WALLA WALLA — Gary Pearce learned Nov. 12 he’s a father again. But late nights and baby bottles aren’t in this 70-year-old’s future. His new daughter, Tanya Kauwe, turned 50 last September.
Yet the two had never met until she flew into the Tri-Cities Airport on a snowy New Year’s Eve.
Pearce handed her two red roses and threw his arms around Tanya but not before she had him locked in a bear hug.
Through happy tears Tanya blurted, “Just having you here is the best present I’ve ever gotten.”
Earlier, recalling his first phone call from Tonya, Pearce said, “I never knew I had another daughter. I was shocked.”
Pearce had lived in Pasco from eighth grade until enlisting in the Navy on Dec. 26, 1957. After spending time in San Diego, Pearce and his squadron, VW14, were assigned to Barbers Point, Hawaii. That was in 1958, the year he met Tanya’s mother, Virginia Kauwe, a young Hawaiian woman.
“We were together three or four months before my squadron was deployed to Midway Island for a month or so,” he said. “When I came back, Virginia was gone. I admit I was a young Navy boy — we were both just 18 or 19 at the time — and I didn’t look really hard.”
When Pearce and his squadron left Hawaii shortly afterward, he had no clue Virginia had been pregnant or that he had a daughter. After being discharged from the Navy, Pearce returned to Pasco, went to work for George Grant Construction and began a career in construction that took him to Phoenix and later, Spanaway, before settling in Walla Walla about five years ago.
In the meantime, Virginia married and had several more children. Tanya was born and spent her early years in Hawaii before ultimately winding up in Cape Coral, Fla. She also had children, a son and a daughter, Shantel. It was Shantel who finally found Pearce.
“Shantel is a private investigator and told her mother, Tanya, that she thought she could probably look me up,” he said.
She did. It took Shantel just 24 hours.
Shantel called Pearce the day after Veterans Day and left a message asking if he was the Gary Pearce who served in the Navy in Hawaii in 1958.
“Our squadron was homebased in Pensacola, Fla., so I thought it was someone trying to get all the old guys together,” he said. “I called her back and she asked, ‘Are you Gary Ivan Pearce? Are you blond and have a scar on your lip?’ ”
“I said yes, and she said, ‘I think you’re my granddad.’ I had to pick myself off the floor,” Pearce said.
Shantel handed the phone off to her mother, and for the first time father and daughter talked.
“I was just in total shock,” Tanya said. “We talked for five to 10 minutes, then I said ‘OK, I have to let both of us think. I’ll call you back in a day or two.’ ”
At home, Tanya just sat on the couch for a while.
“I was confused,” she recalled. “Then I began making phone calls. I called my mom and said, ‘Do you know who I just talked to? Gary. She said ‘Gary who.’ I said, ‘Gary, you know, my dad.’ ”
She also called her Aunt Midge in Oregon and other family members who had known Pearce back in Hawaii.
“They gave me some questions to ask him and he knew the answers. I knew I’d found my dad,” Tanya said.
Since then, Tanya and Pearce have been in constant contact learning about each other’s children and grandchildren.
“We talk every day, even if it’s just a minute or two and we e-mail constantly,” she said.
“I’m excited to meet her,” Pearce said. “I was really shocked at first, and then it sinks in and you go, ‘Wow.’ ”
“What does a father do after 50 years?” he asked. “You can’t go to the library and check out a book on protocols and procedures. You just have to trust your heart.”