Eugene, OR — After over four decades of advocating for orphaned and vulnerable children, Holt International’s Susan Soonkeum Cox will retire at the end of December. Cox, who is Vice President of Policy and External Affairs, was elected to the Holt International Board of Directors in 1976 as the board’s first adoptee, and in 1984 joined Holt’s staff as Director of Development.
Phil Littleton, Holt President and CEO says, “Susan’s life has embodied the beauty and extraordinary mission of Holt International. Born in Korea and one of the first children adopted through Holt, Susan has made important connections worldwide concerning adoption and the needs of children. Her life, her passion and her focus on what is best for the child, all leave a legacy behind that will bless Holt for years to come.”
“When I joined the Holt Board, it was a pioneering concept to include an adoptee,” Cox said. “I never expected that my life’s work would be advocating for children and for improving adoption practices, but it has been a privilege beyond measure.”
Cox has been an unwavering advocate for the adoptee perspective, directing Holt Heritage Camps and leading adoptee and family tours to Korea. In 1999, she founded the First International Gathering of Korean Adoptees in Washington, D.C.
In addition to the gathering, Cox organized many other events for adoptees, including the National Reunion of Vietnamese Adoptees in Baltimore; the Vietnam Photo Exhibition and the Photo Exhibit of the First Generation of Korean Adoptees in Washington, D.C.; the Reunion of First Generation of Korean Adoptees; and special events with Korean adoptees to honor Korean War Veterans that included leading a delegation of adoptees and Korean War Veterans to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Cox is also editor of “Voices from Another Place” and “More Voices.”
“When I began working in adoption, I felt like an island,” said Cox. “As I connected with adoptees through camps and tours, I witnessed and understood the profound connection of the adoption experience. This connection was so powerful I believed it needed to be shared, particularly with the first generation adoptees who never experienced connection to other adoptees.”
“When I began working in adoption, I felt like an island. As I connected with adoptees through camps and tours, I witnessed and understood the profound connection of the adoption experience. This connection was so powerful I believed it needed to be shared, particularly with the first generation adoptees who never experienced connection to other adoptees.”Susan Cox
Hong Koo Lee, former Korean prime minister and former Korean ambassador to the United States, said, “Susan has successfully led a remarkable change in popular perception of international adoption and its positive impact on both Korea and the United States — and perhaps the global community. The success of the Korean adoption program to the United States owes a great deal to Susan Cox’s leadership and imagination.”
In addition to her work in adoption and child welfare, Cox was named U.S. Representative to Women’s Vital Voices Conference in Montevideo; invited by Secretary Madeleine Albright to serve on the Advisory Committee for Voluntary Foreign Aid; and was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the first White House Commission on Asian and Pacific Islanders.
Cox was designated by Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare as U.S. spokesperson for Korean adoption for Olympic Games in 1988; In 2005 was selected as an “Honorary Citizen of Seoul”; appointed as an Honorary Consul for the Republic of Korea in Oregon in 2013; received “Award of Merit” by Ministry of Health & Welfare in 2020; currently serves on the Governor’s Oregon Commission of Asian and Pacific Islanders.
As Cox reflected on her career, she said, “I have witnessed the positive changes and evolution in adoption and child welfare practices over forty years, but more is necessary. Adoption and child welfare practices must consistently and deliberately be evaluated to better serve children.”
“Susan missed no opportunity to draw attention to, and highlight, the vital significance of the Adoption Convention — through the conferences she organized or in her work with countries of origin of children, encouraging those countries to join and correctly apply its safeguards and procedures,” said Hans van Loon, Former Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. “She took an active part in the five-yearly meetings of the HCCH’s Special Commission on the practical operation of the Convention, sharing both her personal and her professional experience with experts from all over the world.”
Cox experienced the full circle of adoption in 1993 when she searched for her birth family in Korea. “I was looking for my birthmother, who I learned died the same year I visited Korea for the first time,” she said. “Instead of my mother, I met half-brothers who never knew of me. I’m grateful to have found them and while we share the same biology, we do not have shared history. For me, it is the shared history that is the true essence of family.”
Cox acknowledges that adoption is bittersweet. “But the reality is that for literally thousands of children the only possibility for them to have a family is adoption,” she said.
“I visited an orphanage for the first time when I was 24 years old,” Cox remembers. “Seeing the children, now adults, who were not adopted brought a stark clarity to how different our lives were because I had a family, and they did not. When I see those same adults today, it is more poignant because now they are orphans with gray hair.”
Cox lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband, Greg Fitz-Gerald.