November 14, 1944
Fred Cuny is born in New Haven, Connecticut, where his father, Gene Cuny, is
attempting to start a career as an actor. Gene eventually gives up acting and
in 1952 moves back to his home state of Texas, where he becomes a local
television station executive. With his wife, Charlotte, they raise four boys.
Fred is the oldest.
Fred graduates from Brian Adams High School in east Dallas, already with his
pilot's license and two years of high school ROTC. His goal in life is to be a
Marine pilot, just like his uncle, Phil Shutler.
Attends Texas A&M University, where his tenure is distinguished more by the
pranks he is thought to be a part of than his academic record, which includes
several failing grades. In December 1963, when a dormitory bathroom is set on
fire with burning tires soaked in gasoline and sulfur, Fred's elite unit of
Marine Corps hopefuls is widely assumed to be responsible. Fred and his closest
friend, Carl Long, are the prime suspects. But when no one comes forward to
accept the blame for the prank that got out of control, the entire unit is
disbanded. Six months later, Fred leaves Texas A&M.
Between his Freshman and Sophomore year, when he is not attending a Marine camp
in Quantico, Virginia, Fred works on a cargo freighter in Central and South
America. This is his first taste of the Third World and the first time he sees
that everyone does not live in comfortable suburbs such as the one where he
Attends Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas where he meets his wife,
Beth, and undergoes a political metamorphosis. By the time he leaves A&I -
still short enough credits to graduate - he is heavily involved in civil
rights issues for Chicano students as well as free speech issues on campus.
January 31, 1966
Marries Beth in a small ceremony in Kingsville.
Without enough credits to graduate from college, Fred's commission with the
Marine Corps is on the line. Even though he has become a liberal political
activist, he keeps his dream of serving in the Marine Corps, but needs one
language credit to meet the graduation requirements necessary for his Marine
commission. The Marines grant him one extension, but when he fails the course
in summer school, he is informed by the Marine Corps there will be no more
extensions and he is discharged from the reserves without ever receiving his
Embarrassed by his academic failing, he and Beth move to Houston. He keeps the
news of his discharge to himself and when he is later involved in a serious car
accident that shatters his leg, he uses that as his excuse to his friends and
family for not fulfilling his Marine Corps dream.
August 26, 1966
Brandan Craig Cuny, his only son, is born.
November 11, 1967
Runs as a liberal Democrat in a special election to fill a vacant seat in the
Texas House of Representatives. The suburban Houston district is very
conservative, and Fred - who spends less than $100 on the campaign - places
13th out of 16 candidates with slightly more than one percent of the vote. He
would never run for elective office again, though he often talked about his one
campaign and told several friends he would someday like to run for governor of
Begins work on Model Cities program in Eagle Pass, Texas. This is Fred's first
experience as a person with some authority - he takes more than he had -
organizing people to help themselves improve their lives.
Takes a leave of absence from a job with Carter & Burgess, a Fort Worth
engineering and city planning firm, to go to Biafra where he ends up
volunteering to help with the airlift of emergency food supplies. Without any
real authority, he is more an observer than a participant, but comes away from
the experience shocked by the mismanagement and stupidity he sees and
determined to improve the way in which help is offered to people in the middle
of a crisis.
December 20, 1969
Carl Long, Fred's closest friend, is killed in Vietnam when his airplane is
Takes another leave of absence from engineering job to organize an airlift to
East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). When the airlift falls apart, he stays on the
ground working with the relief organization Oxfam. He designs and constructs
refugee camps for families fleeing the civil war.
When Fred returns from Bangladesh, he decides to quit the engineering firm and
start his own crisis management firm, Intertect. His initial goal is simply to
collect and disseminate information on ways to handle crises such as floods,
famines, earthquakes, so the same mistakes would not keep being repeated.
Major earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua. Without an invitation, Fred flies his
plane to Nicaragua and gets involved in organizing refugee camps.
With a staff of one, operating out of tiny offices, Intertect goes through very
lean years. During one summer, to keep some money coming in, Fred does
crop-dusting work throughout the Central Plains.
February 4, 1976
Earthquake in Guatemala kills 23,000 people and leaves more than a million
homeless. This time Fred is asked to come down. He creates a housing
reconstruction program in Guatemala that teaches local peasants how to build
houses that are less likely to collapse in future earthquakes.
