JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A local mother battling pancreatic cancer has died. Delores Wilson, 75, was considered a legend when it came to helping foster kids. She adopted and fostered about 1,200 kids during her life.
Jesse Wilson said he has about 1,200 brothers and sisters and they all called her "Mama Dee."
"The very first day with her was one of the best days of my life. I was scared and it was me and a trash bag and she was there with a smile a hug and a pair of clean pajamas," said Jesse.
Some unfortunate circumstances led Jesse to Mama Dee. She took him in as a foster kid when he was six and she adopted him when he was 12 years old.
"I've seen several hundred [kids come through the house]. I can't imagine 1,200. They've loved each of them the same," said Jesse.
He said Delores and her husband had fostered and adopted children for over 50 years. She was adopted as a child herself.
"That's what I think sparked it in the first place... (At) 24 years old she started fostering and she quickly fell in love with it," said Jesse.
She became a passionate full-time mom, advocating for foster care and helping children find a forever home. She founded the Greater Jacksonville Adoptive Parent Association in Jacksonville and served as the president of the State Foster Parent Association for some time.
"We spent a lot of time in Tallahassee growing up, walking the halls and talking to legislators," said Jesse.
But last year Mama Dee got sick and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"She has just declined rapidly," said Jesse.
After several surgeries and treatments, the cancer eventually spread and she was in hospice care in a coma until she died this week.
"The doctors told us last week that they thought she would pass," Jesse said. "She's always been stubborn and a fighter. We're there by her side right now."
Jesse said Mama Dee had plenty of visitors, from many of her kids and some of her grandchildren that now live around the country.
"[The nurses] told me they've never had so many visitors. It's like a bittersweet reunion. It's foster kids I haven't seen since I was six," said Jesse.
Throughout her time in Jacksonville, "Mama Dee" also became close to Judge David Gooding.
Gooding officiates many of the adoptions in Jacksonville and watched Wilson's family grow.
"Dee Wilson has fostered more than 1,100 children in her career as a foster mom. She unselfishly opened her home and heart to children in the time of their greatest need. All of us are better that Dee Wilson served our children," said Gooding.
Gooding said government is a poor substitute for a parent.
"Children need arms to hold them, ears that listen to them, and hearts that love them. Government has none of these things, but foster parents, like Dee Wilson, have these things in abundance. Dee leaves a void where she once faithfully served," said Gooding.
Jesse said her legacy will continue. In fact, Jesse now works at Family Support Services helping kids find their own "Mama Dee."
"It's going to be a tough thing to deal with because I'm entrenched in the work that she did... There's a lot she's left in other people," Jesse said. "I'm glad we had the time we had and there's going to be no one like her."