A Family Divided

000526 earlyshow reanne guillot CBS

When CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman visited Poplarville, Miss., his first impression was that living there was like EZ, his second impression was that it was more like ER when he met ReAnne Gilliot, a nurse at Poplarville Elementary School.
In her job Gilliot has seen kids with broken arms, stubbed-up toes and kids with stuff like the peas from lunch stuck up their noses, she says.

And although she has a knack for making things all better with just a single Kermit band-Aid, the wound that is her story just will not heal.

It began two years ago. Gilliot and her husband Jamie were getting divorced and fighting bitterly over the custody of their two children, daughter Kaylee and their brand-new baby boy, Kaleb.

"We had fought, and I said some really ugly words to him," she recalls. "It went something like, 'I hate you, and I never want to see you again.' And I didn't."

That night her husband was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Gilliot would give anything to have those words back, she says but resents that their fight over the kids didn't die with him.

Jamie's parents, Bryant and Linda Williams, are fighting Gilliot in court for what they say are their visitation rights.

"It's right for us to pursue this in his memory," says Bryant Williams, "We believe the grandchildren have a right to know us and us to know them."

"Versus my right as a parent to raise my child how I wish," says Gilliot, adding that the grandparents were never part of their life.

"When Jamie and I were married, their grandparents were never there," she says.

The Williams say that's not so. But they admit their relationship with Gilliot has been rocky from the start.

They opposed the marriage and did not attend the wedding.

"And it's still a big spite issue" on both parts, Gilliot notes.

Last year the judge in this case issued a temporary order allowing the grandparents one weekend a month with the kids. But this summer the U.S. Supreme court will be handing down a decision in a case similar to this one.

And that decision could not only rewrite this story, but the very definition of family.

"It'll be the start of the destruction of the family that parents no longer have a say-so in what happens to their kids," says Gilliot.

"I would hate the fact that we've gotten to the point in America that they said, 'I'm sorry but as of today, you no longer can be their grandparents,'" notes Linda Williams.

It's not like the Waltons, is it? Not when it takes a courtroom to settle what used to get done at a Sunday dinner.

But Gilliot says all she wants to do is to move on with her life. Last year she married Danny Gilliot, and although he travels a lot and was out of town during CBS News' visit, ReAnne Gilliot says he's great with the kids.

And so she waits, desperately holding onto her new family, while the Williams desperately hold onto the old one.

"We lost our son. And you're asking what it would be like to lose those grandchildren. It would be the same thing," says Linda Williams.


©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved
  • Tatiana Morales

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