Edward B. Marks, 94; Aided World's Refugees

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2005

Edward B. Marks, 94, who spent more than 50 years helping refugees of war, disease and politics around the world find new homes, died of heart disease and renal failure Oct. 8 at his home in Mill Valley, Calif.

Mr. Marks, an urbane and well-traveled man, worked since the 1930s on relief, resettlement and rehabilitation of refugees on four continents. He hopscotched around the globe with several government and nongovernmental agencies, turning up near homeless people in postwar Europe, war-torn Africa and impoverished Asian countries. He was an administrator who kept his staff focused on the people who needed their help, a colleague said.

"In some ways, he was the repository of our collective conscience. He really understood at a gut level what it meant to be a refugee," said Lavinia Limon, president and chief executive of what is now the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Mr. Marks, a New York City native and graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University, began his career as a journalist with the American Wine and Liquor Journal. But from 1938 on, most of his attention was focused on refugees, whether displaced by war, famine or governmental actions.

"He just had a genuine interest in people. I can't tell you how many times I took cabs with him and he'd get into conversations with cabdrivers, ask where they were from and usually had been to some little place in Africa or Asia," said stepdaughter Vivian Barad of San Francisco. "He was just interested in people and just truly wanted the satisfaction of helping people."

After he received a master's degree in sociology from Columbia in 1938, he was working at a magazine published by the Welfare Council of NYC. Mr. Marks interviewed the director of the National Refugee Service for an article about efforts to place prewar refugees in flight from Adolf Hitler and was offered a job.

He worked there until 1942, when he joined the War Relocation Authority, the agency responsible for resettlement of Japanese Americans who had been forced from their homes on the West Coast by the federal government during World War II. He worked briefly on public housing and veterans housing after the war ended, then joined the U.N. International Refugee Organization.

Sent to Athens in 1950, Mr. Marks found thousands of refugees from Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Yugoslavia fleeing their homes in search of asylum. He developed a way to register, examine and prepare refugees for immigration interviews with representatives of Australia, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and the United States.

Mr. Marks stayed on in Greece with the International Organization for Migration and, in late 1953, returned to the United States to open a New York office, which was needed to help receive more than 100,000 European refugees preparing to immigrate. In 1957, Mr. Marks was sent to Yugoslavia to help resettle more than 20,000 Hungarian refugees.

He took a leave of absence in 1958 to become the first executive director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees, established to coordinate the efforts of U.S. agencies on behalf of refugees during the U.N. World Refugee Year.

Mr. Marks joined the Agency for International Development's Africa bureau in 1962 and served in Lagos, Nigeria, during that nation's civil war with Biafra. He worked in Saigon and London and in the agency's Asia bureau, which required him to leave his Leesburg home to travel to India, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

In 1976, Mr. Marks received the agency's first Distinguished Career Award.

He also worked for UNICEF and became deputy director of the secretariat for the 1979 U.N. International Year of the Child. He was interim president of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF in 1985, then was elected to the committee's board of directors.

Throughout his life, he wrote freelance articles for magazines, including the New Yorker and Playboy. In retirement, he wrote two books about U.N. art and poster collections and a memoir, "Still Counting: Achievements and Follies of a Nonagenarian" (2004). With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, he produced a radio show that celebrated the American comic song and was broadcast in the Boston area in the 1990s.

Mr. Marks lived in Leesburg for about 35 years.

His first wife, Margaret Laurens Marks, died in 1980. A son, Thomas Marks, died in 2003.

Survivors include his wife of 18 years, Vera Barad Marks of Mill Valley; a daughter from his first marriage, Katharine Marks of Santa Fe, N.M.; a second stepdaughter, Amelia Barad Humphries of St. Helena, Calif.; a stepson, Michael Barad of San Francisco; and eight grandsons.

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