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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, April 7, 2018

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Amsale Aberra, wedding dress designerDaniel K. Akaka, US senator from HawaiiSusan Anspach, counterculture actressBob Beattie, US Olympic ski coachSteven Bochco, writer and  producer of 'Hill Street Blues'Eric Bristow, British darts championDon Cherry, '50s pop singer and amateur golferThom DrVita, tattoo artistRonald Dunbar, Grammy-winning songwriter, record executive, and producerDavid R. Edgerton, cofounder of Burger KingJohn Ehle, North Carolina author and educatorGertrude Jeannette, actress and NYC's first licensed woman cab driverConnie Lawn, independent White House journalistWinnie Madikizela-Mandela, antiapartheid activist and ex-wife of Nelson MandelaCharles McDew, cofounder of SNCCDonald McKayle, modern dancer and choreographerJanka Nabay, Sierra Leone musicianDr. Ruth Nussenzweig, worked to develop vaccine for malariaSoon-tek Oh, actor on TV, stage, and filmMary Regula, US congressman's widow who founded National First Ladies' LibraryEfrain Rios Montt, former dictator of GuatemalaLois Wheeler Snow, actress and widow of Edgar Snow, writer on ChinaIsao Takahata, cofounded Japanese animation studioCecil Taylor, jazz pianistRay ('Butch') Wilkins, British soccer team captain

Art and Literature

Thom DeVita (85) New York tattoo artist. Tattooing was banned by the city’s Health Department in 1961 after the practice was blamed for an outbreak of hepatitis. The ban lasted until 1997. There were just eight or so tattoo artists who operated from their living rooms or at kitchen tables in squalid corners of the city, like the Lower East Side. Your choice of art was limited: patriotic symbols, a declaration of love, or an anchor or other recycled image from the craft’s seafaring tradition. But while other tattoo artists offered a rigid set of images and styles, DeVita designed one-of-a-kind tattoos, blending high art, primitivism, Japanese designs, and classic Americana. He died of Parkinson’s disease in Newburgh, New York on April 5, 2018.

John Ehle (92) award-winning writer who helped to develop what is now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. While Ehle may have been best known as a prolific author, the school would remember him as one of its founding fathers. Ehle wrote 17 fiction and nonfiction books. He was a member of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and received the North Carolina Award, the state's highest civilian honor, for his literature. He was also instrumental in developing the North Carolina School of Science & Mathematics, which opened in 1980, and the North Carolina Governor's School. The husband of actress Rosemary Harris and father of two-time Tony-winning actress Jennifer Ehle, John Ehle died in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on April 7, 2018.

Isao Takahata (82) cofounder of the Japanese animator Studio Ghibli, which stuck to a hand-drawn “manga” look in the face of digital filmmaking. Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan’s Disney, and helped to shape the style and voice of what became one of the world’s most respected animation studios and the nation’s prized cultural export. He directed Grave of the Fireflies, a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio’s films, including Miyazaki’s 1984 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which tells of the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess. Takahata died of lung cancer in Tokyo, Japan on April 5, 2018.

Business and Science

Amsale Aberra (64) Ethiopian-born fashion designer whose minimalist aesthetic transformed the modern American wedding dress. While most wedding dress designers in the ‘80s were making elaborate tulle-and-lace affairs with puff sleeves, long trains, and decorative appliqués, Aberra pared everything down. Her dresses had little fluff or flounce and were often strapless with sheer illusion necklines. Starting out in her Manhattan garment district loft, Aberra created a thriving business under the company name Amsale, opening her first store on Madison Avenue and acquiring and expanding into new lines. She dressed celebrities like Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Katy Perry, and Ariana Grande, and her dresses appeared on the TV series Grey’s Anatomy and in the films Runaway Bride, 27 Dresses, and The Hangover. Aberra died of uterine cancer in New York City on April 1, 2018.

David R. Edgerton (90) helped to start what became the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, Burger King, but then agreed to sell the company for what proved to be a bargain price just as the industry was about to take off. Edgerton started Burger King in 1954 with $12,000 after managing Howard Johnson’s restaurants in Miami and Orlando, Fla. He soon persuaded James W. McLamore (died 1996), who owned the nearby Brickell Bridge Restaurant, to join him in what was then a novel food-service business model: a restaurant with a limited menu, fast service, and low prices, with customers going inside to place orders and pay in advance. At the time, fast-food restaurants typically had carhops bring orders to a customer’s car. By 1967 it had more than 400 units in about 20 states, particularly in the East and California, and in a few other countries. Edgerton died in Miami, Florida from complications of surgery after a fall, on April 3, 2018.

