Antonia Morgan; Fled U.S. With Granddaughter

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

Antonia Morgan, who, along with her husband, spirited her granddaughter away in defiance of a D.C. Family Court order and eventually settled in New Zealand during one of this country's most public and bitter custody battles, died April 3 of congestive heart failure at her home in Washington. She was 91.

The protracted case between Elizabeth Morgan, then a prominent plastic surgeon, best-selling author and magazine columnist, and her ex-husband, Eric Foretich, a promising oral surgeon, became a cause celebre for both feminists and fathers' rights groups. But for Mrs. Morgan, it was a matter of protecting her granddaughter.

On Aug. 5, 1987, a D.C. Superior Court judge jailed Elizabeth Morgan for civil contempt for refusing to allow her daughter to have unsupervised visits with Foretich. She had accused him of sexually abusing the child, which he adamantly denied.

Shortly afterward, Mrs. Morgan and her husband, William, both retired psychologists who had divorced and remarried to help their granddaughter, packed up the 5-year-old and took her on a 15,000-mile journey. For 2 1/2 years, the couple traveled throughout the world with the child, Hilary Foretich, from rural Virginia to the Bahamas, Toronto, Vancouver, Plymouth, England, and Singapore, with the press increasingly pursuing their whereabouts.

They settled in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1988, and lived in a two-bedroom apartment at a residential motel. Hilary enrolled in school, and the Morgans applied for residency and citizenship in New Zealand.

In October 1989, an act of Congress released Elizabeth Morgan from the D.C. jail after 26 months. She joined her parents and her daughter in New Zealand in 1990, and soon afterward, the child's location was discovered in the glare of international news coverage.

Antonia Morgan returned to the United States from New Zealand in 1995 to join her husband, who had moved back earlier, and to again settle in Washington. Her husband died in 1996.

Mrs. Morgan, once described as "an elegant white-haired woman with an upper-class British accent," was a citizen of three countries, the United States, Great Britain and New Zealand. She spoke six languages -- English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Maori -- and could write essays in Latin and Greek.

Jim Morgan said his mother remained convinced of her actions, particularly in light of her experience with normal and disturbed children. "Even though she never did anything else illegal in her life," he said, "she very much felt that she was doing the right thing by leaving the country with Hilary and my father to find her a stable environment."

Antonia Mary Farquharson Bell was born October 5, 1914, in Twickenham, near London. A survivor of the 1918 flu pandemic at the age of 4, she was home-schooled until she was 10. As a senior at the Wimbledon School for Girls, she won full academic scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge on the same day, prompting the headmistress to declare a school holiday.

At Somerville College, Oxford, she graduated with honors in 1937 with bachelor's and master's degrees in the classics. She completed a master's degree in education from the University of London in 1938. After college, she and the daughter of the surgeon general of India traveled by boat to India and lived in New Delhi for nine months. In London in 1941, she won a national English-Speaking Union scholarship that included a speaking tour of 30 cities in the United States to explain the British war effort.

While on tour in the United States, she met with Eleanor Roosevelt, was the guest of Andrew Carnegie's daughter at the Carnegie mansion in New York City and stayed with the family of one of the original settlers of California. The attack on Pearl Harbor left her stranded in Texas, where she taught for a semester at the Hockaday School in Dallas.

She returned to London in 1942, where bombing was prevalent, and worked as a teacher. On her way to visit her parents in Guildford one day, she had to wait several hours for a train because an earlier one had been bombed. On the later train, she met William J. Morgan, an American paratrooper and officer in the Office of Strategic Services, who had been stationed in England. They married in 1944 and settled in Washington in 1946.

In 1951, she and her husband founded Aptitude Associates in Merrifield. Over the years, they interviewed, tested and counseled thousands of teenage boys, girls and their parents from the Washington area. They advised them on academic, emotional and vocational issues. Aptitude Associates closed in the early 1980s.

Mrs. Morgan was a founding member of the Virginia Psychological Association and published a number of articles in scientific journals on gifted children.

In her late eighties and early nineties, she worked several days a week at the St. Albans Opportunity Shop, where she also was a board member.

She remained intellectually formidable until the end, her son said. She knew large sections of Shakespeare, the Bible, "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey" by heart, in addition to Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." She delighted in doing the London Times crossword every day and reading novels, historical accounts and short stories.

Survivors include three children, W. James Morgan of New York City, Dr. Elizabeth Morgan of Los Angeles, Robert M. Morgan of Cabin John; and five grandchildren.

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