Following his experience in Guatemala, Fred's reputation as an innovative
thinker and critic of the status quo is firmly established. Though often
criticized for his independent cowboy approach, he is also respected for his
creative ideas and no-nonsense faith in the people whose lives he was trying to
Late 1970's-early 80's
Whenever an earthquake strikes, a hurricane blows through, or famine reaches
large scale proportions, Fred Cuny is on the scene. He is involved in
developing the Emergency Unit of UNHCR, works with the U.S. Bureau of Refugee
Affairs in Lebanon on providing assistance to Palestinians; he writes his book
Disasters & Development, which quickly becomes a seminal book in
disaster relief; and is increasingly involved in training seminars given around
the world to spread the "Cuny approach" to handling disasters in a way that
used the calamity as a catalyst to improve people's lives.
With the famine crisis in the sub-Saharan Africa, Fred is called to the Sudan
to oversee the running of the burgeoning refugee camps, caused by a massive
immigration from war-torn, parched Ethiopia. Using his Cesna, flown over to
Africa courtesy of the US government, Fred is constantly at odds with UNHCR
officials. He feels they are too cautious, unprepared and unwilling to act
when the situation was worsening by the day. Becomes a strong advocate for
helping refugees voluntarily return to their homes, in spite of the ongoing war
in Ethiopia. Again, facing cautious, restrained reaction to the problem from
UNHCR, Fred does what he can to work around the organization and give help to
Increasingly turns his attention to man-made disasters and the political
environment in which they develop. Working with Tamils in Sri Lanka, Fred
observes the ill-fated efforts by the Indian Peacekeeping Force. He later uses
it as an example for what not to do when the military tries to intervene in
The Gulf War: Fred managed to be among the first Americans to ride into Kuwait
City, after convincing American military that a serious effort needed to be
made to prevent Kuwaitis from taking reprisals against Palestinians following
Called away from Kuwait by the State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance (OFDA) to deal with worsening Kurdish refugee situation along
Turkish border with Iraq. In record time, Fred is able to bring Kurds down from
the mountains and resettle them in their homes. First example of Fred's close
involvement with a military engaged in humanitarian work. Also meets then-US
Ambassador to Turkey, Mort Abramowitz, who, upon becoming president of the
Carnegie Endowment for Peace, plays an important role in widening Fred's
influence within Washington foreign policy circles.
Takes on an assessment of the needs of the former Soviet Union. Identifies
Chechnya as a potential powder keg. Comes up with massive plan for helping
Russia and other new republics. The plan is largely ignored.
Involved in worsening crisis in Somalia, through program designed to provide
currency for grain purchases (called "monetization"). Inevitably gets caught up
in decision making on use of American troops to protect aid workers. Draws up
plans which are mentioned in Op-Ed pages, but ignored in the White House.
Goes to Bosnia for first time, working for George Soros. Identifies water and
gas as major emergencies. Comes up with idea of building water filtration
plant, secretly moving it into Sarajevo and concealing it in an unused highway
Becomes a strong advocate for the Bosnia cause. Lobbies aggressively from
Sarajevo and on frequent trips back to Washington for stronger U.S. action in
Water is ready to be put into Sarajevan's pipes, but local government won't
allow it for a number of reasons. By 1995, when "Fred's water" is finally
flowing, the mayor of Sarajevo, who formerly
fought against the water, admits
it saved Sarajevo during a prolonged shut down by Serbs.
Returns to northern Iraq for assessment of current situation. Involved in
another traffic accident, Fred injures his leg and back.
Is asked by Soros Foundation to go to Chechnya. In spite of physical pain and
need for rest, Fred Cuny responds like a fire fighter to the alarm bell.
First trip to Chechnya. Says destruction in Grozy makes Sarajevo seem like a
picnic. Vows to evacuate people trapped in Grozny by arranging a cease-fire.
Returns to the U.S. and gives briefings, lectures and appears on talk shows
discussing the situation in Chechnya. Even writes an
article for The New York
Review of Books, marking the first time Fred had published such a political and
pointed attack in a publication with a larger circulation than most of the
disaster journals he had previously written for.
In spite of advice, pleas and some efforts to stop him from going, Fred Cuny
returns to Chechnya, where he disappears and is now presumed dead.
who killed fred cuny .
map of cuny's world .
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