Dr. Ruth Nussenzweig (89) for 50 years Nussenzweig pursued one of medical science’s most elusive goals, a vaccine for malaria, helping to bring the research from the seems-impossible stage to the brink of a breakthrough. Working at the Langone Medical Center at New York University, Nussenzweig did groundbreaking work on malaria beginning in the ‘60s, a time when many thought the complexities of that killer disease prevented it from being thwarted through vaccination. At her death, pilot programs on a malaria vaccine, based in part on Nussenzweig’s work, were to begin in Africa. Getting to that point required more than just hard work in the lab by Nussenzweig, who sometimes collaborated with her husband, Victor Nussenzweig, another eminent researcher. It required her to emigrate, then emigrate again, to escape oppression. She left Austria during the Nazi occupation, then Brazil when it came under a military dictatorship. Ruth Nussenzweig died of a pulmonary embolism in New York City on April 1, 2018.

News and Entertainment

Susan Anspach (75) actress who personified the ‘60s-into-the-’70s counterculture in films like Five Easy Pieces and Blume in Love and in the stage musical Hair. Anspach played Sheila, the good-girl-turned-hippie female lead, in the off-Broadway production of the musical Hair that immediately preceded the Broadway run. The show, which shocked some audiences with its antiwar message, celebration of nonmarital sex, and all-nude final scene, ran for 45 performances at the Cheetah Theater, a club on West 53rd Street, in December 1967. When Hair opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theater in April 1968, Lynn Kellogg was Sheila. Anspach died of coronary failure in Los Angeles, California on April 2, 2018

Steven Bochco (74) writer and producer known for creating the groundbreaking police drama Hill Street Blues. Bochco, who won 10 primetime Emmys, created several hit TV shows including LA Law, NYPD Blue, and Doogie Howser, MD. Premiering in January 1981, Hill Street Blues challenged, even confounded the meager audience that sampled it. Then, on a wave of critical acclaim, the series began to click with viewers while scoring a history-making 27 Emmy nominations its first year. During its seven-season run, it won 26 Emmys and launched Bochco on a course that led to dozens of series and earned him four Peabody awards besides the 10 Emmys. He died in his sleep in Pacific Palisades, California after a battle with cancer, on April 1, 2018.

Don Cherry (94) leading pop singer of the ‘50s who performed at clubs and hotels by night while becoming one of America’s top amateur golfers by day. Cherry's biggest hit was “Band of Gold” (no connection to the later Freda Payne hit of the same title), recorded in 1955 with an arrangement by Ray Conniff, which reached the Top 10. More than 50 years later the recording provided the soundtrack for the opening scene of the first episode of the TV series Mad Men. As a golfer, Cherry was a contender as an amateur into the fourth round of the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills in suburban Denver, finishing in a three-way tie for ninth at even par, four strokes behind winner Arnold Palmer. He died in Las Vegas, Nevada on April 4, 2018.

Ronald Dunbar (78) record executive, producer, and Grammy Award-winning songwriter credited with several soul hits. Dunbar started working with Berry Gordy soon after Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959. He worked closely with the production and songwriting team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, better known as Holland-Dozier-Holland, and received more recognition after he left Motown with them in the late ‘60s. At Holland-Dozier-Holland Productions, Dunbar worked with artists as an executive and was credited with writing several hits released on the company’s Invictus label. He died at a doctor’s office near his home in Fresno, California on April 3, 2018.

Gertrude Jeannette (103) stage and film actress believed to be the first woman licensed to drive a cab in New York City, in 1942. Jeannette never wanted to act, she said, but was pushed into the theater. With the money she earned driving, she set out to correct her childhood stammer by enroling in the one speech class she could find, at the American Negro Theater, housed in the basement of what is today the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Acting instruction was part of the curriculum, and she studied alongside Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis. She was cast in her first Broadway production, Lost in the Stars, which premiered at the Music Box Theater in 1949, and later landed roles in other Broadway productions like The Skin of Our Teeth (1975). Her film credits include Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Shaft (1971). She died in Harlem, New York on April 4, 2018.

