left us last month just a few months shy of her 93rd birthday. And what a powerful life she had!
Betty was diminutive, full of humor and compassion, and captain of her own special ship, H.A.L.O. (Helping and Loving Orphans). She spread hope and happiness from the time she took over the work of Dr. Tom Dooley, who died at 34 in Vietnam in 1961, through the fall of Saigon, and into the present day. She left a rich legacy of orphanages throughout Southeast Asia.
Her story was told in a CBS movie, The Children of An Lac, starring Shirley Jones as Betty. The title of “Angel of Saigon” was given her after she rescued 219 orphans, their director, and two assistants from the An Lac orphanage on April 30, 1975, just hours before Saigon fell. The babies were carried in handmade baskets, then transferred to cardboard boxes and placed on the floor of the plane. Betty found a place to house them in Ft. Benning, Georgia, and within a month of their arrival in the U.S., all were adopted. She adopted five girls, herself, and has been in touch with numerous others over the intervening years. The internet and her website are full of their stories of gratitude and success.
I met Betty at the height of the war in Afghanistan. She lived in a charming house in the Queen Anne section of Seattle with three floors…an office in the basement for HALO, littered with clothing and necessities she collected for the orphans, a living area full of mementoes of her life in Asia, and two upstairs bedrooms full of exquisite tapestries, dresses, and antiques. Pictures of her work and her meetings with heads of state lined the stairway. She tripped merrily up and down the three flights like a teenager with a lot of experience. I loved it!
Shortly after we met she called me in some distress and said, “I need to check on the children in Afghanistan. I think I’ll just go to Kabul.”
“Betty, you can’t go to Kabul right now. There’s a war going on! And, besides, how are you going to get permission to do that? The government will never let you.”
“That’s not a problem,” she replied. “I’ll simply go to the airport and buy a ticket.” And she did. AND she went! That is Betty in a nutshell. Something has to be done and she finds a way to do it.
Betty Tisdale was the epitome of the phrase, “One person can make a difference.” She did. Not many people like her come along in one’s lifetime. We will miss her immensely.