The Rise and Fall (and Rise and Fall) of Marcy Rogers

In the name of charity, she maneuvered her way to the top of Dallas Society—then came those inconvenient questions about money. Twice.

Uh oh. Here come some people I know. I’m going to hide.” Marcy Rogers ducks her head. Across the room at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, three elegant, coiffured women can be seen descending a circular staircase. They scan the mirrored room, but if they recognize the waifish woman with the dark head bowed over a bowl of vegetable chowder, they don’t show it. In the city where she had clawed her way to social acceptance, Marcy Rogers was a pariah.

In the mid-eighties, when she and her then-husband used to eat there several times a week, Marcy knew everybody in the room, and everybody knew her. But Dallas has changed, and so had she. Now she was broke. Her North Dallas home had been foreclosed on. A consumer counseling service had taken over her debts. Her furniture was on consignment, her gowns at a resale shop. She had even borrowed $3,000 from her maid. Only one of her sixteen credit cards was any good, and that was the one she was planning to use in a few days to start a new life in—where else?—Southern California.

Marcy Rogers was a nobody when she arrived in Dallas in 1976—not much money, no class, no contacts. But she had a radiating charm that could transform strangers into instant allies and, more important, converts to her cause—raising money to help children with genetically deformed faces. Parlaying her personal skills into social connections, she rose through the strata of Dallas society until the charity that she had founded, the National Craniofacial Foundation, had the backing of some of the city’s biggest corporations and the wealthiest families. She began to widen her circle: a plug in Dear Abby, an appearance on the Donahue show. Yet it all began to disintegrate in 1987 around the time she filed for her divorce. The foundation board accused her of bungled management. Marcy was forced to step down.

Everyone expected that it was all over for her, that she would slink away. Her best friends advised her to get out of town. But Marcy did an incredible thing: She stayed and started over. She built a new foundation, dedicated to the same heart-clutching cause. She found seed money, organized a new board, and soon was holding fundraising galas even more fabulous than before. She testified on Capitol Hill. She flew to the Soviet Union. She became friends with Cher. It all seemed too good to be true—and it was. Last June, Marcy was ejected from the board of the second foundation, for essentially the same reasons as before. She left the organization in debt and tarnished by scandal. She also left many embittered friends and not a few enemies, for whom her rise and fall had become a morality play, the story of someone who had reached too high and finally gotten her comeuppance.

Since then Marcy has engaged in a great deal of breast-beating and a great many expressions of remorse. Explaining her life to a stranger serves, it seems, as a kind of catharsis. Sipping cappuccino, surrounded by the seductive world from which she has recently been banished, Marcy turns weepy. Her skin is pale; she is so thin she looks like a wraith. “I’ve been through so much—you just don’t know what it’s like. All these people whispering about you,” she says, her brown eyes earnestly pained. “I just want to go to California, and I don’t want anybody to know where I’ve gone.”

IT IS NOT EASY TO LOOK AT A CHILD WHO HAS A craniofacial deformity. Some have faces that are so distorted that they look freakish, expressionless, and inhuman. Many people look at these kids and turn away. Marcy Rogers looked at them and saw shades of herself.

She was raised in upper-middle-class New Jersey, the Eldest of six children in a disharmonious home. When she was fourteen, a fight between her parents took a vicious turn; her mother slammed a telephone into her father’s head. That night Marcy slept alongside her mother. Not long afterward, her mother killed herself with a drug overdose. Marcy was the one who found her on the bathroom floor, unconscious.

As an adolescent, Marcy hated the way she looked. She was the fat girl in the mirror with blue-speckled glasses, braces, and no friends. Years later, when Marcy was working as a counselor in the office of a plastic surgeon in Virginia and met her first craniofacial patients, she felt she understood their social isolation. “I walked into this room and there were all these people who looked like—oh, God, they had faces and eyes out to here, and no noses, and their parents couldn’t even look at them,” she recalls. She got a master’s degree in counseling so she could understand their psychological needs and help them adjust to an insensitive society.

In 1976 Marcy and her first husband, an architect, moved to Dallas. They had chosen that city so that Marcy could work for Dr. Ken Salyer, a prominent plastic surgeon who had performed the first craniofacial surgery in the Southwest. Fifteen years older than Marcy, Salyer was tall and intense. Although he was also married, there was an overpowering attraction between them. To Marcy, he was heroic. She could hardly believe someone so forceful and gifted would be interested in her. Their love affair was agonizing. She separated from her husband in the summer of 1977, but Salyer did not leave his wife until a year and a half later. In May 1983 they were married.

Two years before, they had formed the Foundation for Craniofacial Deformities, a nonprofit organization that supported craniofacial patients and their families. Together, Marcy and Ken made an ideal team. He was a typical surgeon, highly skilled and controlled. While he could be aloof and withdrawn from patients, she was warmhearted and intimate, the perfect person to console anxious patients and chat up prospective contributors.

As the foundation’s executive director, Marcy was responsible for establishing credibility and drumming up a network of patrons and volunteers. It was she

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