Norwood orphan is reunited with her carer after 60 years

28 February 2020

When Liz Power, our receptionist at Norwood’s head office, answered a call from a lady wanting to find the children who she’d looked after at Norwood’s orphanage over 60 years ago, both women were left overwhelmed at how fate had brought them together again.

Liz reunited with Angela

Although Angela Marber and Liz Power had not met in more than 60 years, they recognised each other immediately across a crowded café in North London. And if their reunion was the stuff of a Hollywood tearjerker, it was partly inspired by a West End production.

Mrs Marber, a glamorous and youthful 80, is the mother of Patrick Marber, who is directing the new Tom Stoppard play, Leopoldstadt. It was a conversation with him linked to the play that sparked her determination to seek out the orphaned children she looked after for Norwood from 1956.

The then 16-year-old from Golders Green had volunteered to work with children of colour, because “no one else wanted to. “I was considered too young to volunteer on my own so I made an older boyfriend sign up and I would go with him to help until I was old enough to go on my own,” Mrs Marber recalled. “I just felt compelled to do it. My parents certainly didn’t like the idea of it. But I had had a happy childhood and wanted to do something for children less fortunate.”

At the time, Jewish children of colour supported by Norwood faced prejudice from within and outside the community. One of those children was Elisheba, a nine-year-old from India who Mrs Marber loved visiting at the orphanage every Sunday. “I always wondered where she had gone and wanted to find her. I thought Norwood might help me so I looked them up and dialled the number,” she explained. “I said something like ‘I am trying to find children that I used to look after at Norwood’s orphanage about 64 years ago — one of them was called Elisheba’.

After a short pause, the receptionist asked: “Angela is that you?” It was Mrs Power, who went on: “This is me. I am Elisheba.” After a stunned silence, both were overcome with emotion. “It was such a weird and impossible thing,” said Mrs Marber, who after the “remarkable” phone call arranged to meet the woman she had been searching for. It must have been fate as Mrs Power, 70, was not meant to be working that day but had been called in to cover for a colleague.

She had changed her name to Liz after leaving the orphanage at 15 to go into foster care and few of her fellow Norwood workers knew about her background. “It was beshert [destiny],” said Mrs Marber, clutching the hand of her long-lost Elisheba. For Mrs Power, it was a special reconnection. “I had often thought of Angela and how amazing she was. I would wonder where is she now and what is she doing. “I always wished I could find her but never thought of looking for her. When I got that call, I thought ‘someone up there wanted us to get together’,” she added, fighting back tears. Their private reunion shortly before speaking to the JC was full of “long hugs” and catching up. Mrs Marber was comforted to learn that the child she knew as “experiencing terrible sadness” had flourished into a woman “full of warmth, love and family”.

Mrs Power arrived in London from India after her parents had separated and her father’s parents were unable to look after her. She was sent with her brother to live with their father in Stamford Hill but it soon became apparent that he could not cope. “We spoke no English and it was very frightening. All these people were talking to me and I didn’t understand a thing. My father brought us to Norwood.”

At the orphanage, she was split up from her brother. “We had our routine and our chores we had to do every day.” The children and looked forward to Sundays when volunteers such as Mrs Marber came to visit and take them on outings. “I remember Angela arriving every Sunday. She was beautiful and I couldn’t wait to see her.”

Liz, Angela, and friends

Mrs Marber recalled in heartbreaking detail how the young Elisheba would prepare for their outings by putting white powder on her skin. She had told the child that she had no need to do that. “She was so endearing and just so lovely.”

When Elisheba latterly moved in with a foster family, she always “felt a bit like an outsider”.

She married at 20 and has two children and five grandchildren, showing her family photos to Mrs Marber with great pride.

Now that the women have been reunited, they will not lose touch again. They talked excitedly about future get-togethers with Mrs Power planning to visit Mrs Marber at her Surrey home. For Mrs Marber, there was the satisfaction that “all the warmth and love Elisheba was missing as a child she now has in abundance”.

This article was published in the JC