October 25, 1976 12:00 PM

In 1975 Mme. Vu Thi Ngai waited anxiously at An Lac (“The Happy Place”), the Saigon orphanage she founded, while North Vietnamese guns pounded the city. She was certain that, once Saigon fell, her name would be high on the wanted list. Against that time, she kept a bottle of poison. Today Mme. Ngai (pronounced “Nye”) is radiantly alive in Columbus, Ga., keeping in close touch with the hundreds of children from her orphanage placed in American homes. “Many parents want to pay me,” she says. “I say, ‘You have paid me already, when you give my children your love.’ ” She set up the orphanage in North Vietnam after World War II. At about that time Mme. Ngai’s husband was killed by Communists. As they overran the country, she evacuated the orphans to Saigon aboard a U.S. naval vessel with the help of the late, famed Indochina doctor, Tom Dooley. She reestablished An Lac in Saigon in 1954 and it prospered, thanks in large measure to an American, Betty Mohl Tisdale. Over the years 50,000 children passed through Mme. Ngai’s orphanage while Mrs. Tisdale raised more than $350,000. It was through Betty Tisdale’s efforts that Mme. Ngai was flown out of Saigon for a new life that centers on a little pagoda-like house in a corner of the Tisdales’ spacious grounds. Dr. Tisdale is a pediatrician. In her native dress, Mme. Ngai is an exotic figure, looking decades younger than her 71 years. “I paint my hair,” she giggles. “In Vietnam I never thought about how I look.”

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