"After 26, years of marriage, everything just fell apart," said Marion Hearon, 55, an attractive woman with an angular face and deep-set eyes. "After years of doing volunteer work and gardening in Bethesda, I had to find a job and survive."

In the 12 years since her divorce in 1968, Hearon says she and her two daughters have sometimes "been hanging by our teeth."

"My husband and I sold our house and I thought my share would be enough for another house," she said. "But surprise -- a bank wouldn't give a woman a loan when she was relying on alimony and child support for her income."

Hearon and her daughter Gay, who was 12 at the time, moved to the Springlake Apartments; (her older daughter Casey was in College.)

"I felt strongly that my daughter shouldn't be uprooted, that she shouldn't have to change schools," Hearon said.

"Besides, I wanted to stay here, too. I've lived in Montgomery County since the 1950s and it's home to me. I didn't want to get pushed out."

Hearon hoped not to work until her daughter was in high school, but soon realized that was impossible.

"I have a B.A. and I worked as a chemist until my daughter was born," she said. "But if you're out of the job market for all those years, expecially in a science field, you're lost.

"So what else does a middle-aged woman do? I got a clerical job."

Hearon now works as a secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and earns $13,200 a year. She receives $2,400 in child support.

Last August, when she tried to get an increase in her annual alimony payment of $4,500 so that she could pay for classes in writing and editing, the court took away her alimony altogether.

"There I was with no money to stay and no money to move," she said. "Last Summer was a hungry one, literally. I was starving to keep a roof over my head."

Although her apartment complex had been converted to condominiums, she was renting her apartment from a couple who bought a unit as an investment. sShe paid $300 a month plus a small condominium fee, but by 1978 she was paying more than $400 in rent alone.

Like Doug and Kathy Johnson. Hearon is now living at Magruder's Discovery. She pays $213 for a two-bedroom apartment.

"This is my first real experience with taking help from someone outside my immediate family," she said of her move last February into the publicly assisted housing complex. "When I sighed the lease, I felt like I was taking welfare. I felt terrible.

"But I'm pleased with this place," she said. "I'm able to keep up and I'm going to improve my skills and my salary. Sure, I'm used to having a house that's mine but that dream in out the window."

Hearon says that friends and colleagues at work have helped her greatly. She is a vocal supporters of women's rights issues as a result of her experiences.

"There's only one comment that bothers me," she said. "That's when people say I should just find myself a rich husband. The worst part is -- if I ever wanted a house, that's the only way I could ever afford one."