Obituary Werner Hadorn


 

Swiss science journalist Werner Hadorn, cofounder of the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) in 2002 and President of the European Union of Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA) 2000-2004, passed away on July 31st, at the age of 78. The funeral will take place on August 16that 14:00 in Chapel 2 of Friedhofs Biel-Madretsch, Brüggerstrasse 121 in Biel, Switzerland.

It is 19 years ago when I first met Werner Hadorn in Strasbourg. He was the newly elected President of EUSJA and was very eager to establish good contacts with the European Science Foundation, where I was heading the Communication and Information Departments. I offered secretarial support for EUSJA, to which Werner accepted. I realised that we shared other interests than journalism, one of them was aviation and soon Werner would arrive to meetings in Strasbourg in his small airplane.

Werner was in many ways the perfect President of EUSJA. He had a very strong interest in science, he was a brilliant writer and storyteller, fluent in many languages and he was very ambitious with everything he did. Sometimes it was difficult to get in contact with him. I remember once he arrived for the General Assembly of EUSJA and I had several important issues I wanted to talk to him about, but he was followed by other people who also wanted his attention, and his phone was constantly calling while he walked down the corridors. Not a second to waste.

And he did not waste any time. Werner Hadorn was internationally oriented and interested in languages. He was working for a bilingual newspaper in Switzerland which wrote the stories in French and German. He was also co-owner of a local television and radio station. He saw very fast the potential and the need for a World Federation for Science Journalists.

The idea of a global association for science journalists was not new. There had already been a World Conference for Science Journalists in Tokyo in 1992 and a second conference in 1999 in Budapest, where Istvan Palugyai had already started the debate about creating a world federation for science journalists. However, someone had to take the initiative and do the final work, and Werner Hadorn wrote the first draft of the constitution for the World Federation to be discussed at the World Conference for Science Journalists at Campinas, Brazil in 2002.

It was not an easy job, as some of the large national journalists’ associations in Europe were very sceptical and did not see how their members would benefit form a world organisation.  Werner argued that science is fundamental for human development and global understanding of science is a necessity. He also emphasised that, since books and newspapers were invented, science had been an important basis for enlightenment and the spread of knowledge.

Werner stayed active not only in journalism, but also in local policy in Switzerland, where he held political posts in the local city council. He continued very energetic even at a ripe old age. In 2015, I met Werner Hadorn at the WCSJ in Seoul. He was busy and energetic as always on the way to visit the Fukushima Reactor in Japan, from which he wrote a critical article in Neue Züricher Zeitung.

Werner Hadorn had a great and positive influence on science journalism not only in his local community, but also at the European and global levels. He will be remembered by many journalists around the world as a positive and sensible man, who always had an important agenda for the benefit of all.

Copenhagen, Denmark. August 12, 2019

Jens Degett

President of EUSJA

Werner wrote the draft constitution for WFSJ. To be decided at WCSJ2002 in Campinas Brazil He is third from right in the back row.

 

 

Two short story about Werner from Istvan Palugyai:

I had a very long friendship with Werner and we worked very close on establishing the World Federation of Science Journalists. He was always very friendly and professional. When he was the President of EUSJA we had our annual Assemblies in Strasbourg and he came often from Switzerland by a small plane. He was not only an excellent journalist but an experienced pilot as well. Once he invited the Board for a short round over Strasbourg and we accepted the invitation. I remember he was so calm so we all were sure we are in good and safe hands in that small plane and despite the flight was unusual for us he made the trip unforgettable.

It was another time when Werner invited the Board to his house over the Biel Lake. We had our lunch with the beautiful view and he asked us about a painting hanging above the dining table. He asked proudly, what do we think, from whom? Seeing our disagreement, he cut out to be a Dufy – then added that it didn’t. But it is still valuable because Elmyr de Hory was painted by one Hungarian who was one of the finest image forgers of the 20th century! His paintings today are worth as much as twenty thousand dollars, and in fact, it is estimated that his total lifetime value is more than one hundred million dollars. In 1987 there was an exhibition from his works in Switzerland and the media was organized by Werner’s company. The pride of the apartment came in his possession for a portion of his fee, although he still had to pay several thousand Swiss francs. I liked very much the extraordinary story and after my return I investigated about that secretive man and finally published a nice story about his life thanks to Werner and the special meeting. Ever since we met, he always mentioned this story.

