- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

The new year began with a big sigh of relief for Dianne Spery of Maryland, whose daughter was in South Asia when the deadly tsunami hit the region last week.

Mrs. Spery, who lives in Salisbury, said her daughter Alyson, 20, called her for the first time at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, letting her family know that she was safe. Miss Spery had been so busy helping the relief efforts after the Dec. 26 tsunami that she didn’t get around to calling her family.

“It was wonderful,” Mrs. Spery said yesterday of the telephone call. “I am so glad, so proud.”

Mrs. Spery said she wasn’t surprised at her daughter’s long delay in calling her family.

“She has been an advocate for the good since she was a little girl,” Mrs. Spery said. “She is so compassionate. She is all heart.”

Miss Spery said she had been sending e-mails to her family since the tsunami hit the region.

“Then I realized that being away from home, they would probably like to hear my voice,” Miss Spery said Saturday in the Thai resort of Phuket.

Having completed three months of college studies in Vietnam, Miss Spery was attending a traditional full moon beach party in Thailand when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the day after Christmas. More than 137,000 people were killed in the quake and subsequent tsunami.

The beach Miss Spery was on escaped the fury of the tsunami, but she rushed to help with the relief effort as soon as she learned what had happened.

“We found out in the morning and didn’t think it was serious, and then that evening was the party, so things were on schedule, and the next day, we found out how serious that situation really was,” Miss Spery said.

Miss Spery immediately went to Phuket, where she knew an Israeli man and his Thai wife were organizing volunteer assistance.

“I heard on the radio that they needed people to help board a ship with cargo and medical supplies and clothing and everything,” Miss Spery said. “Then, they needed volunteers to spend the night on the ship to take it out to [the island of] Phi Phi. So, I volunteered.”

Miss Spery and several Thais stayed on board the ship and cooked food for military personnel who were making critical repairs and bringing in victims’ bodies. Military members and volunteers worked without protective masks or gloves, she said.

Miss Spery is a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., where she is majoring in public policy. She also plans to go to law school and become a juvenile court judge. Her father, Robert Spery, is a lawyer.

“I will work in the Judicial Court system, teaching and working with those kids about the situations that bring them into the court,” said Miss Spery, referring to juvenile criminals or youths who are in trouble.

Miss Spery chose to do some of her studies in Vietnam because her father was drafted after completing law school in 1959 and served in the Army Signal Corps in Vietnam.

Mrs. Spery said her husband, who became an invalid after several years as a lawyer, never talked about Vietnam or about his experiences there.

Miss Spery said she liked her studies and work in Vietnam. She said she also likes to travel, like her mother, a media specialist who goes to Europe, and older sister, Sonya, 23, an anthropology major at Salisbury University.

When Miss Spery was a sophomore in the nondenominational Salisbury School, she made her first trip to Nicaragua. When she returned home, she began collecting sports equipment for Nicaraguan children because they had so little, Mrs. Spery said yesterday.

Mrs. Spery said she was troubled to learn that her daughter was alone in Phuket. Miss Spery’s friends had gone to Bangkok last week.

Mrs. Spery said she was relieved to learn that her daughter plans to fly home on Friday.

• Richard S. Ehrlich reported from Phuket.

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