Sun March 18, 2012
Years Later, He Brought Her Passport Back
Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 9:57 am
Typically, college newsletters aren't thrilling reads, but an article in a recent University of California, Berkeley, newsletter tells the story of two alums who connected in way fit for a movie.
It starts in 1949, after Betty Werther graduated from Berkeley. As a graduation gift, her grandmother sent her to Europe with a friend. They traveled to Paris, ostensibly to study at the Sorbonne.
Their studies didn't last long. Werther and her friend strapped on backpacks and hit the road.
"Almost to the Arctic Circle. Over to Berlin, and up Denmark, and up to Sweden and Norway," she recounts. "But the biggest trip was to the Middle East."
That was in the fall of 1950. From Switzerland, Werther and her friend stuck out their thumbs and hitchhiked their way south.
"That was fairly unusual," she says. "Two women hitchhiking down through an Arab country was very unusual. I think people were so stunned they didn't know what kind of animal this was."
Somewhere along the way, Werther lost her passport.
A Peculiar Discovery
Fast-forward to 2011. Nuno Fonseca, was studying medicine in Paris.
"The school year was just ending, and I wanted to take something from Paris that would remind me of the good time I spent there," Fonseca says. He headed to a flea market, but didn't see anything special.
"When I was just about to leave and get to the last vendors, I found this passport, this old passport. It was full of visas from the first page to the last one," he says.
The name inside the passport read Elizabeth Hatfield. She had been around same age as Fonseca when she set out on her travels. What struck Fonseca, however, was her address. It was the same student housing complex in Paris where Fonseca himself lived.
He decided to return the passport to its owner.
Searching The Past For The Present
Back in his home country of Portugal, Fonseca poked around on the Internet to see if Elizabeth Hatfield might still be around 60 years later. A Google search revealed an Elizabeth Hatfield, graduated from Berkeley in 1949 and originally from Ardsley Village in New York.
The Ardsley Village town manager forwarded Fonseca's inquiry to the historical society, which led to an old schoolmate who knew where Hatfield was. She was still in Paris, but she wasn't a Hatfield anymore. Her name was Betty Werther.
With the name came a phone number. "I was very nervous," Fonseca says. "I didn't know, if I did find this person, how she would react, if she would be interested or not at all." He called.
"I thought it was like a crank call," Werther says. "I am used to having people phone me for money or to belong to something or to sign a petition, and so I almost hung up."
Fonseca left for Paris after that phone call. Sixty years after Werther's adventures, her lost passport finally came home.
"There was such a build up to this," Werther says. "I was kind of palpitating." Over dinner and champagne, she and Fonseca flipped through her old passport. Each stamp brought back memories.
"It was fantastic. Betty is a very welcoming person, and she has lived a remarkable life, and she has many stories to tell," Fonseca says.
And while the passport was nice to have back, Werther treasures meeting Fonseca more.
"To meet this person who had gone through so much trouble, that was more important than the passport," she says. "It's the whole experience which is extraordinary."
Fonseca knew it would be an adventure. "If I got the chance to find the person, for sure it would be someone amazing and it would be rewarding," he says. "And it was indeed."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
To another drama now, certainly a story Nora Ephron might want to hear because this one could easily be made into a Nora Ephron film. It came to us by way of an article in the U.C. Berkeley newsletter.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAZ: There are two parallel stories, actually, one that begins in 1949, the other in 2011, and yes, those stories eventually intersect. Let's start in 1949.
BETTY WERTHER: My name is Betty Werther. I'm originally from the U.S., from Westchester County in New York, and I've been living in Paris for over 60 years.
RAZ: In 1949, Betty graduated from U.C. Berkeley, and her grandmother wanted to buy her a gift.
WERTHER: My grandmother gave me the choice of joining a sorority or taking a European trip after my studies, and I chose the European trip.
RAZ: Paris, to be precise. The journey across the Atlantic took 10 days by ship, and Betty went with a friend.
