NORTH SALT LAKE — “Look for me, I’ll have on my favorite red shirt,” Bob said to his brother Tom just before he boarded the plane in Atlanta for his flight to Salt Lake City. “You can’t miss me.”
So Tom missed him.
Bob had on the red shirt, as advertised, but what faked Tom out was the fact that Bob was in a wheelchair when he exited the terminal. Tom was looking up, not down.
One other mitigating factor: The two brothers had never met.
Four months ago, Bob Lamon, an 80-year-old retiree who lives in Gainesville, Georgia, had no idea he had a brother named Tom Mormon, a 63-year-old who lives in North Salt Lake and works in the documents department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But both men had sent a sample of their saliva to Ancestry.com so they could find out their heritage through their DNA. And they found each other.
Tom had sent in his sample several years ago so he could learn more about his roots. Ever since joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Pennsylvania in 2001, he’d been encouraged to “do his genealogy.”
Tom — who can be called a Mormon with complete political correctness — moved to Utah in 2005. His Italian family started out in America in Brooklyn — where great-grandfather Giovanni Mormone dropped the e from his surname — but Tom was raised in Philadelphia, the son of John and Dorothy Mormon. His father, who died at age 73 in 1993, was married twice and Tom grew up one of seven brothers and sisters who called John “Dad.”
He had no clue there was also an eighth.
Robert “Bob” Lamon was born in 1938 at Jewish Hospital in Philadelphia to a 17-year-old woman named Lillian, who placed Bob for adoption five days later.
Raised by loving parents in a stable home, Bob never attempted to find out who his birth parents were — largely out of respect for the mother and father who raised him.
But with those parents gone and a good long life to look back on, he started to wonder.
Encouraged by his daughter Laura, he sent in his saliva kit to Ancestry.com to see who out there might be connected to his DNA.
That was this past April.
Shortly thereafter, in one of the emails Ancestry.com sends to notify its customers about DNA connections and possible relatives, Tom Mormon received a notice about a man in Georgia who was listed as a “top tier” bloodline.
Hmmm, he thought.
Tom made contact with Bob’s daughter Laura. Since Bob never knew who his father was (and it’s entirely possible Bob’s father never knew about Bob), Tom said, “Hey, send me some pictures.”
When Tom looked at the photos, he thought he was staring at his dad.
“At 35 Bob looked more like my father than any of his seven kids,” says Tom.
Tom called Bob in Georgia.
“Hey brother,” he said. “We’ve got the same father!”
Last month, Bob boarded the flight in Atlanta for a family reunion in Utah he couldn’t have imagined a year ago.
When Bob got out of the wheelchair — he was using it as an airline courtesy so he wouldn’t have to walk the length of the concourse — and he and Tom sorted out who was who at the airport, they hugged and, being Italians, started talking.
“It was just natural and easy and beautiful,” says Tom. “I felt like I’d known him forever.”
They spent nine days together and, yes, they got on each other’s nerves.
“You know, like brothers do,” says Tom. “Me to him more than him to me, I think.”
As an example, there was the Sunday morning Tom and his wife, Laura, took Bob to hear the weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcast in the Conference Center. Before they left the house, Tom cautioned Bob he should turn off his phone — not just put it on mute, but turn it off.
On the drive over, he said the same thing. “And maybe a couple other times,” Tom confesses.
As they took their seats in the Conference Center, Tom turned to his newfound brother and before he opened his mouth, Bob said, “I turned it off.”
“We were setting boundaries,” says Tom.
Bob is back in Georgia now, but Tom suspects they’ll get together again, and again, and again.
“This was a tender mercy for Tom Mormon,” he says. “At this point in my life, for a lot of reasons, it was a healing salve, a balm in my heart I never expected. The Bible says in the last days the heart of the fathers will be turned to the children and vice versa. There are a lot of connections to be made. This was part of that.”