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Robert Horn III, 59; Professor Wrote of Coping With ALS

November 01, 2002|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

Robert C. Horn III, a professor emeritus of political science at Cal State Northridge who chronicled his long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, died of pneumonia Tuesday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. He was 59.

An expert on the former Soviet Union, Horn taught political science at Cal State Northridge from 1969 until his illness forced him to retire in 1991.

Known as a dedicated teacher, he had published a book on Soviet-Indian relations, established the university's Model United Nations program and won the campus' Distinguished Professor Award before he learned, in 1988, that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a progressive neuromuscular disease that causes paralysis and death.

Baseball great Lou Gehrig died of the disease in 1941, two years after his diagnosis.

After Horn's diagnosis, he continued to teach and to coach girls soccer at Chatsworth High School. He had been instrumental in getting girls soccer adopted in the Los Angeles Unified School District, his family said.

When Horn retired from teaching after ALS left him unable to breathe on his own, he joked: "My major consolation is that the Soviet Union retired at the same time I did."

No longer able to swallow or smile, Horn wrote a book about his ALS in 1996 titled "How Will They Know if I'm Dead? Transcending Disability and Terminal Illness."

In a 1996 opinion piece in The Times, he explained why he had chosen life:

"After five years of being tethered to a ventilator, 'eating' via a tube in my stomach, 'talking' with my eyebrows and operating the computer with my foot, did I make the right choice? You bet! What I have left is more valuable than what I have lost. The things I can do are more important than those that I can't.... I can think, reason and analyze, remember, read, write, learn and communicate. I can love, feel happiness and sadness, be enthusiastic, get angry, feel joy. I can believe, hope and have faith."

Passionate about the right of the disabled and the dying to choose, Horn published a book in 2001, with the help of friend Gretchen Keeler, titled "Who's Right? Whose Right?: Seeking Answers and Dignity in the Debate Over the Right to Die."

Friends marveled at how, despite his illness, Horn retained his sense of humor and his interest in political science. He continued to write scholarly articles as well as pieces on world affairs for his church bulletin.

Friend and retired Cal State Northridge journalism professor DeWayne Johnson said of Horn: "Stephen Hawking has the same illness, and his mind remains sharp. Bob's mind remained sharp as well.... There was never a hint of his ailment in his writing."

Born in Pennsylvania, Horn received a bachelor's degree in political science in 1964 from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and a doctorate in law and diplomacy in 1969 from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass.

A resident of Winnetka, Horn is survived by his wife, Judy; three children, Jeff, Chris and Laura; two grandchildren; his mother, Dottie Horn; and a brother and a sister.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at Northridge United Methodist Church, 9650 Reseda Blvd.

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