In June 1987, the Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch’s oldest daughter, Terri Ann Weyrauch, M.D., died by suicide in Chicago at the age of 34. After their daughter’s passing, the couple began volunteering in the Atlanta area helping suicide survivors and raising money for research. The Weyrauchs set about educating themselves about this phenomenon and learned that 81 people die by suicide each and every day in the United States, more than 300,000 per year, that there are more suicides than homicides, and that four-fifths of the suicide deaths are male. They also soon realized that there was a total absence of a national suicide prevention strategy.
“I had been a psychiatric nurse in my younger days and had even worked suicide watches, and I knew nothing. I was as judgmental as anybody. I thought suicides only happened in dysfunctional families, so naturally I blamed myself,” said Elsie Weyrauch about her daughter’s tragic death.
In January 1996, the husband and wife team founded Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN). It is a grassroots organization of volunteers, approximately 95% having experienced a suicide death in their families. Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch started this miracle in the basement of their home, using their own personal life savings to make a difference. Their vision, dedication and unselfish efforts have begun to change the atmosphere in this country from helplessness and hopelessness to truth, survival and hope.
The Weyrauchs have worked tirelessly, seven days per week, to mobilize the country to recognize the tragedy of suicide. They have formed collaborations with national, governmental, private and local agencies to focus on this very serious public health problem. They have mobilized thousands of survivors across this country to lobby for suicide prevention. All of these efforts resulted in the first National Suicide Prevention Conference held in Reno, Nevada, in October, 1998. Nearly 500 participants worked and developed a draft of the first National Suicide Prevention Strategy. The Weyrauchs continue to work toward implementation and evaluation of this strategy.
None of these milestones would have been realized without the dedication of Jerry and Elsie Weyrauch. They have worked tirelessly, seeking no recognition or compensation for their effort. Many thousands of families in this country are eternally grateful to Jerry and Elsie for the work they have done.
Jerry & Elsie Weyrauch reside in Marietta, Georgia. Jerry is a retired Navy quartermaster and Elsie is a retired nurse. They are the parents of five children.