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January 17, 2004
Column #1,168

Bill Pierce: Father of Adoption

     It was a phrase in a story about Tony Blankley leaving the staff of Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives: "He is considering gigs as a TV talking head, political consultant, author, lecturer and, possibly adoptive father."

     Dr. William Pierce, founder and president of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) for 20 years, wrote a letter to Gingrich, saying, "If Tony is seriously considering adoption, have him call me."

     That was the Bill Pierce I've known - passionate, involved, personal, effective yet not intrusive. He could have called Blankley directly, but wrote the much busier Speaker of the House to offer help, giving the man, now editorial page editor of The Washington Times, time to think about it and talk to his wife before calling back.

     This week, after two years of fighting cancer, Bill Pierce died, at 67. But what a legacy.

     Tens of thousands of children have found loving adoptive homes, thanks to his tireless leadership. He lobbied for the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 that gave states $4,000 for every foster child that is adopted. The number of adopted foster care children soared from 31,000 in 1997 to 51,000 in 2002. Even special needs children adoptions jumped 63 percent.

     "Bill was one of those uncommon people in Washington who are able to bridge traditional  ideological divides, to help people come together on an important issue, in this case adoption," says Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary of HHS which oversees welfare, adoption and health.

     During the Clinton Administration, Pierce worked with a bi-partisan "Adoption Congress" of leaders in both houses, to create a $5,000 adoption tax credit, recently expanded to $10,000.

     To Tony Bullock, press spokesman for Washington D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, that credit was "a strong motivator" for he and his wife to adopt a child from California though it cost $25,000 Why so much? Legal fees, facilitator fees, housing for the birth mother, repairs to her car, travel to California.

     Mayor Williams was himself adopted, and at the time, did not look very promising. At an NCFA banquet at which Bill Pierce was given an award, Williams' mother said that when the mayor was about 3, he was so traumatized, he did not speak. His adoptive mother dismissed that with, "Oh, he just needs to be loved."

     Adoptive parents had the same hope for Gerald R. Ford, later U.S. President, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's Restaurants, Scott Hamilton, Olympic Gold Medalist and Rosemary McDonough, an NCFA board member.

     She and a future brother were adopted - a family made by adoption. "I felt my parents loved me so specially, that when I learned about being adopted, I felt sorry for my friends who were not adopted. I had a wonderful sense of being chosen and of being a wanted child."

     Contrast that feeling with how a third of those born annually, 1.3 million out-of-wedlock children, must feel. Their parents did not care enough for them to even get married. Only one percent of those parents love their children enough to make an adoption plan for them to be raised by a married couple. In fact, 20,000 couples must go abroad to adopt.

     When Rosemary married Walter McDonough, they were unable to have children. Though an in vitro fertilization clinic was across the street, "I knew I was supposed to adopt. It was a wonderful sense of coming full circle." They adopted two children, one from Catholic Social Services and another from Chile.

     Did Tony Blankley and his wife, Lynda Davis, adopt? Yes, although they had two boys of their own. As a volunteer, Lynda had seen orphanages in Bosnia and wanted to adopt a girl, but adoption was "a vast unknown."

     Bill Pierce said "Let me talk you through the process." He educated them about the rules of different states, how to identify an agency, the consequences of adopting domestically vs. internationally, and the need to involve their children in the decision.

     At first the sons were surprised and dubious. They warmed to the idea but resisted adopting a child who looked different. Though not important to the parents, they chose a Russian child. The whole family had the adventure of going to St. Petersburg to bring their nine-month old sister home.

     "Bill was the facilitator, the godfather, the matchmaker and mentor to us as he was to numerous people throughout the country," Lynda said. "He reached out discretely, anonymously. He helped put countries together in the Hague Agreement on International Adoption" that tripled international adoptions.

     Bill Pierce will be missed. But what a legacy.

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