Hollywood star’s adopted son pays first visit to mother’s hometown Derry

Jane Russell with her adopted children, Thomas Kavanagh and Tracy, shortly after adopting Thomas.
Jane Russell with her adopted children, Thomas Kavanagh and Tracy, shortly after adopting Thomas.

A “Derry” baby sensationally adopted by a Hollywood movie star more than sixty years ago will today make an emotional return to his mum’s home town for the first time.

Thomas Waterfield was an infant in 1951 when his biological mother, Hannah ‘Florrie’ Kavanagh, originally from Springtown Camp in Derry, allowed film star and 1950s sex symbol Jane Russell to adopt him.

Derry-born Hannah had been living in poverty in London with her three children and husband Michael when she read in a newspaper that the Hollywood icon - who starred alongside Marilyn Monroe in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ - was in London and was interested in adopting a baby boy.

Struggling to make ends meet, Florrie knew this was her chance to give her son everything she’d ever wanted for him.

Florrie dashed out to a phone box and phoned London’s Savoy Hotel, where Jane Russell was staying. After talking for several minutes, Florrie and Jane arranged to meet - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thomas, now aged 61, will be in Derry today to walk the streets of his mum’s home town.

Local writer Willie Deery - who revealed details of the incredible story in his best-selling book, “Springtown Camp... From the Inside” - will accompany Thomas during his visit to Derry.

Willie says he’s excited and looking forward to the meeting which will be documented by a BBC radio team for a programme to be broadcast later in the year.

“In a sense, the story has now come full circle,” Willie told the ‘Journal’. “After more than 60 years, he’s going to see where his mum was born and reared and I’ll show him where Springtown Camp was located and where his relatives lived for twenty years. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts.”

Willie, who has never met Thomas Waterfield before, revealed that one of Jane Russell’s last wishes was for her son to visit his birth mother’s home town.

“I’ll be able to tell him all about his Derry relatives,” said Willie. “They were good people who were respected in the tight-knit community that was Springtown Camp.

“I’ll also be able to show him the room in which his mother was born in a house in London Street. I have to say I’m really looking forward to it.”