Betty Corey, 67, foster mother in Street

July 07, 2000|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Betty Lee Corey, a hospital clerk who became a foster mother to several abandoned children of HIV-infected mothers, died Monday of cancer at her home in Street. She was 67.

Mrs. Corey was a grandmother when she and her husband, Emery, began caring for the smallest victims of the AIDS epidemic. While working in the pediatric unit at Baltimore City Hospitals - now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center - Mrs. Corey met a girl named Kedra, who spent her first 3 1/2 years at the hospital because she had no place else to go.

Kedra had AIDS, and Mrs. Corey was deeply saddened by the idea of a lively, generally healthy little girl spending her shortened life in a hospital ward.

Overcoming numerous bureaucratic hurdles, the Coreys became Kedra's permanent foster parents in 1986. In addition to all of the routine challenges a family must face when raising a small child, the Coreys had to deal with the ignorance, fear and hostility of a society that was only beginning to confront the realities of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

A 1987 Sun feature about the Coreys related the family's frustrating search for a school or recreation program that would accept Kedra. The girl was repeatedly turned away by administrators, teachers and secretaries who mistakenly assumed that her presence would put others at risk. The Coreys' names were changed for the article because of fear of further discrimination.

"AIDS," Mrs. Corey was quoted as saying, "brings out the worst and the best in people."

Born Betty Lee Ardeeser to a Navy family in Pago Pago, American Samoa, Mrs. Corey spent most of her childhood in Washington. One year before she was to have graduated from high school there, she abandoned her studies to care for her polio-stricken mother.

In 1950, she married William Schoenthal. The couple had one child and divorced in 1957.

Three years later, she married Emery M. Corey, a Navy cook. After six years of shuttling from base to base, Mr. Corey retired and the couple moved to Oxon Hill. Mr. Corey took a position as a police officer at the Library of Congress, while Mrs. Corey worked as a receptionist and nursing assistant in a gynecologist's office.

In 1978, after working as a technical trainee at Hadley Memorial Hospital in Washington, Mrs. Corey joined the staff of City Hospitals and the family moved to Middle River.

To accommodate more foster children, the Coreys moved to a larger house in Street in 1989. Over the years, they took in 41 foster children, most of whom had HIV-positive mothers, and adopted four of them. Many of the children were placed with relatives or others who could adopt them, and several were found to be free of the virus.

The Coreys stopped taking in foster children in January after Mrs. Corey's condition had begun to deteriorate.

Dr. Patricia T. Mildvan, a retired pediatrician who treated Kedra, said of Mrs. Corey: "She was a very good foster mother. She was a wonderful advocate for these children. She always put their welfare above everything else."

When asked why Mrs. Corey undertook the responsibility of caring for so many children who were at risk of developing AIDS, a daughter, Jennifer L. Bickman of Lee's Summit, Mo., said: "I guess it stems from the fact her mother had polio back when polio was the same thing as AIDS."

A memorial service for Mrs. Corey will be held at noon today at Clarks United Methodist Church, 2001 Kalmia Road, Bel Air.

In addition to her husband and her daughter Jennifer, Mrs. Corey is survived by four sons, David E. Corey and Isaiah J. Corey, both of Street, Kelly D. Corey of Rosedale and Kevin D. Corey of Hanover, Pa.; and three daughters, Zakkiya M. Corey and Tiffany M. Corey, both of Street, and Jeffrey L. O'Neil of Waldorf; and four grandchildren.

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