Magazine Feature / People

Alumna works to heal wounds of war

It’s interesting that Mary Dolan-Hogrefe (MA ’96) was born in 1968 — a year fraught with civil unrest over the Vietnam War — given her current career path.

“Some of my earliest memories are of hearing about the war,” Dolan-Hogrefe says.

Today, 40 years later, Dolan-Hogrefe has been named to the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin. The group seeks to resolve this remaining legacy of the war.

As a young girl, Dolan-Hogrefe says she remembers Agent Orange as “just one of those phrases you grew up with. You didn’t know exactly what it was, but you knew it wasn’t good.”

U.S. forces sprayed Agent Orange to remove leaves from trees to make the landscape more visible. But dioxin, the poison in Agent Orange, has wreaked havoc on the Vietnamese ecosystem, and it made people seriously ill. Some died. Now scientists report that dioxin can be passed through the generations.

In February, Dolan-Hogrefe traveled with the group to Vietnam to visit sites and meet people impacted by Agent Orange.

“The trip gave me enormous insights,” says Dolan-Hogrefe, who is the vice president and senior advisor of the National Organization on Disability, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that works to include people with disabilities in society. “I gained a perspective that I missed from my reading of Vietnam history, the war and its aftermath.”

Vaughan Turekian, a member of the Agent Orange dialogue group and director of the Center for Science Diplomacy in Washington, D.C., calls Dolan-Hogrefe “a great contributor” to the effort. “Her knowledge and experience in dealing with issues of disabilities, especially for children, has provided both breadth and substance to our group’s activities.”

Dolan-Hogrefe called the trip “a humbling experience” and says it reinforced the importance of firsthand experiences. “Reading history and viewing documentaries are terrific ways to learn, but it hardly qualifies a person as an expert,” she says. “I’m far from an expert on Vietnam, but I certainly feel my thinking and opinions are much stronger as a result of my visit.”

Dolan-Hogrefe encourages today’s DU students to “learn from those who have been around the block, but also seek opportunities to learn things firsthand.”

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