Fans close to Delilah Rene Luke know that in March she lost her recently adopted 16-year-old son Sammy to sickle cell anemia. A South Kitsap resident and downtown Port Orchard business owner, Delilah is better known as a nationally syndicated radio host. The self-described “Queen of Sappy Love Songs” is beloved by 8 million listeners for her ability to connect to the lovelorn, lonely and conflicted like an instant BFF.
On Thursday, Delilah will be a featured guest on Katie Couric’s new nationally syndicated talk show, “Katie.” The segment airs in the Seattle area at 4 p.m. on KING-TV NBC. A spokeswoman for the show promises a glimpse at “the woman behind the microphone,” whose love of life trumps “the many hardships she has faced.”
I first met Delilah in 2008 and soon found out that, despite her honeyed voice and upbeat on-air persona, she’s only about 30 percent sugar, with plenty of spice. She’s down-to-earth, funny and often irreverent. Delilah’s become a very real part of the South Kitsap community, sometimes rubbing neighbors the wrong way with her outspoken views and bold plans.
Sammy’s story, as Delilah relates it on her website, is both tragic and uplifting. When he was a toddler, the boy was found wandering the streets of a village in West Ghana. He survived on scraps of food given to him by school children and later was sent to an orphanage in the capitol city of Accra. A relative who was eventually located said he used to scream and writhe on the floor. The family thought he was possessed by demons and attempted an exorcism.
“When that didn’t stop his screaming, they put him out in the street to die,” Delilah writes. “Little did they know he was writhing in pain because of sickle cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder that afflicts many in West Africa. When the school children found him they named him ‘Dzolali,’ meaning ‘spirits fly.'”
Delilah met Sammy in 2010 through her work in Ghana with Point Hope, the nonprofit children’s welfare organization she founded. She was immediately taken by his broad smile and — despite all he’d endured — his “unconditional love.”
With 11 children already, Delilah had not been looking to adopt again, and she wrestled with her conscience before initiating the mountain of adoption paperwork that set the ball rolling for Sammy’s adoption a year later.
“I knew in my heart that Sammy was special, talented, lonely and that I loved him, I just didn’t have a clue how special he really was at that time or how much more I would grow to love him,” Delilah wrote, on the Point Hope website.
Once home, Sammy blossomed. He was a talented artist and dancer, with Michael Jackson-like moves. He kept his room and belongings immaculate and often offered to help Delilah.
Sammy had some developmental catching up to do. “Once he was home to America, he could not get enough love and affection,” Delilah wrote. “He was like a little puppy, wanting to be held and loved on constantly.” But he quickly matured and outgrew his need for lap time with “Momma Bear.”
Sammy Young D’zolali Rene died March 11 in the arms of people who loved him.
I’ve interviewed Delilah on a number of occasions as her businesses and big personality have made their impact on South Kitsap. I can verify that a conversation with Delilah is one wild, loopy emotional roller coaster ride. It’s hard not to get swept along with the passion, the pathos and her infectious, throaty laugh. Looking at the world through Delilah-colored glasses, everything is possible, including fairy tale endings to impossibly sad stories like Sammy’s.
“On the first night that he was fully my son, Sammy told me through his tears that he never dreamed God would answer his prayers,” Delilah wrote. “He said, ‘Momma, I always thought I would die alone in the orphanage. That I would never know what it was like to have someone love me.'”
Through racking sobs, Sammy said he’d always feared no one would remember his life after he was gone.
Delilah promised him, “That he would be loved more than life by me and many others, and that people would know that he had lived.”