An unexpected blessing: Family welcomes daughter that Sequim man never knew he had

The resemblance is amazing, Jerry Pino says.

“Of all my mom’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren … she’s the spitting image of my mom.”

For more than 40 years, Pino never knew she existed.

Earlier this year, thanks to some serendipitous searching and DNA tests, the Sequim man found he’s a father once again — to a 42-year-old television producer from Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I always wanted a big family,” says Rachel Mills during a visit with Pino and his wife Patty in Sequim last week.

Mills, who grew up in various parts of eastern and central Texas before moving to New York about 11 years ago, says she suspected early on that the man who was raising her might not be her biological father.

“My mom had blond hair and blue eyes (and) Tommy had blond hair and blue eyes. I’d always make a joke: ‘Isn’t it weird … ?’ and everyone would chuckle and change the subject quickly.”

By the time Mills was learning about dominant and recessive traits in hair and eye color in sixth or seventh grade, she bluntly put her suspicions to her mother. Mills recalls her mother saying she had told the teen the truth already, that who she called her father was not really her biological father.

“I was probably mad at her. I was 15,” Mill says.

“She thought it was Jerry Pinto (with a ‘t’),” Mills recalls. “She said he was half Mexican, half native American.”

Pino was living as a ranch hand in Weatherford, Texas, just west of Dallas-Fort Worth, in the mid-1970s when he says he fell for the sister of one of the ranch owners.

“We thought we fell in love; for two months, we lived basically like a married couple,” Pino says.

“I liked breaking horses, racing horses, rodeo. I was living out of pickups … but I was always a gentleman.”

The pair soon had plans to move onto another ranch, Pino says, but one day he overheard a phone conversation between his then girlfriend and another man.

“I felt like an idiot (so) I went on to the next ranch,” Pino recalls.

And that was the end of their story — or so he thought.

A burgeoning film career

Mills began her career in filmmaking in New York City. As director of The Edit Center, Mills selected and shepherded such documentary and narrative films as “Winter’s Bone,” “Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters” and “Garbage Dreams.” In 2010, Mills moved into producing with “A Matter of Taste” a feature documentary profiling famed chef Paul Liebrandt that premiered on HBO.

In 2013, Mills partnered with award-winning filmmaker Joshua Zeman to produce and co-star in “Killer Legends,” a documentary investigating true crimes that inspired urban legends. She also produced “Mavis!,” a documentary about gospel/soul music legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples and her family singing group, the Staple Singers. (The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for a Peabody Award.)

Zeman and Mills then developed “The Killing Season” for A&E, an investigation into connections between unsolved serial killer cases on Long Island.

“I watched every episode; it’s amazing,” Pino says.”

For years, Mills did some occasional searching for her father but with no fruitful results. That changed in early 2017 when both Mills and Pino’s brother Armando were doing research for family connections on

Mills says she, her mother and half-brother each completed a DNA testing kit through the website. While the kits offer customers an ethnicity breakdown, they also can match up users to one another based on genetic data.

“I didn’t even think I’d get a hit from that side of the family,” Mills says. “I didn’t go there to find him at all.”

Pino says his brother was looking for possible family members through their father, who had served in Germany during World War II.

Mills and Armando connected online and soon figured out the family connection.

Then, there was the question of approaching her father. Would this be a welcomed addition to his family?

“I was nervous once I found (he and Patty) had kids,” Mills says. (Pino has three children: Joe from previous marriage, as well as Nicole and Jennifer, who were both born and raised in Sequim.)

Mills was hesitant to make contact, Pino recalls, so his brother Armando played the go-between.

In a phone call Pino remembers clearly, Armando began, “I don’t know how to tell you this.”

Pino’s father recently had died and he quickly suspected this was news of his mother’s passing.

Armando continued, “You have a 42-year-old daughter that lives in Brooklyn … and is looking for you.”

Dread quickly turned to joy.

“We were excited. We welcomed (it),” says Patty, from the couple’s ranch near downtown Sequim.

“The more, the merrier,” Pino says.

Pino finally met Mills face-to-face in San Diego this June — as luck would have it, on Father’s Day weekend — where Mills met up with Armando and her new-found cousins.

And this August, Mills joined Jerry and Patty Pino for a quick West Coast trip, taking in the solar eclipse in Oregon on Aug. 21 and a few short hours on the Olympic Peninsula before she headed back home.

“This girl reminds me of me when I was young,” Pino says.

“I can definitely see Pino traits,” Patty says.

Rachel Mills, right, joins Jerry and Patty Pino in Oregon for a solar eclipse viewing. Submitted photo

Rachel Mills, right, joins Jerry and Patty Pino in Oregon for a solar eclipse viewing. Submitted photo