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Holt criticized for 'irresponsible' funeral for ill-fated adoptee

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A clay rose made by Korean adoptees in memory of Phillip Clay protests Holt Korea's 'irresponsibility.'
A clay rose made by Korean adoptees in memory of Phillip Clay protests Holt Korea's 'irresponsibility.'

By You Soo-sun

Holt Children's Services in Korea is being criticized by the Korean adoptee community, after the funeral service it held for Phillip Clay — a deported Korean adoptee — Tuesday and Wednesday. The remarks made by its chairwoman, Molly Holt, about Clay are at the height of the criticism; adoptees have described her comments as "insensitive" and "irresponsible," and they highlight the agency's disregard of the adoptee community.

Adoptees, at the service Wednesday, raised issues with Holt regarding its handling of Clay's funeral, which may be summed up in three arguments.

First, they argue that Holt Children's Services had resisted holding the funeral for Clay until the Korea Adoption Services intervened and said it was necessary and co-hosted the event.

Secondly, the agency refused to have the service in English, the common language for the adoptee community. Even when an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare pleaded with Holt agency, it allegedly refused. Later, an English translation was provided by an employee of the Korea Adoption Services.

What sparked the greatest anger happened during Clay's cremation.

At the cremation, John Compton, a board member of the Korea Adoption Services and a fellow adoptee expressed his discontent with the adoption agency.

"We stand here today, to honor another fallen adoptee, a life an adoption agency vowed to protect. It is with regret they have failed Phillip."

He also said that "this funeral is a perfect example that, as adoptees, our best interests are still being ignored."

"I urge the ones who vowed to protect Phillip, to effect change to prevent the loss of another precious life. Rest in peace Phillip," he said, referring to the Holt agency.

According to adoptees present during the ceremony, Molly Holt responded to his statement with smears, including remarks that Clay, during his visit to Holt Services the prior week, had used all its paper and ink. The agency paid for the taxi he took to its office, which Molly Holt also allegedly complained about.

The word quickly spread to other adoptees in Korea and abroad.

David M. Warburton, a Korean adoptee in Canada, said he was "appalled" at Holt Children Services' intention not to hold a memorial for Clay.

"As his custodian, it meant to deprive him of basic human dignity and a custom closely valued and shared by one of its founding ideologies. The fact that it refused to fully accommodate a bilingual service, one that would have been important for Clay and those attending within his community, contributes to a longstanding divisive relationship it has had with Korean adoptees. The intervention in the lives of others deserves more responsibility and demands more respect."

Hanna Sofia Jung Johansson, a 41-year-old Korean adoptee in Sweden, offered to pay for all the expenses incurred during the weekend prior to his suicide. She said that she would pay the costs for the "taxi to Ilsan; meals during Friday to Sunday; printing papers; and ink."

"I am truly sorry that you felt that Phillip was an obligation, rather than a fellow human being," she wrote.

"Phillip is not the first or last international adoptee who will end their life," another Korean adoptee wrote on her social media.

For Kristin Pak, 41, a representative of Adoptee Solidarity Korea and a Korean adoptee, sorrowfully said Holt's behavior was nothing new.

"It's unfortunately not surprising because it does not respect us at all."

Holt Children's Services denied all three allegations and argued that the Korea Adoption Services is in part to blame.

"She was the one who took the most care of Phillip," said an official from the Holt agency. "We also never intended to not hold the funeral and Molly Holt never intended to say hurtful things," she added.

The agency also denied being Clay's legal guardian, although it facilitated his adoption.

Phillip Clay, 42, was found dead after falling from a 14-story-building in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province. Although the police investigation is still underway, most believe the alleged suicide is the result of the ordeals he endured as a Korean adoptee in America.

He was sent to the United States at age 10 and he returned unwillingly to Korea after he was deported. Clay was among the many Korean adoptees who did not receive U.S. citizenship, which is the case for many adopted to America before the mid 1980s, usually as a result of their adoptive parents' failing to go through with the naturalization process. Clay was deported to Korea in 2012 for having a criminal record coupled with a lack of U.S. citizenship.

Clay's sufferings did not cease when he returned. He had struggled to adjust to a new life in a country – with a new language and culture – he had been away from for decades. He also suffered from psychological issues that were not adequately met by existing safety-nets in Korea.


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