FT. MYERS, Fla. — Linking long-lost loved ones, let alone loved ones who have never even seen each other before, isn’t always an easy task.
Ask Troy Dunn. After all, the guy did it — on television — to support a family for five years. But this former bishop from Florida isn't yet done with the family-based television business.
Since searching through old files in a shoebox that indicated traces of his mother's own parents, Dunn, who until earlier this year presided over the Lehigh Acres ward of the Ft. Myers, Fla. stake, has been an advocate of linking family. That passion of uniting others with ties long since severed parlayed into a show that became WE TV’s historically most-watched after a better-known network, A&E, had passed on it at the last minute — a decision that some of the network’s executives said was the “biggest mistake of their career” after they saw the show’s premiere episode be the most-viewed in the history of WE TV.
Despite its popularity, “The Locator” was canceled by WE TV following the fifth season's finale after the network decided to depart from a family theme and emphasize more “tabloid content,” Dunn said.
"I try to let our work speak for who we are and what we do," Dunn said of a show that increasingly involved his own family — which includes his wife, Jennifer, and their seven children — in playing the role of locators themselves, particularly during its final season, which ran from last November to April of this year.
“I’m grateful to be one of the LDS people to break into the mainstream media. That’s a hard challenge. There’s not a large group of us there, but there are some.”
Dunn, also a former BYU football player, has certainly benefited from connections. His friendship with Barbara Walters, who is currently a contributor to ABC News, placed him with attorneys to snag significantly large television contracts — all in the midst of ensuring he broadcasted a product that aligned with gospel standards.
“In this industry, you’re fighting battles on a daily basis in holding firm to the iron rod,” Dunn said. “Putting a product acceptable to the industry creates a unique set of circumstances. I’ve never had a temptation where our family has thought we should sell out a little. So WE TV knew that wasn’t an option, and so they’d have to adjust. Two, there is a huge audience that looks for family-friendly content. We were offering that.”
It was an offer that all began with an act of family altruism. Although she had made progress in the quest, Dunn’s mother Katie had been a grown woman not knowing her biological parents. When Dunn decided to try to rectify that problem, little did he know he was linking the first of hundreds of families over the next half-decade.
“Now in retrospect, maybe because I was so close, I was scared,” Katie said about her son completing the task of her meeting her biological mother for the first time. Dunn had been able to finish putting the pieces together by using Katie’s research materials, which had lain in a shoebox in her bedroom.
While the anticipated meeting didn’t quite live up to expectations — Katie was never able to meet her father since her mother wasn’t willing to provide the necessary contact information — the efforts of both Dunns to connect family was enough to set each of them on a course that they, as well as Troy’s family, are grateful for.
“Who would’ve thought this journey would lead to this work, this labor of love,” said Katie, who has her own online following from fans of the show. “I’m 22 years into this career now. Who would’ve guessed that when I found my mother, it would be a pivotal piece and beginning of this journey. I just thought meeting my mother would do it for me. I didn’t know Heavenly Father had this whole other plan.”
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