Ricky two weeks before his death.
“This article was printed just a few weeks before Ricky died. Ricky died in 42 hours. He went from playing with toys and having fun even though he had the chicken pox, to slipping into a coma by the next morning.
We wanted to donate any or all of his organs, but because he had the chicken pox, our wish could not be granted.”
The King’s United Nations
Adapted from an article written by Mary Wood of the Cincinnati Post in 1977.
“Holly,” I asked the beguiling four-year-old with sparkling sable eyes who was sitting on my lap, “What does adopted mean?”
“It means love,” she promptly replied, hugging my neck.
King’s United Nations
Front cover of the Cincinnati Post in 1977 – Joan, Ricky, Holly, Heather and Rich.
Holly is the oldest of the three adopted children of WKRC’s Richard King and his wife, Joan. Ricky is two and Heather, the baby, is almost two. All three are of different nationalities — Holly is Mexican, Ricky is American and Heather is Vietnamese.
“We call them our United Nations,” smiled their pretty blonde mother. “Once, when I was shopping with the kids, a woman stopped, looked them over and asked me if I’d had three different husbands.”
We were sitting in the family room of the King’s charming, spacious split-level home near Loveland before a wood-burning fire in the huge stone fireplace, talking about a matter Rich and Joan had never discussed publicly before because of the many governmental complications involved in adopting foreign children.
“When Rich and I decided to adopt a child we thought, at first, of an American child but it isn’t easy these days. The waiting lists are endless,” said Joan. “Then we talked to a Cincinnati priest, a close friend, who spoke to another priest in Dayton. He knew a Mexican family in Dayton with an aunt, a nun in Los Angeles, who was in close contact with a Mexican nun who ran a hospital for orphaned and abandoned infants in Mexico.”
In this roundabout way, the wheels were set in motion and one morning, about 2 a.m., the phone rang in the King’s bedroom in Cincinnati.
“I always answer the phone in the middle of the night because Rich doesn’t wake up too easily,” Joan recalled. “The call was from Sister Jose Maria, in Mexico, saying there was a baby girl, 20 days old and born in Mexico. Did we want her?”
Front cover of the Cincinnati Post in 1977 – Joan, Ricky, Holly, Heather and Rich.
Joan didn’t hesitate. “We’ll take her,” she told Sister Jose Maria and then roused Rich to tell him they were about to have a daughter.
“I was pretty groggy for a new father, but I remember wondering what she looked like,” said Rich.
The Kings were scheduled to be in a Mexican court for the adoption proceeding on Labor Day and, fortunately had already planned to be there as hosts of a Mexican tour. While they were in Mexico, only two days before their court date, Rich’s father died of a heart attack in Wisconsin and they left the tour and flew to Wisconsin for the funeral.
“We just made it back in time for the court hearing and the adoption went through,” said Rich. “Holly was ours but we then discovered we couldn’t take her into the United States without a visa and we couldn’t get a visa for her unless she had a passport.” It was “Catch-22” all the way and a frustrating five days for the Kings especially when they found out the only place they could get a passport for the baby was in the United States.
“We began to think we might spend the rest of our days in Mexico with the baby,” Joan recalled.
Finally, with the help of a sympathetic American consul, the Kings got permission to take Holly into the United States to get her passport.
“All I had for Holly was a small cardboard box with a few clothes and diapers the nuns had given me, so I wired my family, the Winstels, we were arriving with the baby and needed supplies,” said Joan. “When we got off the plane, they were there, bless them, with everything a baby could possibly need.”
Holly must have known she had landed in a bed of clover because, the Kings agree, there was never a happier, more placid baby. She slept all night and woke up smiling.
“We later tried to adopt another Mexican child through our friend, Father Henry Vetter, who operates an orphanage in Mexico but we couldn’t, because there is so much red tape,” Rich explained. “Father Vetter finds these pitiful, abandoned kids wandering the streets, homeless and hungry. But they have no birth certificates so it’s seven years before they can be adopted.” “What happened in Holly’s case?” I asked. “We really don’t know,” Rich replied.
