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Sunday, February 1, 2015
- Werner H. Fornos, who came to the United States as a teenager from his native Germany following World War II, was later elected to the Maryland General Assembly, and became among the world’s foremost spokespersons for global population stabilization, died on January 16 following a lengthy illness. He was 79.
Elected to represent Annapolis and Southern Anne Arundel County in the Maryland House of elegates from 1967-1970. Fornos served on the environmental matters committee and led efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, dualize the William Preston Lane Bay Bridge and to prevent the return of slot machines to the state.
In 1982, after heading Planned Parenthood of Washington, D.C. and the Population Action Council, a division of the non-profit think tank Population Institute, the board of directors of the Institute elected him president of that organization.
A tireless advocate of world population stabilization, he traveled throughout the United States and the world lecturing on the environmental and societal dangers of rampant population growth. Following his retirement as president of the Institute in 2005, he established Global Population Education, allowing him to continue to speak and write extensively on international population, development and women’s rights issues.
Among the honors Fornos garnered as a result of his advocacy efforts were the 2003 United Nations Population Award; the 1991 Humanist of the Year Award of the American Humanist Association, which has conferred that honor on Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, John Kenneth Gailbrath, and, most recently, Gloria Steinem, among others; the Order of Merit from Germany, the highest distinction from the German government for a non-German in recognition of humanitarian efforts; elected membership in the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population; and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Maryland.
Born in Leipzig, Germany, on November 5, 1933, Fornos was separated from his family when an Allied forces bombing raid on December 3, 1942 destroyed the apartment building where they lived. He was trapped beneath rubble for three days before a search party rescued him after hearing him tapping on water pipes.
Later, he and friends were caught playing with fireworks on a church roof and sent to a reform school that subjected him to harsh discipline, including a whipping and solitary confinement for reading a book without permission.
In July 1944, he escaped not only from the school but from Germany by hiding in the brake box of a train transporting German troops to Normandy, France. During fierce fighting between the Allies and Germans at Saint Lo, he was rescued by members of the 29th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army.
Fornos subsequently made several attempts to get into the United States. In the first of these, he was smuggled onto a troop ship by soldier friends, but was discovered by army officers who turned him over to German welfare workers while the vessel was still docked in Bremerhaven.
He made three more efforts to stow away on troop ships, twice getting as far as New York and once even reaching Ohio, where a U.S. infantry corporal had given him his address and told him to look him up if he ever got to the States. By the time Fornos reached the address, the corporal had moved and there was no forwarding address. He was again turned over to immigration officials.
On January 5, 1950, Fornos stowed away in the rear baggage compartment of a C-54 military transport plane. But when he arrived at Westover Air Force Base in Massachussets, he was once again discovered. This time, however, he drew the attention of Elizabeth L. Fornos, who, along with members of a church group from Newton, Mass., had come to visit displaced persons awaiting deportation at the East Boston Immigration Detention Center.
After learning of the teenager’s plight, Mrs. Fornos and her husband, Jaime Fornos, a businessman, obtained permission to keep him in their home while the deportation process progressed.
Meanwhile, concerned that the 16-year-old would be returned to the Russian zone in East Germany, the Fornoses, their neighbours and community organizations gained the support of U.S. Rep. Christian Herter in a successful campaign to have the youth declared a legal immigrant.
Later, in an effort spearheaded by then House of Representatives Majority Leader John W. McCormack, Werner was declared an American citizen by an act of Congress. He was subsequently adopted by the Fornoses and changed his name from Werner Farenhold to Werner Fornos.
Fornos is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Ann Kellerman of Stone Mountain, Georgia; two sons, Jaime Martin Fornos (Brenda) of Queen Anne, Maryland, and Werner Fornos, Jr. of Northampton, Pennsylvania; and five grandchildren, Grace and Zachary Kellerman of Stone Mountain; Werner Fornos III of Northampton; and Skylar and Collin Fornos of Queen Anne, Maryland; three brothers, Karl Heinz Farenhold (Lore) of Berlin, Germany; Joachim Farenhold and Berbel Farenhold of Leipzig, Germany; and a sister, Monika Farenhold of Berlin.
He is further survived by his life partner, Moyne Gross of Basye, Virginia; her children, Jennifer Jeanne Gross of Branford, Connecticut; Paul Edward Gross (Darla Lamper) of Boulder, Colorado; Jon Gross (Maura) of Moraga, California; and her grandchildren, which Mr. Fornos regarded “as my very own,” Michael and Katie Pietras of Branford; Eddie and Brian Gross of Moraga; and Alex, Hannah and Jack Gross of Boulder.
A celebration of Fornos’s life will be held at Bryce Mountain Lodge in Basye, Virginia, from 1-3 p.m. on February 2. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Hospice of Winchester in Winchester, Virginia.