Frances M. Lerner, 75, advocate for the autistic...

September 27, 2000

Frances M. Lerner, 75, advocate for the autistic

Frances M. Lerner, who devoted her life to helping families whose children suffered from autism, died Sept. 20 at Mariner Health Nursing Home in Catonsville after a stroke. She was 75.

The longtime Catonsville resident's first experience with autism came in the 1960s, when her second son, David H. Lerner, failed to develop speech and social skills.

At the time, researchers did not know a great deal about autism, which is not caused by a specific disease or genetic disorder.

Becoming an outspoken advocate for her son, Mrs. Lerner pursued the best education and treatment, helping him develop speech and social skills. He went on to earn his bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree in geology from the University of Delaware. He lives in Bear, Del.

From her experience, she realized that families of autistic children needed support and saw a need for better education of teachers, therapists and health professionals.

In 1976, she joined other autistic parents and opened her Catonsville home as a meeting place for the support group and board meetings of what evolved into the Baltimore-Chesapeake chapter of the Autistic Society of America.

Mrs. Lerner converted her dining room into a lending library and her study into a chapter office. She served as a host for other support groups and provided nationally known speakers.

"In the process, Fran Lerner's name became synonymous with autism awareness in Maryland," said Annette Piatek of Essex, former co-president of the Baltimore-Chesapeake chapter. "She touched hundreds, if not thousands, of families in the Baltimore area with her advocacy for people with autism,"

Mrs. Lerner lectured widely on autism and wrote several papers on the effect it has on the family.

Presented a Governor's Citation in recognition of her work from Gov. Parris N. Glendening in 1997, she continued as an advocate for autistic children until a stroke silenced her last spring.

Born Frances Jeanne Mond in New York City, she was raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., where she graduated from high school. She received a bachelor's degree in political science from Oberlin College in 1945 and a master's degree in philosophy from Columbia University.

She was married in 1952 to Monroe Lerner, who survives.

From 1958 to 1962, she taught sociology at Hunter College in New York. Moving to Catonsville in 1965, she joined the faculty of the University of Baltimore. where she taught sociology until 1975.

She was a member of the Ethical Society and had been president of the Baltimore Ethical Society.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Mrs. Lerner also is survived by another son, Robert Lerner of Rockville; and a grandson.

Jeffrey D. Ralston, 34, account executive, sailor

Jeffrey D. Ralston, an account executive with Computer Associates, died of meningitis Thursday during a trip to New Orleans. He was 34 and lived in Harwood.

Since last year, Mr. Ralston, who was known as Jeff, had been an account executive in the computer company's Herndon, Va., office.

From 1989 to 1999, he had been operations and sales manager for TRB Specialty Rehabilitation, a Gambrills wastewater systems company.

He served on the board of the National Association of Sewer Service Companies, and belonged to the Water Environment Federation and the American Public Works Association.

Mr. Ralston was born and spent his early years in Newark, Ohio. In 1981, he moved with his family to Annapolis, graduating in 1984 from St. Mary's High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 1989.

He enjoyed golfing at Old South Country Club in South River. An accomplished sailor, he often sailed boats from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay.

He was a communicant of Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church, 101 Owensville Road, West River, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

He is survived by his parents, Trent H. and Rita Molyet Ralston of Harwood; a sister, Stephanie R. Khurana of Newton, Mass.; his paternal grandmother, Thelma H. Ralston of Newark, Ohio; and his fiancM-ie, Julie Lynn Colburn of Annapolis.

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