Former Maryland state Sen. Jennie Forehand, who represented Gaithersburg and Rockville in the General Assembly for 36 years, died Tuesday following “a long struggle” with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a family obituary.
She was a prominent Democratic leader on health policy, reproductive rights and protections for survivors of domestic violence—and an early opponent of indoor smoking—and leaves behind a legacy of tireless advocacy and forward-thinking progressivism, according to her friends and former colleagues.
“She was pretty fearless,” said Kumar Barve, a member of Gov. Wes Moore’s Maryland Public Service Commission who previously served alongside Forehand in the General Assembly when he was a delegate representing District 17. “She was ahead of her time on so many issues.”
Forehand represented District 17, which includes parts of Gaithersburg and Rockville, as a delegate and later as a senator in the Maryland General Assembly, from 1978 through 2014.
Jennie Meador was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1935 and spent most of her early life in North Carolina, graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She married Bill Forehand in 1958 and moved to Maryland in 1961, according to her obituary. She was a teacher and a PTA member before entering politics.
Barve recalled Forehand being on the forefront of issues like genetic data privacy before they were hot-button topics.
“She felt it was wrong for insurance companies to have an insight into what kind of health problems you might be experiencing, before a lot of people were talking about that,” Barve said.
Barve said he sat next to her as a freshman delegate in 1991, and she taught him values that guided his political career.
“Once she said to me in her North Carolina accent, ‘Kumar, the two things I hate more than anything else are racism and NIMBYism,’” Barve said, referencing the “not in my backyard” philosophy to housing development. “She said that whenever NIMBYs make an argument against a road or against affordable housing, they use the same arguments that racists used about changing the nature of the character of the community. Her attitude was that some of the very same people who think of themselves as liberals don’t want black people living next door to them, and they’ll stop that apartment building because of it. And dammit if she wasn’t right.”
She wasn’t always popular early in her time in the legislature, Barve said. Forehand vocally opposed indoor smoking in the late 1970s when it was commonplace, and was known to personally remove ashtrays off the desks of assembly members.
“She was able to get away with a lot of things because of her Southern charm back then, but she was also smacked back for a lot of things,” Barve said, laughing. “She hid all the ashtrays in the appropriations and labor committees for a long time. It wasn’t until [Del. Pete] Rawlings became the chairman of the Appropriations Committee that she was out of the doghouse. So she was in political jail for awhile.”
But Forehand’s persistence paid off and led to a ban on indoor smoking on the House floor in
1978, and later a statewide ban on indoor smoking and a ban on smoking at the Baltimore Orioles’ stadium.
Locally, Forehand’s impact was felt through her advocacy that led to construction of Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, the Rockville Library, and the Rockville Senior Center. She was also involved in launching the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents, a Montgomery County Public Schools special education school; as well as the District Court House and the Inter-County Connector Highway; according to her obituary.
Vincent Liburd served as Forehand’s pastor at Rockville United Methodist Church between 1991 and 1998 but was also her neighbor and friend.
“Wherever she saw a need, she fought tooth and nail for all communities,” Liburd said.
He recalled that Forehand spent her free time connecting low-income students with scholarship opportunities and was passionate about education equity, especially as a former teacher.
Liburd said Forehand lived by the United Methodist Church’s social principles, and she often consulted with Liburd before big votes in Annapolis to discuss their values. Liburd said this is what “made her tick.”
“She served from the heart. She wasn’t just looking for her next political job or using people as a stepping stone,” Liburd said.
Barve expressed similar sentiments.
“If nobody would speak up for you, she would speak up for you and that was her thing in life,” Barve said.
Forehand is survived by her husband Bill Forehand, daughter Virginia Horn, son John Forehand, and four grandsons, according to her obituary.
Her services will be held privately in Indianapolis.
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