Businesswoman, philanthropist, author: three titles that Rosemary Tran Lauer never imagined would describe her when she fled war-torn Saigon with her two small children in 1975. Lauer’s rags-to-riches story began as a young mother in Vietnam and continues today in Northern Virginia.
Lauer was in her 20s, raising a six-month-old daughter and two-year-old son, when she caught her husband with another woman. Soon after, the mistress called Lauer and told her to bring the children to the Port of Saigon, their father was leaving. “I had to swallow all of my pain, sorrow and anger for my children [so that] we could say goodbye.”
Saigon was overwhelming for Lauer, and she didn’t plan to stay long—she just wanted to allow her children to say goodbye to their father. In a coincidental turn of events, the Fall of Saigon occurred that day, leading to a mass exodus of refugees as the Viet Cong captured the capital.
Lauer and her children were instructed to board a boat; they were never able to say goodbye to their father and husband. “I didn’t know how to swim, we had no clothes or food. Getting on a boat was the last thing on my mind,” Lauer recalls. But they boarded and so began a journey that would eventually bring Lauer and her children to Northern Virginia.
These days, Lauer is a successful businesswoman and is in the middle of promoting her memoir, “Beggars or Angels,” but her life was far from glamorous when she first came to the United States. “I didn’t speak the language, had two kids and was challenged to find work and survive.”
Lauer initially found work waiting tables, threading recording tape onto reel-to-reel spools and, for a short while, working a late-late shift in an underground casino. During these early days in America, Lauer realized that the cycle of poverty for single parents needed to be broken. “My children never saw me because I was always working … many [single parents] are now professionals or students and we want to be the best we can be but we are unable to break the cycle.”
Using welfare, Lauer put herself through cosmetology school and broke into the beauty industry. Working in salons allowed Lauer to meet others who had had similar experiences struggling to make ends meet, and in 1994 this led her to found a nonprofit, Devotion to Children, helping low-income families find affordable childcare.
The nonprofit began small, with volunteer help and donations from friends, salon clients and small fundraisers. After raising some funds, Devotion to Children donated to other groups who had similar missions and its network began to grow. This past year, Devotion to Children was able to help over 800 children in the Metro-D.C. area.
With the release of her book and the success of her nonprofit, Lauer looks forward to even more growth. “The more people who know our story, the more attention our mission will receive. Right now, Devotion to Children is still very local, but I want to become national and ultimately international. The issues surrounding childcare are not only in our area.” —Katie Bowles