Istvan Palugyai

President emeritus EUSJA

Past Vice President WFSJ

 

A last farewell from Viola Egikova,

These days we remember Werner, so many of us wrote he was a wonderful journalist, instant intellectual and just a very friendly person. It’s the truth. He was very good journalist and very friendly person. But he was also a great traveller. I remember our trips to Neuchatel (he was so proud to show his new car!), to Finland. Canada, France… In 2005 when our association organized its first Russian study trip, Werner could not come and regretted very much. A few months later I received a letter from Werner: he was coming to Moscow with his wife and was wondering if we could spend some time together. We did! We walked the whole day, finally we got hungry and went for some meal to the famous Russian store over Kremlin “GUM” well known since 19-th century. Werner liked that modern café in an ancient historical building. He said he would like to visit it next time when they come again to Moscow.

Unfortunately, they did not. Werner lost his wife; it was so sad to read his letter about her last days and last smile… Then it was a long period when Werner was unwell. But his nature as a traveller did not give up. Here is what he wrote in 2011: “In January 5th, on my ski holidays in Crans Montana, I had an accident and broke my knee. I was then operated in my hometown and will not be able to walk without sticks for at least 6 weeks. Depending on my health, I would gladly participate at the EUSJA’s assembly”. Werner’s message from 2012: “Hello Viola, Yes I would like to come to the GA! It is not 100% yet that I will be able because I will do a big story on Haiti in March… I should be happy to see the old colleagues again and in particular you! Perhaps we could share a glass of vodka!”  Later Wernerwished to join us in Stockholm in 2015, but wrote he booked a holiday in Sri Lanka and could not change the dates. There were very important words in his letter: “As you will know the Swiss association has decided to leave the EUSJA; which I think is a grocious stupidity the more as the decision was taken by just about a dozen people. Beat and I will try to turn the wheel back, but we do not have great hopes. I assume I can still be an honorary president emeritus!”

Sure he was! And he is – not just a president emeritus, but a man who knew how to be friends…

Viola Egikova,
former EUSJA Vice-President

 

Werner Hadorn 1941-2019
Farewell to a Dear Friend by Wolfgang Goede

Werner’s Contribution to International Journalism and WFSJ

Werner was a unique cosmopolitan, warm and friendly, unorthodox and always up to jump into new adventurous projects, especially around science journalism and its advancement, which was one of his passions. This was a strong tie between the two of us, but our emotional bond were mosquitos.

Mosquito Friendship

After the 3rd World Conference of Science Journalists 2002 in São José dos Campos in Brazil Werner and I had rented a car and went for a day of vacation to the Ilha Bella, the “Beautiful Island” on the Atlantic coast. It turned out mosquito-infested, full of hungry insects just waiting for the exotic blood of two gringos. With swollen and itching bodies, ranting and raving we escaped from “Mosquito Island”, but nonetheless had a never-ending topic to laugh about when we met in the years to come.

We both had first met in 2001 at the Tokyo conference “Seeking Trends in Science and Technology Journalism for the 21st Century”, organized by the Japanese Association of Science and Technology Journalists. We had been invited as speakers and Werner impressed the audience with a witty and intriguing rundown of the science journalism history.

Piggy Tie

He presented convincing examples that news and media since the 17th century had essentially evolved around scientific and knowledge themes. In his relaxed manners, Werner thoroughly enjoyed to interact with people. At official events as in Japan, he liked to put on a tie with rosy little pigs as a sort of personal trademark and eye-catcher.

After ten years of discussing a world-wide umbrella for science journalists, the Tokyo conference had become a stepping stone for the Brazil conference and the realization of this vision, in which Werner took a major role. Decisively he chaired a series of meetings, during which the idea of the World Federation took final shape.

Thoughtful Critics

Werner himself contributed highly valuable organizational knowledge to the drafting of the constitution, along with Jim Cornell, US American and the longtime president of the International Science Writers Association ISWA, another mighty pillar in the founding process. At one point, the proceedings got entangled in a “Babylonian language confusion” and Jim desperately called his wife in Boston for the correct wording.

In the final outcome, Werner helped to engineer a whole new and democratic understanding of the profession with science journalists no longer being cheerleaders of science, but “thoughtful critics and commentators, linking the world of science and technology to the daily life of ordinary persons, clarifying the processes of research and discovery, and making the public aware of the social, economic, and political context of science and technology, and its impact on society”.