Holly became an American citizen in 1974, appearing in court with other future citizens.
“She had been watching television so when she saw the judge, she pointed to him and said, ‘Look, it’s Mr. Nixon,’” Joan recalled.
Ricky was adopted shortly after the Kings took a trip to California and, because he was an American, the adoption was uncomplicated. He looks remarkably like Rich and insists he wants to be a sheriff who plays football, probably because his godfather is Dan Tehan, who dotes on him.
“I think Ricky is headed in the direction of radio,” said Rich. “He goes around the house grabbing lamp cords and interviewing us.”
Heather was born in Vietnam just as the Viet Cong took over. Her village was destroyed and she was the only person left alive–just born and barely alive. Despite the confusion, she was rescued and taken to an orphanage.
“She had been at the orphanage only a few days when the baby-lift came,” said Joan. “The doctors said, ‘Take her but she probably won’t survive.'”
Heather owes her life to a courageous, dedicated nun working for the Catholic Relief Services. The nun, now stationed in Ethiopia, wrote to the Kings, describing the perilous journey after Joan had written to her asking for information on Heather’s rescue.
“I regret that I cannot remember much about your daughter, Heather, but that which I remember I will share,” the nun wrote. Catholic Relief Service had sent out four groups of children beginning April 5, 1974. The first groups were older children and those infants who already had been matched for adoption.
“The last week of April we had 121 babies left at our halfway house. Of that number, the doctor indicated six were too sick to ever make the first leg of the trip to the Air Force base in the Philippines, so we had to leave them behind. Of those 115 he cleared to go, there were two baby girls whom I nicknamed Elizabeth after our Mother Foundress of the Sisters of Charity. One was your Heather and the other was a new born, just a day and a half. The doctor indicated if the two made it, it would be a bit of a miracle.
“From Los Altos, in California, until Cincinnati, with one long stop in Washington, Elizabeth did not leave my arms. She was not all that cooperative in wanting to drink since I’m sure she had had enough of the traveling routine, so it was a matter of force feeding her to avoid dehydration. She was not at all healthy when she arrived at our infant home, but at least her travels were at an end.”
Soon after the baby arrived in Cincinnati, she was placed for adoption with Joan and Rich. “For the first months Heather was with us she never smiled. It was as though she was haunted by some residual shock,” said Joan. “We took turns cuddling her and playing with her. Finally, one day she smiled at us and it was a tremendous thrill.”
Watching Heather toddling around, laughing and playing with her brother and sister, it’s hard to believe this happy, healthy little girl has gone through so much in her short life.
“The reason we didn’t talk publicly about Heather was that we had a long wait before we knew she would be granted permission by the government to stay in the United States,” Rich explained. “The reason being that each case had to be investigated to determine whether the children really were orphans.”
“We knew Heather was an orphan but we still had to wait,” Joan added. “She just got her visa in January and won’t be a citizen’ for two years. At this point, she is a citizen of no country.”
Danny and his family
Joan is a talented, successful artist who formerly taught at Edgecliff College in Cincinnati, but she has temporarily abandoned art for motherhood.
“Holly doesn’t go to nursery school because I feel children may become bored with school if they’re started too early,” said Joan. “I teach her at home and she watches and learns from ‘Sesame Street.’ She’s even picked up a little Spanish from ‘Viva Allegre’ and, at four, she can read.”
The Kings would like to adopt a fourth child, but that’s in the future.
“Joan and I have a dream we talk about and, perhaps, it will come true,” said Rich. “Someday we’d like to have a ranch in California for orphans and abandoned children.
“Heather was given up for dead but she has bloomed with love and care,” he added. “When we look at Heather, we think of other children in the world, millions of them, who are not as lucky.”
And that’s the other side of the brash, zany Richard King whose witty comments on the passing scene brighten our afternoons when we hear him on WKRC.
In Cincinnati, after the death of their son, Ricky King in 1977, Joan and Rich, with the help of family and friends, founded The Ricky King Children’s Fund. They raised just short of one million dollars by hosting many Roasts of big name celebrities and by local boat races which drew over 100,000 people.
