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From the glamour of Los Angeles to a picturesque English village, from a fashion company in Kabul to the refugee camps in Pakistan, Jean’s diaries reveal the astonishing double life of a remarkable woman.

Jean Heringman Willacy

My mother, Jean, fell in love with Afghanistan in 1967. Also with Henry Willacy, a furrier based in Kabul who became her partner, hence the improbable surname. Improbable, too, was running her own successful business with no prior experience and in the predominantly male world of Kabul commerce. Her diaries begin with lively tales of her travels and of the people she met, worked with, interviewed, and even tape recorded wherever she went.

I have a lifetime of memories and experiences during my years in Afghanistan and would deeply love seeing something rewarding from those days.”

Those days, as adventurous and carefree as they began, ended in the disasters of invasion and war, when Jean would be plunged headlong into the Afghan refugee crisis.

Thatched Cottage

Over the years,  I met many of the Afghans whom she sponsored. They loved visiting her at her quaint cottage in Dorset. Sadly, I heard about the plight of many others. I attended some of Jean’s fundraising talks which captivated her audiences; and I listened as she challenged and cajoled implacable bureaucrats about refugee quotas that were too small and waiting times that were too long.

When Jean died in 2004, she left a wealth of Afghan material that seemed to me like the legacy of a book-in-waiting. I felt I owed it to her and to her adoptive refugees to make every effort to transcribe all she had so lovingly preserved for more than twenty years of their mutual struggle to overcome the tragedy of war and its aftermath. Small wonder that she was considered a ‘ Keeper of Families.’ Tragically, so much of what Jean experienced and chronicled remains all too relevant today as Afghanistan still makes headlines and one refugee crisis follows another.

Before her death, Jean wrote:

            “Their stories must be told to show the world that it is not merely enough to have escaped tyranny and oppression. Those who preach compassion must also show it in a practical way. Political expediency must never be allowed to override moral obligations.”

Hopefully, Jean and the refugees whom she championed can now live on and inspire others, just as Jean wished. The Keeper of Families is the best tribute I can give to her and to all Afghan refugees.  

Jean and Sue
At the Beginning

While all the stories in this book are true, to protect the anonymity and privacy of the people who figure in them, I have changed some names, dates, places of residence, occupations, and other identifying details.