The country marveled this week as a down-on-his-luck homeless man shot to stardom with his golden voice captured on an internet viral video. Ted Williams went from panhandling on Ohio streets to chatting with NBC anchors in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza all in a matter of days.
During an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Williams sent out well-wishes to his nine children — seven girls and two boys. Surprisingly, the “Today” show anchors didn’t inquire more about his past. But what about the family Williams left behind?
The real hero of the story here, the New York Daily News suggested Friday, may not be Williams, but actually his ex-wife, Patricia Kirtley.
Patricia Kirtley raised four daughters alone after Williams split 23 years ago and dove down the rabbit hole of drugs.
Not only that, Kirtley took in the baby boy the radioman had with another woman and raised him as her own.
Oh, and by the way, she’s partially blind.
“We survived,” Kirtley said Thursday in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. “My children are survivors. They know if we get a little bit that God provides, we make it into a lot. I’m a soup maker. I make potato soup and throw in a lot of vegetables and a little meat. We always ate.” Except that Williams, who seems to be a nice guy, just wasn’t strong, wasn’t around and wasn’t contributing financially.
Kirtley had to go on the dole. “I still remember my case number,” she says ruefully. She eventually went to school and got licensed as a blind vendor. “My mother and sisters pitched in and drove me because I can’t see to drive,” said Kirtley, now 58, over a din of some of her 16 grandchildren playing.
As if that weren’t enough, Kirtley said two of her sisters and a cousin each took in a child Williams and his druggie girlfriend couldn’t, or wouldn’t, care for. “I didn’t want to see those children in no foster home,” she said.
The Daily News suggests that Kirtley’s story is like so many others of women left to raise children in poor communities across the country.
For Williams’ kids who were left behind, their father’s new-found success is bittersweet.
Daughter Julia Pullien, 30, said she was 7 when Williams left. “He wasn’t involved,” she said. “Our mom was our sole provider. She is a more than phenomenal person. My father is a nice guy, but he fell victim to the streets. We prayed for him and we worried about him, but we became accustomed to the fact that he just wasn’t there.”
So while the country celebrates Williams’ unlikely success, “all the credit must go to Kirtley,” the Daily News suggests.