The money went to Reye’s Syndrome research at the Children’s Hospital. With this money they found the aspirin connection and the cure for Reye’s Syndrome. Children from one day old to age 20 stopped dying from taking aspirin.
They later adopted two more sons from Cincinnati, Ohio. Danny, is now 30 years old, and Brian, who is now 20 years old.
Sadly, they never got to meet their other brother, Ricky. Ricky would have been 27 years old. Ricky’s sister, Holly, is now 28 years old, and Heather, is now 26 years old.
Brian and his wife Heather
A Father Remembers Ricky
Written by Rich King. In 1978, Rich King was a columnist for The Post’s TV-Plus magazine and had a program on WKRC Radio.
This column was written following the death of his four year-old son.
“A simple Child, That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death ?”
We quote others at time of tragedy, because the words don’t come…but we can try.
“Fill it up with potato chips and make it snappy”…That’s what he said whenever we pulled into a gas station, not with a smart aleck connotation, but with a warm sense of humor that pervaded everything he did. He was my little shadow, and I needed only to look at him, and we would laugh, for we were as one.
His world was a simple one, and because of its simplicity, a very happy one. Instead of taxes, inflation, raising a family and a million other adult cares his little mind was wrapped up in “Emergency,” “Star Wars,” “Popeye,” “Sesame Street,” “Kings Island”, “Fantasy Farm”, “Icee Bear” swings, slides, fire engines, bubble gum and toy racing cars. I hope they have all these things in heaven.
His excitement came from airplanes overhead, bicycle-riding and sirens. Little did we ever dream that the last siren would be the one that accompanied Ricky on that final life squad ride…to Children’s Hospital. Even when the doctors first said his survival chances were three-to-one, we never thought for a moment that he wouldn’t make it. There’s no way that the world could be without Ricky. It took days to realize that he was really gone. Heather, his three-year-old sister, tells everyone he’s in Florida. He loved Florida. I hope heaven is a lot like Florida.
“Heaven is richer” talk doesn’t really cut it. Nor does “He won’t have to endure all the suffering of life” talk, because by the same token, he never got to be a Cub Scout, never rode a school bus, never saw “Star Wars” for the second time, never rode a two wheeler, never graduated from high school andcollege, never married, never had a son or daughter, never played in a baseball game, never became the football player, fireman or disc jockey that he considered being at age four.
He and his Daddy talked every night at his bedside about teaching him to play baseball, football, racquetball, tennis, someday riding a motorcycle, driving a car. He said, “Daddy, I want be like you.” His dreams were his Daddy’s dreams. Nobody ever mentioned Reye’s Syndrome. I hope they have football fields, racquetball courts, motorcycles and Boy Scout troops in heaven.
When he got the chicken pox, everybody regarded it almost as a joke. His sister, Holly, had it a couple weeks before, and it was no big deal. When he became sick to his stomach, the pediatrician’s office sent over something to make him sleep. He went to sleep all right, and he never woke up.
Ricky was a strong, husky kid. Paul Brown(dear friend of the Kings from the Cincinnati Bengals) said he was already a prospect. But Ricky knew, even at age four, that little boys don’t hit little girls, and he was especially kind to his sisters. He never asked for just one thing; he asked for three, because Holly and Heather had to share his pleasure.
He loved living as much as any human being could, and he enriched the lives of everyone with whom he came in contact, because one sensed this immediately. He was a very special child. “What should he know of death?”
From my brother’s pastor in Maryland comes the best explanation: “Try to understand that your son died not because of any positive will of God but because of human frailty. Man ought to know much more about disease and its cures by this time, but man has too often been neglectful and sinful, and devoted his efforts too much to greed and selfishness–and war–and has not studied and learned as much as God intended he should.” “Thus God ‘allows’ these thing to happen and people leave this earth and come home to Him before He would wish.” What an indictment.
The letter continues: “Nevertheless God makes all things right…and Ricky is now happy with God forever.” Love is forever.
I hope He’s filled him up with potato chips and made it snappy.
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