Ex-Fort Worth resident who escaped from Cairo shares joy of Egyptian people

Posted Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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(Note: This story was originally published on Feb. 11, 2011.)

When Mary Thornberry woke up in her son's Washington state home Friday morning -- and her daughter-in-law told her that Egypt's embattled President Hosni Mubarak had finally stepped down -- she had only one thought: "Thanks be to God."

"I was happy," said Thornberry, the 76-year-old former Fort Worth resident whose efforts to leave Cairo last week captured national attention. "I was surprised. I was just wondering how long it would take for him to get the message he must step down."

Thornberry's journey out of Cairo, where she moved about 15 years ago to study Egyptian history, drew attention this month after her son, Phil Derrick, contacted national news outlets to try to help his mother.

He was concerned that she couldn't leave her apartment and seek safety amid sometimes violent political protests on Egypt's streets.

After several days, an Egyptian man who works for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo helped Thornberry reach the airport.

She wore a long skirt and hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women, to make her look like his mother in case they were stopped.

She caught a flight to Athens, Greece, and then New York, where her son met her.

She said she wishes she could have been in Tahrir Square on Friday, celebrating Mubarak's departure.

"I would have loved to be out in the area, jumping up and down," Thornberry said. "With the military taking charge, I think that's the best option. But we must remember that it must be handled cautiously. It would be so easy to become a military state, and we don't want that."

She said the people of Egypt must make sure their country doesn't fall back into the hands of a dictator -- or the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The Brotherhood is apt to be very quiet and then come forward," she said.

"In a democracy, they can win. Once they get in control, there would be no democracy anymore. It would be one man, one vote, one time."

Thornberry and her husband, James Derrick, lived in Fort Worth for about 20 years.

James Derrick, who has since died, worked on the crew of a KC-135 aerial refueling craft, and she was a nurse.

She knows she needs to let tensions settle down in Egypt, she said, but she hopes to return there to live -- unless it becomes an Islamic state.

"I would definitely go back to Egypt to live," she said.

But her son, a former Grand Prairie resident who teaches high school social studies in Cle Elum, Wash., said he's in no hurry.

"I'm not letting my mom go back until this thing really hashes itself out," Derrick said. "If it does work out, and it's clear, we're still looking at least six months down the road.

"We didn't get her out of the frying pan just to throw her back into the fire."

Anna M. Tinsley,


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