Family united

Viox finds missing pieces through Louisiana relations

  • Candace Viox, right, spent a moment with her half siblings, from left, Kristy and Jason Hemphill and Miranda Hemphill Wheeler, at the grave of her birth father, the late Ronnie Hemphill, during a recent trip to Monroe, Louisiana. - Photo submitted

  • Candace Viox is flanked by her uncles, Damon Hemphill, left, and Jeff Hemphill while taking a recent trip to Monroe, Louisiana to meet her birth father’s family. Viox, of Farragut, was told she bears a resemblance to her grandmother — her father’s mother — Lorraine Rita Buford Hemphill. - Photo submitted

Farragut resident Candace Viox’s quest to find the parents who gave birth to her has finally been accomplished.

Last week, Jan. 21-28, she went to Monroe, Louisiana, to find the missing piece — her father — and met her siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins. With a broad smile. but a crack in her voice, she said, “They are amazing.

“I don’t know how to explain the love,” Viox added. “They just accepted me immediately … they just acted like they knew me my entire life.

“They’re just a good, hard-working, loving family.”

Viox, who owns Water Into Wine bistro & lounge, said “the really cool part was meeting the uncles (Jeff and Damon). Uncle Jeff has the biggest heart you’ll ever meet. He’s 5-(foot)-7. He smiles big as sunshine, loves everybody.

“Uncle Damon owns his own roofing business,” she added.

Viox also has another uncle, Gary Hemphill, a car salesman who lives in Alabama, and had an aunt, Donna, who died in 2018.

Most of the family still lives in the same area of Monroe, Louisiana.

Upon arriving, the first person she met was her Uncle Jeff.

“He just said, ‘Take your glasses off. I want to see your face,’” she recalled. “So I took my glasses off, and he said, ‘Look, you’re my mama.’”

He pointed out Viox bore a strong resemblance to his mother, which includes the black, curly hair.

In reference to her late father, “I got to go by and see Ronnie’s old house, where they all grew up,” she said. “I went to their church. Come to find out, my grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher. That was kind of funny to me because I was raised Pentecostal.”

Viox experienced their humor, warmth and graciousness.

“I’m an aunt,” Viox said. “I’ve got a niece and a nephew … Miranda has two children, Hayden, 16, and Ariana, 5.”

Viox was adopted at birth in 1976. Always wondering where she came from and seeking answers about some medical conditions, she contacted a private investigator.

“I found my birth mother, Brenda, in 2000,” Viox said. “Because of life’s circumstance, we lost contact after we met.

“I was later reached out by my (half) brother, Scott … and he came to Knoxville in 2018. That’s kind of what started the conversation, again (about her birth father), because I asked Scott, ‘can you please ask Brenda who my birth father was?’” she added.

“Back in 2000, (Brenda) gave me several possible names, and the investigator was not able to confirm which one of the names was my father. There was no DNA testing at that time.”

In 2000, “One of the names she gave was Ronnie Hemphill,” she said. “That was the first time I ever heard that name.”

Eighteen years later, Brenda again said, “It absolutely is Ronald Hemphill.”

“(The detective) found him,” Viox said. “She said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, Candace, but he died in 2016. I’m 95 percent sure that he is your birth father, but I don’t have any genetic DNA testing to confirm that.’”

Viox asked the detective to reach out to the family.

“My investigator contacted someone named Debbie,” she said. “I had no idea, at the time, who this was.

“Debbie said, ‘There’s no way Ronnie had relations with a 13-year-old girl back in 1975. You must be mistaken.’”

Viox had learned that her birth father was 22 when he had relations with Brenda, who was 13 — but who lied to him, telling him she was 17.

She learned from her family members on her father’s side that he loved Brenda, knew about the child and planned to marry her, but Brenda’s grandmother and mother whisked her off to California to have an abortion.

But Brenda didn’t want, nor did she have, an abortion.

The detective told Viox she could not pursue the search further without DNA evidence.

“Of course, I’m crying and trying to figure out ‘is he my dad or is he not my dad,’” she recalled. “I just let it go.”

But in 2019, her now husband, Richard, bought her a 23andMe genetic kit.

“I spit in the little cup, and I sent it off to wherever land of genetic DNA testing,” Viox said. “About two months later, I get my report. There’s no connection yet … it wasn’t a match, so I just closed my app, COVID happened in 2020, Richard and I got married … life kind of moved on. …

“I let it go until my 20-year-old daughter, Sydney, on Thanksgiving Day, asked, ‘Mom, have you checked 23andMe?’” Viox added.

She replied she had not, but Sydney picked up Viox’s phone and pulled up the app, which needed a refresh, which Sydney did and “within minutes, I have a ping,” Viox said.

Viox scrolled through the names, saying “there are a ton of Hemphills listed.

“I knew in that moment that my private investigator had found the right man, and I also knew at that point that they couldn’t deny that I was genetically connected to them — but that still didn’t mean they were going to accept me. “

Viox said the app lets you know who you are genetically related to and it lets you contact those people.

“I clicked on Tiffany Taylor — the cousin that linked us — on Nov. 26, 2022, and wrote ‘Hi Tiffany. I’m Candace. Ronald Hemphill was my birth father. How are you?’” she said.

“We start talking and I share my whole story,” Viox added. “She started sharing with me information. Then cousin, Tiffany, calls her dad, who is Jeff Hemphill, and tells her dad this story.

”I didn’t know if Uncle Jeff is going to be OK with me or mad that I’m around. I didn’t know what to expect.

The next day “Uncle Jeff calls me, and he was so excited. He shared so much stuff with me,” Viox said.

“He told me he remembers Brenda. He knows the house that she lived at. He told me that Brenda lived with her grandmother,” she added. “He told me that Brenda told Ronnie that she was pregnant, and Ronnie was in the Navy.”

When Ronnie came back from the Navy, “Brenda was gone and no one in the family knew what happened to Brenda,” Viox said. “They never again were in contact with any of Brenda’s family. Even the grandmother moved.”

Hemphill died in 2016, leaving behind three children, Jason Hemphill, born 1982; Miranda Wheeler, 1985; and Kristy Hemphill, 1987 — and now a fourth.

“They did not know anything about me,” Viox said.