Betty Tisdale - Babylift Volunteer and Humanitarian
By Betty Tisdale
Mrs. Tisdale was working for U.S. Steel Corporation in New York City when she met Dr. Tom Dooley, renowned for his compassionate care of the sick and homeless in Southeast Asia. Inspired by Dr. Dooley's work, and after his death of cancer at the age of 34, Mrs. Tisdale helped maintain his clinics in Laos, Thailand and care of Tibetans in India, as well as the An Lac Orphanage in Saigon, South Vietnam. In 1961 she made the first of 17 trips to Southeast Asia.
As the war in Vietnam escalated, she continued her annual trips to work at the orphanage, teaching English and assisting in the care of 400 children and babies. At home in the United States, Mrs. Tisdale established An Lac Orphanage, Inc. with Norman Cousins as Honorary Chairman. An Lac Orphanage, Inc. was a fund raising organization. She worked tirelessly to raise money and supplies through lectures, articles, television and radio appearances including interviews on NBC's Today Show, as well as articles in Time Magazine, Parade, Atlanta Constitution, Ladies Home Journal, Today's Secretary, Baby Talk and USA Today. She was interviewed in Saigon by ABC News and the New York Daily News.
She also maintained her career, serving as personal secretary to U. S. Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, from 1963 until 1969, when she married Col. Patrick D. Tisdale, M.D. a widower with five sons, ages 5-12, whom she met while he was the Medical Bn. Commander of the First Infantry Division at Bren Hoa Vietnam. Within two years, the Tisdales adopted 5 Vietnamese girls from An Lac and continued to raise funds for An Lac from their new home base in Ft. Benning and Columbus, Georgia.
In April, 1975, when the communists were 12 miles from Saigon, Mrs. Tisdale, along with Ina Balin, the actress and Board Member of An Lac Orphanage, and Dr. Cao Xuan Anh, who signed the papers, evacuated 219 orphans from An Lac Orphanage. On April 30, 1975 she was able to get Mme Vu Thi Ngai, the Directress of An Lac, and her two assistants out of Saigon. They lived with the Tisdales in their home in Columbus, Georgia. Mme Ngai died in her new home in 1978. The story of her dramatic rescue of the children has been told in a CBS television movie, The Children of An Lac, starring Shirley Jones as Betty Tisdale and Ina Balin, as herself.
The Vietnam government would not allow her to evacuate any children over the age of ten. All 219 children were adopted within one month through the Tressler Adoption Agency in York, Pennsylvania.
In 1995, 20 years later, she returned with her youngest daughter, Kim Lan, to find the children she had to leave behind. They found 60 of them for a joyous reunion. The children, now adults, sang Jingle Bells, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Row Row Row your Boat to show they had not forgotten their Betty.
In the summer of 2000, Betty Tisdale founded HALO, Helping and Loving Orphans. This organization is dedicated to improving the lives of children in third world countries through relief efforts. Currently, HALO is involved in helping two orphanages in Vietnam, one in the Philippines and an orphanage for disabled children in Bogota, Colombia.