew was surrounded by family and friends as she grew up, but knew someone was missing.
“When I could comprehend that I actually had a father out there that I didn’t know, so probably like junior high, is when I actually started looking,” Drew remembers.
In those early days before social media, a pre-teen Drew made a plea to talk-show hosts for help finding her father.
When no one replied, she contacted the hospital where she was born and learned her birth certificate application had been destroyed years before.
In 2014, she finally turned to Facebook and searched through dozens of Larry Stewarts. She connected with the wrong one initially, but then the profile of a man in Virginia caught her eye.
“I knew he was my dad; I just felt it,” she says.
Too afraid to contact him directly, Drew sent a message to Larry’s sister in March 2015. She then delivered the news to Larry that his long-lost daughter was within reach.
“At the time, I was driving a truck and almost crashed,” Larry explains.
“I fell to my knees, and I just started crying and was so thankful, and I called him as soon as I got home,” Drew added.
“And we’ve started talking ever since,” Larry said of how they reconnected after so many years.
Larry says his searches came to dead ends. The daughter he only knew by her given name, Dorothy, had been growing up as Drew in several states, including Texas.
“When it’s already almost three decades,” Drew’s voice trails off. “So you just kinda get used to the norm of you not knowing your dad.”
They are both hopeful now that this reunion is the start of something very special. Drew and Ty are getting to know Larry’s family here in Virginia, including his daughter Angela and grandson TreSaun, who also came to the airport to meet the woman who is their sister and aunt.
Drew and Larry will mend their own ties, too.
“Holidays are different now, and his birthday is in my memory bank now and just things like that; your whole life moving forward changes,” Drew says. “I am sad I didn’t get to know him my whole life, but I’m so happy to have him now.”
“My life is complete,” Larry says with a smile.
So, what’s next? Drew is in Central Virginia now, taking life one day at a time.
She is sharing her story to give hope to anyone looking for a relative. She says her experience is living proof that it may take years and plenty of twists and turns, but reuniting with a loved one is possible.
Since meeting her dad, Drew even sent a note to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to thank him for helping to make it happen.