Supporter of the South

However Werner’s role went way beyond this. His participation in the founding act of what became the World Federation of Science Journalists was crucial because he delivered Europe to this global network (which this summer in cooperation with the French, Italian and Swiss colleagues convened in Lausanne the 11th World Conference). As Jean Jean-Marc Fleury, WFSJ co-founder, its first executive director and chair of science journalism at the Université Laval, Québec, wrote in the 10th WFSJ Anniversary Newsletter:

“The idea of the Federation had strong support within the developing world (…) The supporters from the South could rely on the support of Werner Hadorn, president of EUSJA. But the opinion amongst the EUSJA membership itself was split, with the Dutch and British associations being quite resistant to the idea.”

Humorous Diplomat

In fact, Werner had been elected in the year 2000 head of the European Union of Science Journalists Associations EUSJA and, indeed, carried significant weight in the international community. How he introduced himself in the EUSJA Spring Newsletter to the then 19 member organizations stands for his humor, diplomatic skills, and vast organizational experience:

“This year’s EUSJA board meeting in Strasbourg came up with their brilliant idea of electing me to a term as EUSJA president. How it happened, I can’t say. I can only assume that, after having served as the secretary to the Swiss Association of Science Journalists and as the Swiss EUSJA delegate for many years, my experience in the field of science journalism may have been what prompted my colleagues to pursue this malicious act (!) — along with the desire to avoid being elected themselves.”

President with Pilot License

Until today, EUSJA folks remember Werner very warmly and well. Especially the fact that he came to the General Assemblies in a plane, in which he took delegates for joyful rides. The multi-talented Swiss was not only highly innovative and creative around journalism and film-making, but he also possessed a pilot license.

In the following years Werner and I maintained regular contact, especially during EUSJA Assemblies, EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) conferences, and World Conferences of Science Journalists. Whenever possible he came with his charming and beloved wife Cathy. Her death in 2009 deeply disrupted his life. Werner fell silent for a while, but then he was back, physically a bit weakened by own health issues, but mentally and spiritually strong as ever.

Teacher in Namibia

In 2015, I received a long mail, which is thriving from a new and exuberant joy of life and engagement, also discontent. He grimly observed a lack of solidarity and togetherness in international science journalism, also at home, and expressed his concern that he and we all needed to fix this. But, above all, he was starting a firework of new projects, if I may quote him:

“I’m criss-crossing the globe (form the North Pole to Brazil, from Cuba to Namibia, and so on, and so on). Officially I’m retired, but being a pensioner is too boring, of course, so I’m writing like hell, features and books (…) Twice I’ve been to Namibia, where I taught at the University of Science and Technology in Windhoek (12,000 students) science journalism, partially based on the WFSJ courses (but my own one is better). I love teaching (also because we had the chance to travel throughout Namibia and I could shoot a super animal movie). As a former high school teacher I still like to teach and have plenty of experience to do so.”

Fukushima Insights

The last time I met Werner was at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul in 2015. He was one of the few who criticized a session of the nuclear power industry which claimed to be green and environmentally sustainable. And he was one of the few lucky ones who had received a slot on a sought-after study trip to Japan. The colleagues there had organized a visit to Fukushima, where a nuclear power plant had exploded in 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami.

In the distinguished science section of the “Neue Züricher Zeitung” Werner published a critical assessment of this on-site visit, technically very descriptive on what had happened. Equally crispy was his analysis of what had caused the disaster, namely construction deficits and human mistakes. Lessons learned? Werner’s interviews, observations, investigations left serious doubts.

Werner Legacy

Well, farewell now, dear Werner, you will always be an outstanding role model: Critical, but humane and respectful – humorous, also in conflicts, but determined and a go-getter. With you and your work international science journalism has evolved to global presence, which many of us benefit from. We will keep your legacy strong and yet reach higher.

Thanks, Merci and Dankeschön!

Wolfgang Chr. Goede is an international freelance science journalist and author, based in Munich and Medellín/Colombia. He serves on the board of the German Science Writers TELI, which celebrates its 90thanniversary this year. He was EUSJA Honorary Secretary, is WFSJ co-founder, belonged to the WFSJ board of directors from 2015 to 2019, is on the organizing committee of World Conference of Science Journalists WCSJ 2021 Colombia.

References

http://www.wfsj.org/files/file/news/2012/11/WFSJ10.pdf
http://www.eusja.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/news00s.pdf

https://www.nzz.ch/wissenschaft/technik/die-fehler-von-fukushima-und-ihre-folgen-1.18614800

About Jens Degett

President of EUSJA, Chair of the Danish Science Journalists, former director of Communication and Information at ESF and one of the founding fathers of WFSJ and ESOF.