Family, friends, students and colleagues gathered this past Sunday to celebrate the life of Henry Fuhrmann, a former USC Annenberg professor and L.A. Times assistant managing editor and head of the copy desk who died from a sudden and unexpected illness in September.
Nearly 400 people joined the celebration at the DoubleTree Hotel ballroom in Little Tokyo to pay their respects to Fuhrmann — a testament to the number of lives he touched and affected.
Guests watched a retrospective of Fuhrmann’s 65 years – a collage of images that impressed the audience with the richness of his life in and beyond the workplace.
Fuhrmann was a husband, a father of two daughters and two stepchildren, and a loving cat dad.
“He made everyone feel loved,” said Lindi Dreibelbis, Fuhrmann’s wife. Fuhrmann cared deeply about the relationships in his life and community.
“If you forced me to name a dozen stories I was proud to be a part of, it would take me some work,” said Fuhrmann in a recorded video. “I can name hundreds of people that I can remember more than the work.”
“He was the best dad,” said Angela Fuhrmann, one of Henry’s two daughters. “Regardless of all the work that he was doing, he always showed up.”
Elena Fuhrmann said she learned from her father that “you don’t need to be the loudest person in the room to have your voice be heard,” but instead “to lead with kindness and calmness.”
USC alum Jessica Doherty, former executive editor of Annenberg Media, remembered working with Fuhrmann in the newsroom. She said the professor would tell her they were equals.
“I always found it so baffling that he always said that we were equals and co-editors ... because he was so well accomplished and so amazing,” Doherty said. She said the professor used to say to her, “You run the show. This is about you and the team. I’m just here to help.”
Doherty, who overlapped with Fuhrmann for several years, attended the service along with several other alumni.
Fuhrmann, a Japanese American journalist, also worked with the Asian American Journalists Association, advocating for representation and diversity in newsrooms.
One of his most notable accomplishments was a simple yet immensely important keystroke. The removal of the hyphen from “Asian American,” which Fuhrmann said implied that an individual was not a full American.
When used previously in “Asian-American” or “African-American” the hyphen implied that someone wasn’t a full citizen of America, but only part American even if they were born and raised in America.
“To him, that hyphen had to come out,” said Ruthane Salido, L.A. Times employee and Fuhrmann’s ex-wife. “Henry was really determined that hyphenate Americans be regarded as full Americans.”
To Fuhrmann, hyphens divided while their purpose was to connect.
As a result of Fuhrmann’s efforts, the Associated Press Stylebook, the leading style guide in the journalism industry, removed the hyphen from its stylistic guidelines.
Fuhrmann is also a core contributor to the Annenberg curriculum and has a permanent footprint in the program’s required modules in which he teaches undergraduate and graduate students how to use language around race with precision.
Fuhrmann’s work never took him away from what was really important to him.
“Henry was calm and kind and a listener,” said Don Chomiak, a classmate and friend of Fuhrmann’s at Columbia University. “Although he was very mild in his manner, there was steel inside. He was tough when he had to be, but he chose to be kind and to be patient and to be a listener.”
In the video, his wife recalled how the pair met.
“Henry and I met in a very crowded place: online dating, as most people do,” she said. “With a 91% match, it seemed like fate.”
“His smile is what caught my attention,” said Dreibelbis, “and then I read his beautifully written profile, of course.”
She continued to share the memories she made with Fuhrmann.
“Our wedding was really small and he was concerned about the small portions at these eloquent restaurants, so it was his idea to have the party bus to stop at In-N-Out Burger,” said Dreibelbis.
Doherty was astounded when at the end of the service, it was revealed that Fuhrmann played a huge part in planning it himself.
“I thought it was so beautiful as a last parting gift to everyone whose lives he touched, and especially because he was such a community-focused man and reporter and professor,” Doherty said.
“It was really amazing and heartwarming to see that he kind of had one last trick of kindness up his sleeve,” Doherty added. “It’s surreal to think that, in his final moments of life, he was still thinking of others.”
As the service concluded, attendees were gifted Fuhrmann’s famous coffee mugs filled with candy. “It felt like he was back with us for a minute,” Doherty said.
Chace Beech, who earned a master’s in journalism in 2020, fondly remembers when Fuhrmann was her professor.
“When I think about Professor Fuhrmann, I think about his pursuit of excellence when it comes to writing and editing. His North Star was excellence in journalism, but he didn’t do it with an iron fist,” she said, “he did it with complete gentleness and a real sense of humor and a lightness.”
She said he taught her to “take the work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”
Elias Jabbe, a former contributor to Annenberg Media, considered Fuhrmann a longtime mentor.
“He chose February 19 as the day for his memorial service because it’s the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans,” Jabbe said.
As the video concluded, viewers got to hear words of wisdom from Fuhrmann one last time: “Together we can do so much that can make a difference and that’s really what it is all about.”