Being No. 1 to dad mattered more than 200 millionth rank

11/27/2007 12:00 AM

11/27/2007 3:19 AM

Patti Robinson celebrated her 40th birthday last week by spending a relatively quiet evening at home in Ceres with her husband and two children. After all, it was a school night.

Besides, what could possibly match the hoopla Robinson experienced the day she was born Patti Ruth Casey in Castro Valley on Nov. 20, 1967?

At 10:47 that morning, she generated headlines.

"It is quite possible that the little baby girl, weighing in at 6 pounds, 4 ounces, and 19½ inches long, is the 200,000,000 American," a local paper reported in her birth announcement the next day.

By that, the paper meant the person who cracked the 200-million barrier in the U.S. population at the time. Indeed, President Johnson made a big deal about the milestone when he addressed a crowd in the U.S. Commerce Department lobby -- with a "census clock" as his backdrop -- the day she was born. The Census Bureau had estimated the the 200 millionth American likely would be born between 10:58 and 11:02 a.m. that day, and the meter turned over during his speech.

Life Magazine, however, decided that Robert Ken Woo Jr. of Atlanta was the 200 millionth American. He was born at 11:03 a.m. that day. Who knows how many others were born during 16 minutes separating Robinson and Woo? Counting people across an entire nation is always an imprecise science. It took only 39 more years for the United States to reach 300 million in population (in 2006).

OK, so Robinson might have been the 199,999,998th or 199,999,999th living American, or maybe the 200,000,001st. It didn't matter to the good folks of Castro Valley, who showered her with gifts in the event that she really was that child.

"They gave me a high chair, a rocking chair, cribs, toys, diapers, blankets -- absolutely everything a baby girl would need," Robinson said.

What they couldn't give her, though, was the stable family life every child deserves.

Robinson's parents, James and Judy Casey, divorced when she was just 2. Devastated by the breakup, James Casey moved to New York to be near other family members, and found solace in alcohol, Robinson said. Judy Casey went on to two other major relationships and eventually remarried. Neither man was good for Robinson, who said both were abusive toward her.

Robinson was just 8 when her mom died of cancer. Her stepfather took her to relatives in Ceres and left her with them, never to be seen again. Aunt Linda and Uncle Joe Williams raised her as their daughter, with their own four children.

She knew little about her father, only that he had worked in a glass manufacturing plant before moving to New York.

"I'd tried to get in touch with my dad, but he wouldn't talk to me," Robinson said. He was embarrassed about his alcohol use, she said, and didn't want his daughter to know about it.

Nor did she know much about her own story until her grandmother showed her the newspaper clippings one day.

She grew up, married jeweler Tim Robinson and began teaching preschool. They eventually adopted two children (Jonathan, now 8, and Elizabeth, 7).

One day in 1998, she received an invitation to the wedding of her half brother in New York even though they'd never met.

"I told my husband, 'Wouldn't it be funny if I showed up at the church?' " Robinson said. " 'Would they (the New York side of her family) even know who I am?' "

She was serious enough about going to consult her aunt and uncle to make sure they were OK with it, but not that serious because the trip would be expensive. Then, two things happened.

"My boss (Patty Sims at Community Christian Preschool) handed me a check for $500 and said, 'Happy 10-year anniversary,' " Robinson said.

Then, her mother-in-law came to her one day and said, "I think I need to give you something."

It was a check for $1,000 which, with the other $500, was enough to pay for the trip.

James Casey met them at midnight when their flight landed in Elmira, N.Y. It was the first time Robinson had seen him since she was 2.

"He said, 'I know you have some questions,' " Robinson said. "I told him, 'I don't. I know you loved me. I know my mom loved me. Let's start things new.' And we did."

With her strong faith, she never allowed herself to feel like a victim.

"Lots of people use the glass is half-empty, half-full thing," said Robinson, who teaches at Centenary United Methodist preschool in Modesto. "I'm just happy to have a glass. Dad is the glass maker. The Lord is the glass filler."

They were reunited, and the disappointments of her youth simply vanished.

"I'd always been very shy -- a wallflower," Robinson said. "My husband said the moment I met my dad, and we hugged, I became a different person. It was one of those safety, consoling, loving and compassionate moments. When you feel that connection, that's the real you. I felt it."

They saw each other two more times before his death in 2002. But their meeting at the airport was life-changing for Robinson. Because after they hugged, James Casey reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. It was the newspaper clipping from her birth.

He'd carried it with him all those years, just waiting to tell his daughter all about her moment of fame and how much he loved her.

"According to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the 200,000,000 American would have been born at approximately 11 a.m. yesterday," the Nov. 21, 1967, story stated, "and a check of hospitals throughout the area, showed Miss Casey to be nearest to the hour."

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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