Aug 14, 2008
By Martin Bagot
ORPHANS rescued from Vietnam during the 1970s have paid tribute to their saviour Marion Ashe, after her death aged 87. She was the co-founder of Project Vietnam Orphans, which sent out nurses to the south east Asian country during the Vietnam war.
The initiative launched by Marion was responsible for rescuing more than a hundred orphans, and helped rehome them with British families.
Mai Marion Thomas, 33, was one of the babies to be airlifted. She was adopted in Leamington, and took Marion’s name as a tribute. She said: “The work they did was really important. They gave us a chance of life and it paid off for most of us. “I went back there when I was 23 and it was an incredibly emotional experience, it made you realise what they had done for us all those years ago.”
Marion had moved to Leamington in 1964 when her husband, Reverend Pat Ashe, became vicar of St Mary’s Church. She felt compelled to act after watching harrowing news footage of orphans in Saigon in 1967.
Mai told the story of how Marion burst into the men’s church meeting, which her husband was chairing at the vicarage, and demanded they do something to help – “even
if they can only save one”.
Marion, her husband, and a handful of parishioners went on to organise the rescue mission.
Diem Hannan was a severely malnourished four-month-old baby when she was rescued. She said: “I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for Marion, she did such amazing work. “It’s unbelievable that people cared enough to do something like that.”After growing up with her foster parents in Leamington, Diem then went on to study design at Staffordshire University and now runs a cafe in Exeter with her husband and eight-year-old daughter, Daisy.
Marion’s legacy extended beyond aid work in Vietnam. The Leamington-based charity, now called Christian Outreach Relief and Development (CORD), worked with refugees fleeing from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and now works in 28 countries providing help to people affected by violent conflict. They are currently helping refugees in Burundi, Uganda and those displaced around the border between Darfur and Chad.
Richard Dickson, director of CORD, said: “Here we are 41 years later, and what Marion did is still an inspiration for our work on a daily basis. “She was the glue that kept it all together. Their inspiration to local people in Warwickshire and far beyond has been enormous.”
Marion is survived by her husband Pat and their seven children.
Her funeral will take place on Thursday August 14, and donations in lieu of flowers can be made to CORD, 1 New Street, Leamington Spa, CV31 1HP, or online at www.cord.org.uk.