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Friday, March 10, 2000

His 'rock' of a wife swayed the judges
Court awards custody to basketball player because mixed-race child will always be perceived as being black
Mark Hume
National Post

Rick Loughran, The Province
Elijah's father, Blue Edwards, during his days as a Vancouver Grizzlie.

Ward Perrin, The Vancouver Sun
Elijah with his mother, Kimberly Van de Perre.

A STAR AND A 'GROUPIE': A custody battle involving a former Vancouver Grizzlies player provides a glimpse of the sexually charged world of the NBA.

VANCOUVER - A promiscuous millionaire basketball player, a young woman who was a sports "groupie" and a loyal wife who swore to stand by her husband were at the centre of a custody battle in Vancouver yesterday.

The Court of Appeal for British Columbia awarded Theodore "Blue" Edwards, a former NBA player with the Grizzlies, and his wife custody of Elijah, Mr. Edwards' three-year-old son. The ruling overturned an earlier court judgment that had placed the boy with his mother, Kimberly Van de Perre, a Burnaby waitress who sometimes served as "a tour guide" to lead basketball players to "cute chicks."

In making their decision, the three appeal court judges weighed the importance of having a child growing up with a family of the same racial background: They decided that the boy, who has a white mother and a black father, would always be perceived as "being black" because of his skin colour.

Unlike the original trial judge, the Appeal Court also put great importance on the strength of character of Valerie Edwards -- a woman who refused to let her marriage be torn apart despite her husband's affair with Ms. Van de Perre.

When Terrance Warren, a B.C. Supreme Court justice, awarded full custody to Ms. Van de Perre last year, he dismissed Mrs. Edwards as being peripheral to the issue, saying the central question was whether the child would be better off with his natural mother or father.

The Appeal Court, however, considered the overall family situation -- and decided that Mrs. Edwards was an emotional "rock" who was able to provide a stabler environment.

The Appeal Court also provided a glimpse inside the sexually charged world of the National Basketball Association, and exposed the private lives of both Ms. Van de Perre and Mr. Edwards. The court heard that the 24-year-old former beauty queen had met Mr. Edwards, who at the time was making $2-million a year playing for the Grizzlies, while she was cruising Vancouver's nightclub scene.

The court judgment says Ms. Van de Perre at first told a psychologist she had had sex with only one other basketball player besides Mr. Edwards, and he "was like a superstar."

But she later told the court she was more sexually active than she had previously revealed.

"It was not until a later interview that 'she admitted to sexual relationships with two other players. She stated she has other male friends on other NBA teams, although when they come to town, she stated she is 'like the tour guide,' helping them to find places where they can 'meet cute chicks.' She denies any promiscuous behaviour," states the judgment. "In fact, Ms. Van de Perre admitted in cross-examination to having had sexual relations with a Mr. Best, Mr. Murdoch and a Mr. Barkley, all of whom were professional basketball players, and to having had relationships of some kind with other men who may or may not have been basketball players, between 1996 and 1998."

Ms. Van de Perre was not the only one playing the field. The court also heard that Mr. Edwards, married with two daughters, "leads a 'glamorous' lifestyle in which he frequently indulges in extramarital sex."

The original trial judge concluded that Mr. Edwards, who now plays professionally in Athens, was so adulterous that it posed a threat to his marriage.

The judge felt that because of that, Elijah's well-being would be threatened at some time in the future by a marital breakdown.

The Appeal Court judges, however, put more faith in Mrs. Edwards and her ability to hold the relationship together.

The Edwardses married in 1985. Their union was damaged by the revelation of Mr. Edwards' affair with Ms. Van de Perre. But after a brief separation, the court heard, they got back together again and had, perhaps, become closer than ever.

Mrs. Edwards was questioned on the witness stand about how many more affairs she could tolerate. "I know all marriages have trials and tribulations and problems, and I am willing to stand by my husband, as long as he is still a loving man, a good father, and he is responsive to the family, and he puts the family focus first, I'm willing to stand by him as long as it takes, sir," she responded.

"I mean I'm sure my mother had problems, 30 years, I'm sure she had problems, but she did not walk away. That's not our heritage, we're strong, black women. We don't run."

The Appeal Court judges considered a statement from a psychologist who described Mrs. Edwards as "an energetic woman who is fiercely loyal and devoted to her family and husband. She has an excellent social support network, and has, in my opinion, been the 'rock' that has allowed her children to adjust so well to a rather hectic lifestyle."

The psychologist also noted that Mrs. Edwards had been able to put aside her anger about her husband's affair, and establish a loving bond with Elijah, which was described as "fairly remarkable, considering the relatively short period of time that they have been together."

The Appeal Court judges said Judge Warren focused too much on Mr. Edwards' promiscuity, and not enough on his abilities as a parent.

They cited as an example this statement by the judge: "While Mr. Edwards testified that he had remained faithful to his wife for the first 18 months of his marriage, he has had at least three affairs since then and, I conclude, in all probability he has had more. I make that finding based upon my assessment of him and because of his propensity to seek out places where there are known to be young women who are 'star-struck' with professional athletes. Even during the height of this trial he was not able to stay away from restaurants and nightclubs while his wife and children went east to be with her dying father."

The Appeal Court judges, by contrast, noted that Ms. Van de Perre had also shown a proclivity for nightclubs, and that she often made arrangements for others to care for her son while she went out to bars.

The psychologist's report described Ms. Van de Perre as "histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive." It said that while she was making an effort to be a good mother, "her needs for status, admiration, and attention remain and may result in her acting out in ways which are not in Elijah's best interest. For example, it is my impression that she minimizes the extent to which she goes out to nightclubs. Although she states this is a stress release, and that she rarely drinks, it is difficult to know how she could go out, not get to bed until 2 or 3 a.m., and be able to get up to provide for Elijah's best interest."

The Appeal Court also dealt with the delicate issue of race, noting that while Elijah was the son of a black man and a white woman, his dark skin colour meant that he would always be perceived as "being black."

The judgment quoted Mrs. Edwards as saying that Ms. Van de Perre "couldn't teach him what it's going to be like to be black, and how he is going to be seen in the world as being black ... And reading books won't help."

It was a view the judges agreed with.

"If it is correct that Elijah will be seen by the world at large as 'being black,' it would obviously be in his interests to live with a parent or family who can nurture his identity as a person of colour and who can appreciate and understand the day-to-day realities that black people face in North American society -- including discrimination and racism in various forms. It would certainly be naive to assume that Elijah would not encounter problems or racial prejudice at some point in his life in this country," state the judges, who noted that the Edwards family had returned to the southern United States.

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