Linda Clyde | Feb 28, 2019

Patricia Heaton Keynote Begins and Ends with Family

Three time Emmy award-winning actress, Patricia Heaton, graced the stage Thursday morning at RootsTech 2019. The beloved actress from the popular sitcoms The Middle and Everybody Loves Raymond had a lot to share about the importance of family in her own life and counted it as a significant motivation for all that she does and for what she’s accomplished in her life. 

Heaton’s keynote started and ended with family. “Family is the place where you get your sense of self,” she said. “We all have this primal and spiritual need to connect with our ancestors. It tells us who we are and where we came from and gives us the courage to struggle through, as our ancestors did.”

Heaton warmly recounted her upbringing. She mentioned her siblings, her parents, and how her family is large, devout Catholic, and mostly Irish. She told stories of unexpectedly running into cousins close and distant—even picking up a hitchhiker back in the day that ended up being a relative. After sharing that she has almost 100 first cousins just on her mother’s side, Heaton jokingly said, “It’s one of the reasons I married someone from England. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t marrying a relative.” 

She talked of her father’s occupation as a sports writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, her mother’s religiosity and daily Mass attendance, her family’s tradition of surprising guests with an extra long prayer at the dinner table, of her grandmother being awarded “Catholic Mother of the Year” for the United States in 1946, and a variety of other memories that brought smiles and laughs to attendees. 

Like most people, Heaton has been through her share of trials. One significant trial, the loss of her mother, occurred when she was just 12 years old. Heaton credits this loss for her first real understanding of the importance of family. “I had a brother and 3 sisters to lean on and all of these 100 cousins and aunts and uncles were over at the house all the time,” she said.

After graduating college, Heaton moved to New York with her brother in hopes of becoming an actress. There she had her share of what she called “character building” jobs, such as running the Xerox machine at People magazine and working as a shoe model. She talked about phone calls with her father in Ohio, and mentioned how he struggled to understand what she was doing in New York. In spite of his concern and possible doubts, he continued to support her. Heaton said, “When you go out into the world, your family is cheering you on. They may not get it. They may not understand what you’re doing. They may think you’re all Hollywood now, but it’s still great to know that they’re there.” 

After 13 long years of persistently chasing her dreams, and a life-changing decision to move to Los Angeles, Heaton finally gained traction as an actress. When she landed the leading role as Debra Barone on Everybody loves Raymond, she was married, pregnant with her third child and already in the midst of parenting 2 young sons with her husband, David Hunt. She joked that when she watches episodes of the show now, she can’t remember how they end. Heaton and Hunt had 4 sons, all of which are now grown and leading their own lives. 

Speaking of her long and successful career playing a wife and mother, Heaton said, “What’s really been such a gift to me is that the 2 longest running shows that I’ve done, Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle, have been about family, and that has meant so much to me.” 

Before Heaton left the stage, Whitney Peterson, a British Isles expert from FamilySearch International, shared with her 3 immigration stories of her ancestors and how they came to settle in Ohio. Heaton was eager for this information and was visibly moved by what she learned about her family. She expressed that she couldn’t wait to study the stories further. The tracing of Heaton’s family lines was made possible through the careful pairing of DNA evidence and documentary evidence. 

Linda Clyde

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