WERTHER: Coming to Europe was a proper thing to do. A proper European trip was fun. You know, we had a place to stay in Paris. We were supposed to be studying a course at the Sorbonne.
RAZ: But the studying part didn't last very long. Betty and a friend strapped on their backpacks and headed first to Morocco, and then...
WERTHER: Almost to the Arctic Circle, over to Berlin and up to Denmark and up to Sweden and Norway...
RAZ: And then, in the autumn, she and another young woman decided to go to the Middle East.
WERTHER: We started out in Switzerland over a mountain pass, and then we went through Italy to Trieste and down through Yugoslavia, Greece and over to Turkey. And this was in almost the middle of winter because we wanted to be in Bethlehem for Christmas.
RAZ: And to get there, they stuck out their thumbs all through Syria.
WERTHER: That was very unusual. Two women hitchhiking down through an Arab country was very unusual. I think people were so stunned. They didn't know what kind of animal this was, you know, girls in pants and...
RAZ: At some point, Betty's not sure when, her passport from that adventure was lost. And that's where our second story begins, last year, May 2011.
NUNO FONSECA: My name Nuno Fonseca, I'm an ed student. I'm from Portugal.
RAZ: Nuno spent the previous years studying medicine in Paris.
FONSECA: The school year was just ending, and I wanted to take something from Paris that would remind me of the good time I spent there.
RAZ: So he headed to a flea market to look around, but he wasn't having any luck.
FONSECA: When I was just about to leave and get to the last vendors, I found this passport, this old passport. It was full of visas from the first page to the last one.
RAZ: And the name inside: Elizabeth Hatfield. She was around the same age as Nuno at the time it was issued. And then there was the address inside.
FONSECA: But finally, when I looked at the address and I saw that she lived in the same student housing complex where I used to live...
RAZ: It was the student dorm Betty stayed at when she arrived to Paris in 1949, and it still houses students to this day. So Nuno Fonseca decided he had to track her down. And the first thing he did was to check Facebook.
FONSECA: Just to look for Elizabeth Hatfield.
RAZ: No luck, so he went to Google.
FONSECA: There was an Elizabeth Hatfield who graduated from Berkeley University in '49.
RAZ: And it also mentioned she was from a place called Ardsley Village in New York. So Nuno sent an email to the Ardsley Village manager.
FONSECA: He forwarded the email to the Historical Society. And through the connections they had established, they found an old high school mate of Betty, and she had an address in Paris, and that was my main lead.
RAZ: And a few days later, Nuno got a phone number and a name. Elizabeth Hatfield was now Betty Werther.
FONSECA: I was very nervous. I didn't know if I was going to find the person. I didn't know in which language I should be addressing, French or English, and I didn't know if I did find this person, how would she react, if she would be interested or not at all.
WERTHER: I thought it was like a crank call. I'm used to having people phone me for money or to belong to something or to sign a petition. And so I almost hung up.
FONSECA: She was very surprised. And she asked me, how is it possible that it ended up in a flea market? But I had no answer to give whatsoever.
RAZ: By that point, Nuno was already back in Portugal. But a few weeks ago, he decided he'd return to Paris to deliver the passport directly to Betty, 60 years after it went missing.
WERTHER: There was such a build up to this that I was, you know, kind of palpitating. And when the door bell rang...
FONSECA: It was fantastic. Betty is a very welcoming person, and she has lived a remarkable life, and she has many stories to tell.
WERTHER: The experience was to meet this person who'd gone to so much trouble. That was more important than the passport. It's the whole experience, which is extraordinary.
FONSECA: If I got the chance to find the person, for sure, it would be someone amazing, and it would rewarding. And it was, indeed.
RAZ: Nuno Fonseca. He's a med student in Portugal who found Betty Werther's lost passport in a Paris flea market 60 years after it went missing. The story came to us by way of U.C. Berkeley's news center. To see photos of the passport and of Nuno and Betty's first meeting, head to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.