Majorie Margolies shares personal adoption story

July 11, 2012 8:47:51 PM PDT
In the early 1970's, Marjorie Margolies, former journalist, congresswoman, and now Penn professor, became the first single woman to adopt a foreign child.

Last summer she visited Vietnam with the daughter who hadn't returned to her homeland in nearly 37 years.

Marjorie made the nearly 9,000 mile trip from Philadelphia to Vietnam last June. Her daughter traveled from her home in the Northwest.

They spent the first week in Hanoi, and then traveled to a Province outside of Saigon named Vinh Long. That's where Marjorie's daughter met the family she never knew.

"So much time was wasted in hate and anger and fear," said Holly Werth.

43-year-old Holly Werth has spent much of her life angry.

Married now, with two sons of her own, she has been haunted by the absence of memories and information from her past.

"My whole life I was afraid of this monster, this huge monster in my closet. I never went there," she said. "The Vietnam trip for me was like turning on the light in the closet. I woke up to how incredibly lucky I am."

Holly was adopted by Margorie Margolies in 1974; it was her second adoption of a foreign child. And as a single woman and Philadelphia TV reporter, it was big news.

Growing up, Holly thought she had been hated and neglected by her biological mother who died in 2002. Amerasian children were scorned in Vietnam. And women who had babies with American soldiers feared for their lives.

"They were absolutely convinced that when the Vietcong came down, they were going to kill the mixture children," said Marjorie. "She knew she had to protect her child; that's the reason she gave her up."

In 1973, Holly's biological mother took her to an orphanage in Saigon, hoping she would make it to the United States.

Marjorie adopted her a year later.

"Holly was like receiving a letter bomb," said Marjorie. "She had been rejected, and she wasn't going to be rejected again."

"My stubbornness, my personality, I was a mess; very dominant, and I beat up people, kids who didn't play with me, had bedwetting problems and all this stuff," Holly said .

When she returns to Vietnam, Holly is struck by the beauty of the country, and the warmth of the people.

In the province of Vinh Long, she meets her half brother and half sister and their families.

"We kind of both stood there and said, 'How do you do?' as strangers would meet," said Holly.

Holly doesn't speak Vietnamese, and her family speaks no English, but with the help of a translator, her brother talked about his memories of her.

He notices the scar on her leg, that she was burned on his motorcycle.

"I remember; that is one of my few memories. I have very few memories," she said.

Her family takes her to meet the woman who babysat her as her mother worked long hours, and she tells Holly that the woman she thought hated her cared more than she ever knew.

"Apparently, I was extremely loved," Holly said.

Holly and Marjorie visit her mother's tomb, and Holly can only wish she had made the trip sooner.

"There is immense, immense regret that I didn't reach out to my biological mother while she was still alive," she said.

Within one week of returning home from Vietnam, Holly got a call that her brother, who hadn't told her he was suffering from cancer, had died.

And there is another history lesson from the 70's, the year after Marjorie adopted her with Saigon falling to Communist troops; President Ford ordered the evacuation of thousands of Amerasian orphans.

Ten years later, the children of Vietnamese women and American soldiers were offered asylum in the United States.


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