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Alan Gross, who was Imprisoned in Cuba for Five Years, to Deliver Wallenberg Lecture at ODU Feb. 23

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Alan Gross, a humanitarian aid worker who spent five years imprisoned in Fidel Castro's Cuba, is Old Dominion's Marc and Connie Jacobson Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Speaker, part of the university's President's Lecture Series.

Gross, who spent more than 25 years traveling the globe to administer civilian foreign aid and promote democracy on behalf of private industry, nongovernmental organizations and the federal government, will speak Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. in Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center.

The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Guests are encouraged to RSVP at http://odu.imodules.com/agl16.

Gross fought poverty and oppression in more than 50 countries in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa before being abruptly arrested by Cuban officials, who accused him of working for American intelligence services. He was, in fact, working on a humanitarian project to improve wireless access for small communities across Cuba, with a special emphasis on helping the country's small Jewish community.

Gross was arrested in December 2009 and sentenced in March 2011 to 15 years by Cuban authorities for "acts against the territorial integrity of the state." His imprisonment sparked a worldwide effort by his wife, Judy - along with Jewish, Christian and Muslim humanitarian groups worldwide - to win his freedom. After being imprisoned for 1,841 days, Alan Gross was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds on Dec. 17, 2014.

Now back in the United States, Gross has only recently begun to speak about his five-year ordeal, in which he endured sensory deprivation and lost 110 pounds and five teeth due to nutritional deficiencies.

The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring fascinating personalities who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, offering an international lineup of authors and educators, business innovators and political figures.

The series presents to the region a platform for equal exchange of dialogue and ideas. It began in 1991 with James J. Kilpatrick, a controversial journalist in the 1950s who opposed desegregation of Virginia's public schools. Kilpatrick spoke on campus in a traditional lecture format, including a question and answer session, which allowed for lively dialogue and free speech, trademarks of the series. The President's Lecture Series maintains this format today, and all lectures are free and open to the public.

The annual Wallenberg Lecture is sponsored by the Marc and Connie Jacobson Philanthropic Foundation, as part of ODU's President's Lecture Series. Speakers for the Wallenberg Lecture are chosen by the university. They must be humanitarians and balanced in their philosophical beliefs.

A Swedish businessman and diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg was one of the few who dared to defy the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Persuading the Swedish Foreign Ministry to send him to Hungary on a diplomatic passport in 1944, he led a daring mission to save many of the remaining Jews in Budapest who had not been deported to Nazi death camps. Wallenberg helped shelter several thousand Jews in "protected houses" that flew the flags of Sweden and other neutral countries. After being captured by the Soviet Union in 1945, Wallenberg reportedly died of a heart attack in a Moscow prison in 1947.

The U.S. Congress, in 1981, granted honorary citizenship to Wallenberg, an honor that had been bestowed only once before, to Winston Churchill.

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