From Apartheid to America

04.25.17 | by Kimberly Durnan

From Apartheid to America

    As a champion of equality, it was difficult for Bridget de Bruyn to live in apartheid-era South Africa in the 1970s. She and her husband, Tony, strongly opposed discrimination based on skin color and were against the inequality for housing, education and job opportunities. Also, Bridget’s sister had been exiled for her political beliefs against apartheid and had already moved to Boston. So the de Bruyns left behind family, friends, jobs and security to move with their four children to Dallas, Texas. 

    “Texas seemed friendlier,” Bridget recalled as to why she didn’t move to Boston with her sister. “The northeast is very insular and hard to break into.” The move still proved to be challenging, particularly being far away from family. “The majority of South Africans who emigrated at the time were Jewish, so they had a group to support each other,” Bridget said. “A letter took three months to get to South Africa, and if you wanted to telephone you had to get an operator and it was very expensive. We had to cut ties with everything we knew.”

    The South African government restricted the amount of money the family could take with them when they left the country, and they had difficulty getting loans in America. “Sears was the only store to give us credit, and we used it buy mattresses and bedding.” But the family had difficulties finding someone to give them a loan to buy a house. “God works in the most mysterious ways,” Bridget said. “No one would give us a loan but our realtor found a savings and loan officer in Garland. The manager was a former U.S. Air Force pilot who had flown alongside South Africans while fighting in World War II. He told them South Africans “were the most honorable people so I’m going to give you the loan.”

    The family ended up buying a house near Transfiguration. “I walked onto the property and met Father Terry Roper, who was from England,” Bridget recalled. “We automatically connected because we both had an Anglican background. The church and people were so kind, and they were just wonderful, caring people. Their focus was to see and serve Christ in all persons, and that was it for me.” In 1986 everyone in the family became U.S. citizens and 90 people from Transfiguration attended the swearing-in ceremony.

    Tony eventually founded his own business as a financial consultant in the insurance industry and the family finished raising their four children in Texas. Philip was 13 and Nicky 11 when they moved to the United States. The twins, Helen and Anthony, were only 2 years old when they moved to Dallas. “We almost have two families the older ones are more South African and the twins are completely Texan through and through,” Bridget said. Once grown, Nicky moved back to South Africa and now works for an Anglican school.

    Bridget has been active at the parish, serving on the vestry and in other capacities. She has kept ties to her former homeland through mission. She works with an outreach program at Transfiguration and Parish Episcopal School that has built a pre-school in South Africa that houses 180 mostly orphaned children, from babies to age 6.  In June 2018, some of the church’s youth, parishioners and students from Parish Episcopal School will take a pilgrimage to South Africa. Bridget said she is grateful for the role Transfiguration has played in her life. “It was as if we were led on this path with every blessing from God.”