Rita Marie Furst, who founded a coalition to advocate for crime victims' rights, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday at Lighthouse Senior Living in Ellicott City. The Catonsville resident was 94.
A founder of the Maryland Coalition Against Crime, she became an activist after the 1981 murder of her husband, Victor Joseph "Buddy" Furst.
Born Rita Marie Corbett in East Orange, N.J., she was the daughter of Jeremiah Joseph King Corbett, a Catonsville real estate salesman, and Anna Rita Van Lill Corbett, a homemaker. She attended the Frederick Academy of the Visitation and was a 1937 Seton High School graduate.
She became a secretary at the J.H. Furst printing company on Hopkins Place in downtown Baltimore. There she met her future husband, Victor Furst, a printer and member of the family who owned the business. They married in 1943.
Mrs. Furst raised her family in a home on Symington Avenue in Catonsville. She was a Rosewood State Hospital volunteer. She also answered the telephone and acted as an adviser for Contact Baltimore, a community assistance service.
On a Friday afternoon in August 1981, her husband left the family home on a motorized bicycle to buy crabs.
"Mrs. Furst opened her door to a priest and a county police officer," said a 1981 Evening Sun article. "Her husband had been waylaid and killed by teenagers during a robbery attempt." A 20-year-old man man was later convicted in his death.
The article went on to say that after the funeral, Mrs. Furst did not remain quiet. She wrote 14 letters to the editors of local newspapers. helped found a group, Citizens United for Justice, and organized public meetings. Her group later changed its name.
"I don't understand myself right now," she said in late 1981 in an Evening Sun article. "I wonder sometimes if all this is just my grief speaking."
She went on to say, "Something has got to be done for victims; society has got to take some notice of what it's doing to people."
She also told a Sun reporter, "I still get qualms inside of me when I think of putting someone in the gas chamber, but I don't think God expects us to sit down here and let people get away with murder."
Her husband's murder attracted significant attention. Nearly a month after the killing, she and her sister-in-law, Anne Furst McCloskey, organized a meeting in a Catonsville church basement.
"Last night — a rainy Friday when most people opt for an evening at home or a night on the town — more than 300 citizens showed up ... to listen to state and county officials talk about crime and to discuss how it might be reduced," a Sun story said in 1981.
Mrs. Furst continued her campaign for years after her husband's death. She joined with Fran Hviding, whose son was murdered days before Mr. Furst in a robbery at his family's Reisterstown sporting goods store. They and others founded a new group, the Maryland Coalition Against Crime, and paid to have billboards erected. The billboards criticized the Court of Appeals' record on overturning death sentence convictions.
"The billboard at the corner of Read and Howard streets in downtown Baltimore illustrates the frustration with which two women have lived since their families were drawn together by two brutal murders," said a 1983 Evening Sun article.
Former Baltimore County State's Attorney Sandra O'Connor, who served for 32 years, recalled the case this week.
"Rita and Fran were willing to share their grief to help victims," Mrs. O'Connor said. "They could have walked away and remained quiet. We are grateful for what they did."
A 1992 Sun article said the murder of Mr. Furst "helped spark the creation of Maryland's victims' rights movement."
The article credited Mrs. Furst and her sister-in-law with getting victims' rights legislation passed in Maryland requiring that family members be advised about the parole status of convicted criminals and be allowed to give victim impact statements at the time of sentencing. Her work in this field was recognized by Govs. Harry Hughes and William Donald Schaefer.
"She was a tower of strength in this adversity," said her sister-in-law, Anne Furst McCloskey of Towson. "She was so determined to make some kind of sense of her husband's and my brother's murder. She worked tirelessly. She went to the state legislature and lobbied for crime victims. She was a loving, sweet woman. People were drawn to her."
Family members said that Mrs. Furst later moved to Charlestown Retirement Community. She enjoyed reading biographies and playing bridge.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the St. Joseph Catholic Community in Eldersburg, 915 Liberty Road.
Survivors include a son, Victor Joseph Furst III of Eldersburg; a daughter, Susan Marie Furst Gubernatis of Ellicott City; three grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. A son, Michael Phillip Furst, died in 1962.