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Published Sunday June 14th, 2009 at 9:50am

Original Article by Michele Mandel

Adoptive mother Gen Copps sits at her seniors' home with her good friend, birth mother Susan Vertanen.

On his birthday every year, Patrick Copps' mother would ask him to say a prayer for the woman who gave him life.

"I'm positive, Pat," Gen Copps would say, "that your birthmother thinks of you, especially on your birthday. You should neverforget that."

He never did. After many years of searching, with his mom'sblessing, he eventually found his birth mom, Susan Virtanen, inToronto, learned the details of his history and forged a warmrelationship with her.

It is a lovely tale, but the TV producer in London, Ontario admits it is hardly unique.

"The real story here," says Copps, who turns 46 next week, "isthe close bond my birth mother and mother have developed over the past10 years."

But first, we have to start at the beginning, back to 1963,when good Irish Catholic 16-year-olds were not supposed to getpregnant. A Grade 10 student at Riverdale Collegiate, Virtanen wasshipped off quietly to a home for unwed mothers, Rosalie Hall, nearScarborough General Hospital.

"They actually had a tunnel that ran from the home to the hospital so no one would see you," recalls Virtanen, now 63.

She delivered her healthy son on June 20 and named him Gregory.The social workers from the Catholic Children's Aid insisted she givehim up for adoption and though it was a difficult decision that tookher three long months to make, she knew in her heart they were right.She was too young, she had no husband, she had too many things shestill wanted to do.

Now just 17, she wanted him to have the kind of life she couldn't provide.

"I never regretted it, I never felt I'd made a mistake," Virtanen insists. She just wanted to know he was okay.

When he was a year old, she called the CCAS to ask if he'd beenadopted. They assured her that he was doing well with his new familyout west. She would find out 35 years later, that he'd in fact beenadopted by a family who lived at Church and Wellesley and attended thesame Catholic church where she had grown up.

Years passed. "I just went on with my life," she recalls. Shetravelled Europe, just as she'd always wanted, had a successful 20-yearcareer as a buyer for The Bay, married and later divorced. She neverdid have any more children.

Virtanen would often think about the baby she gave up, wondering if he'd found the better life she had yearned for him.

"I'd always said to myself that I'd never try and find him. Ididn't want to interrupt his life. But I also made a decision that ifhe wanted to contact me, I'd be all right with that."

Copps, who was a reporter at the time in Brandon, Man.,located Virtanen after a long search and wrote her in 1997, thankingher for wonderful parents and a happy life. Would she be willing tomeet?

Of course she was. What Virtanen never expected was that shewas not only welcoming a special young man into her life, but that hisgracious mother would become a close, dear friend as well.

"I wanted her to know that I wasn't barging in here with 'I'mthe mother' because I'm not. The mother is the one who raises you andshe deserves all the credit," Virtanen says, recalling her nervousnessbefore their first meeting.

She needn't have worried. "She just opened her arms and hugged me."

They knew many of the same people from Our Lady of Lourdesparish and both their families had roots in Mt. St. Patrick in theOttawa Valley.

Rather than being threatened by the arrival of her son's birthmother, Gen Copps was eternally grateful to Virtanen for bringing Patinto the world.

Their shared pride and adoration for the strapping father of two was only the beginning of their unique friendship.

"I love her very much. Aside from the fact that she's my son'smother, I think I would love her anyway," Virtanen says of the widow 23years her senior.

By this time, Virtanen was working at the Toronto Sun andwould often visit her new friend at her apartment on nearby PrincessSt., even going over on her lunch hour to wash her hair.

"She took it upon herself to help mom with her medication,take her to doctor's appointments, but most of all spend time with herand go for walks," their son says.

"My mother once told me how much she loved Susan. Susan has told me the same thing about mom."

He says she was one of the first to realize that his mom wasbecoming forgetful. Almost 87, Copps' mother now suffers from dementiaand lives in a seniors' home where Virtanen visits often.

Sometimes she recognizes her, more often she does not. She misses their friendship, she says. She misses their special bond.

A year before her illness was so severe that she needed long-term care, she suddenly gave Virtanen her son's wedding album.

"You should have this now," she told her. "You should keep it." It was almost a passing of the mother's baton.

"For her to give it to me is pretty special, it meant a lot," Virtanen recalls softly.

She must have known that one day she wouldn't be able toremember. And that long after she was gone, she could trust Virtanenwould be there to look out for their boy.