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Obituary: James Douglas Forman

James (Jay) Douglas Forman – internationally recognized author, photographer and collector, as well as painter, playwright, film maker, descendent of one of Long Island’s founding families and host to decades of backyard volleyball games – died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest Nov. 11, 2009 – one day short of his 77th birthday.

Jay was born on Nov. 12, 1932, to Leo E. and Kathryn S. Forman and was raised in the Sands Point home where he lived for the rest of his life. He was educated at the Vincent Smith School in Port Washington, Buckley Country Day School, St. Paul’s Academy in Garden City, Princeton University, from which he graduated in 1954, and Columbia University Law School, Class of 1957. Through his studies and parents, he gained the knowledge and passion for history and the classical arts that pervaded his personal and professional activities throughout his life.

Jay’s intellectual approach to life never prevented him from pursuing fun, however; it only enhanced it. That included falling in love with Marcia Fore, a very pretty and witty intellectual, whom he met at the Sands Point Bath Club on Labor Day when he was 18 years old. They dated from then until Labor Day of 1956 when they were married in the family backyard, the setting for many subsequent weddings of close friends as well as of their daughter Karli and her husband Jim Hagedorn. From that day on – for over 53 years – Jay and Marcia were life partners, rarely separated, working on personal and professional goals together.

Upon graduation from law school, Jay joined the Mineola firm of Forman, Forman and Forman, started by his grandfather, which specialized in real estate law. Although trained to carry on the family tradition, Jay did not enjoy writing contracts.

He did, however, enjoy writing. In 1959 when a family friend, who was with Doubleday and Company, offered Jay the opportunity to research, write and take photographs for a travel book, Jay accepted and Marcia eagerly joined him. She researched, while Jay took magnificent photos and wrote the text. Together they explored Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, focusing on the then largely unknown islands of the Eastern Mediterranean. Their one suitcase held over 200 rolls of film, and their average daily budget in those pre-tourist destinations was $2 a day.

While in Pamplona, Spain, Jay accidentally ran with the bulls. He also met his literary idol, Ernest Hemingway, at the bullring. This four-month journey, the first of many, resulted in Islands of the Eastern Mediterranean. This was the beginning of a lifetime writing career that produced 45 additional published books, many of which have been translated into several languages and reissued in paperback, plus numerous feature articles for specialty journals and magazines.

Although Jay did not write it until after he returned to law, that first trip also inspired the writing of his second book and first historical novel, The Skies of Crete, published in 1963, about the German airborne invasion and occupation of the Greek island during WWII. A variety of books soon followed. Jay’s “ism” series explained in easy-to-understand language the basic concepts of Capitalism, Communism, Socialism, Anarchism, Naziism and Fascism.He also wrote a more analytical book That Mad Game: War and the Chances for Peace.

The genre that brought Jay the most fame was young adult fiction. These stories required thorough research by both Jay and Marcia and primarily centered on the theme of what young people do when confronted with moral dilemmas often leading to difficult and sometimes life threatening choices.

Ceremony of Innocence is about the daring work of siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl, in the German anti-Nazi resistance group, the White Rose. Code Name Valkyrie is about Claus von Stauffenberg’s plot to kill Hitler. Cow Neck Rebels was set in Revolutionary War Port Washington. Jay’s last YA book, Becca’s Story, was based on the Civil War diaries and letters of his own great-grandparents.

Jay left behind several manuscripts about other real people during real events. One is based on a Long Island family during the 1840s and ’50s. Another, tentatively titled We’ll Meet Again, is set in WWII England. Jay’s family hopes both manuscripts will eventually be edited and published.