When Fawna Millwood talks about her “Uncle Richard,” she often just calls him “Dad.”
While she says that sometimes confuses her friends, in reality the man she’s referring to, Plymouth Township Supervisor Richard Reaume, is both her maternal uncle and adoptive father.
Millwood and her younger twin sisters, Jasmine and Camai, were raised mostly by Reaume after the girls sustained years of abuse and neglect at the hands of their biological parents.
“Our parents were extremely unfit parents,” Milwood said. “They put us in a lot of harm, I would say, growing up in the different circumstances we had to deal with,”
Milwood, now 25, said she spent a majority of her childhood in the foster care system as her parents battled drug and alcohol abuse. She also said she and her sisters sustained physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their biological father.
Reaume, she said, long had served as the patriarch of a large family. He would be the one to send everyone a holiday card, give a eulogy at a funeral or address family matters.
“He’s the leader of the family,” she said.
When she was eight years old, Reaume took Milwood and her sisters in for a year. During this time, she said she went on field trips, went to summer camp and even underwent an appendectomy, all with “Uncle Richard” at her side.
“I opened my heart and home,” Reaume said.
The girls’ biological father, in the meantime, had remarried and the state deemed him fit to parent again in an attempt to reunite the broken family.
“I was hoping it would turn out well,” Reaume said.
The girls’ circumstances, however, took another turn for the worse.
“I can remember all of the weekends we would sit in our bedroom starving and sore from the beatings we had all taken because our principal had stopped by to ‘check on’ our situation Friday after school,” Millwood said.
Reaume said the state again intervened to take the children away. He then stepped in to take sole custody of the children.
He even quit a lucrative job and drastically changed his living arrangements to accommodate his new situation.
Compared with what they had experienced their whole lives to that point, Reaume took an active role in the girls’ lives. Filling the roles of both parents, he attended PTA meetings, took the girls shopping for their prom and homecoming dresses — albeit often with their friends in tow — and pushed them to prepare for college, which before had been a distant dream.
“I wanted to make sure they did have a good life and a chance for success,” he said.
The transition wasn’t entirely smooth, given the circumstances, he said. The girls fostered anger at the system, their biological parents and, Reaume suspects, briefly at him until they entered adolescence.
Fawna said that at first, Reaume's house was designed for a single, working man, not necessarily for a family or children. But, she said, he and the girls adapted accordingly.
He quit a lucrative job at IBM to work from home for delivery company DHL to spend more time with the girls and, under his care, they began to flourish.
As the girls reached driving age, Reaume said, “the bond was starting to get firm.”
It was at this time, Reaume said, that the girls stopped correcting people when they called him their father.
As for why he intervened, Reaume said there had been no guarantees had the girls entered the foster system. Now, he said, the girls are “fine citizens” who now can live normal, productive lives
Fawna, who now lives in Crystal River, FL, is getting married soon. Walking her down the aisle will be Reaume.
Her sister, Jasmine, is writing a book about her family’s experience. During Jasmine’s research, Fawna said, she found that the girls’ case was among the top five cases of chronic abuse in the state.
“He’s the greatest person I will probably ever know,” she said, “because he is one of the most unselfish people I’ve known in my life. He went above and beyond being an average person. He did something most people can’t.”