Connie Lawn (73) radio and broadcast reporter who covered the White House in the waning days of Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, when women were a rarity there, to the first year of Donald J. Trump’s. Unlike many White House correspondents, Lawn built her nearly 50-year career without the consistent support of an established media company. She created an independent news service called Audio Video News (was the only employee) and reported for different clients, like the BBC, Radio New Zealand, USA Radio Network, and Salem Radio Network. Lawn said she had created her own company to maintain her independence and pursue stories that interested her. She died of a rare form of Parkinson’s disease in Falls Church, Virginia on April 2, 2018.

Donald McKayle (87) modern dancer and choreographer who brought the black experience in America to the Broadway stage in musicals such as Raisin and Sophisticated Ladies. McKayle began dancing as a teenager and choreographed works that focused on black life and socially conscious themes such as poverty, homelessness, and discrimination. His 1959 work Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder depicted the lives of chain-gang prisoners. He was the first black man to both direct and choreograph major Broadway musicals, including Raisin (1973; based on the '59 play Raisin in the Sun), which won the Tony as best musical, and Sophisticated Ladies (1981), a revue showcasing music by Duke Ellington. McKayle also choreographed for movies and TV shows. A professor emeritus of dance at the University of California at Irvine, he died in Irvine, California on April 6, 2018.

Janka Nabay (54) singer, songwriter, and bandleader from Sierra Leone who modernized an ancient tradition called bubu and carried it worldwide. During the ‘90s, Nabay took the speedy beat of music that had been heard for centuries in parades and celebrations and transferred it to Western instruments. His songs became hits as civil war tore Sierra Leone apart and were claimed by both sides, although his music increasingly carried direct antiwar messages. Nabay emigrated from Sierra Leone in 2002. Living in New York, he started a band, the Bubu Gang, that introduced bubu to an international audience. In 2017 Nabay toured Europe for the first time, playing festivals. When the tour ended in August, visa problems prevented him from returning to the US, and he moved back to Sierra Leone. He was living in Freetown at his death from an undiagnosed stomach illness, on April 2, 2018.

Soon-tek Oh (85) South Korean-born actor and cofounder of East West Players, a Los Angeles group that promotes substantive roles for Asian-Americans. Oh's long career included more than 100 TV and film appearances. His theater career also included a notable Broadway appearance in Pacific Overtures, the 1976 Stephen Sondheim musical. Oh appeared in multiple episodes of M*A*S*H, Charlie’s Angels, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, PI, Touched by an Angel, and other TV series. He was in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), the Chuck Norris film Missing in Action 2 (1985), and the Chris Farley comedy Beverly Hills Ninja (1997) and was the voice of Fa Zhou, the title character’s father, in the animated Mulan (1998). Soon-tek Oh died of Alzheimer's disease in Los Angeles, California on April 4, 2018.

Lois Wheeler Snow (97) former actress and writer whose criticism of human rights abuses in China was amplified by the legacy of her husband, American journalist Edgar Snow (died in 1972), author of the landmark book Red Star over China. Lois Wheeler was an up-and-coming Broadway actress in 1949 when she married Snow, best known for his sympathetic '37 portrayal of China’s struggling young Communist revolutionaries. It introduced many Western readers to Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and others who later led the People’s Republic of China. But what began as a vibrant friendship with Chinese officials soured after the government’s violent suppression of Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, which left hundreds of civilians dead. Afterward, Lois Snow began to see the Communist Party—the party that she and her husband had so ardently supported over the years—in a different light. She died in Nyon, Switzerland on April 3, 2018.

Cecil Taylor (89) pianist who revolutionized jazz by launching the free-jazz movement in the late ‘50s. Taylor was known as one of the pioneers of the free-jazz movement and was seen as both a ground-breaking and uncompromising artist. He released his first album, Jazz Advance, in 1956. He was also known as a poet and would recite his poems at live shows. He died in Brooklyn, New York on April 5, 2018.

Politics and Military

Daniel K. Akaka (93) former US senator, a Democrat who represented Hawaii for 36 years in Congress and successfully fought for the belated recognition of Asians and Asian-Americans who had fought for the US in World War II. A WWII veteran himself, Akaka sponsored legislation in 1996 that led to a reevaluation of the service records of Asian-Americans who had fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Division during the war. As a result, almost two dozen Medals of Honor, the military’s highest award, were ultimately bestowed belatedly, some posthumously, on Asian-American veterans, most of them of Japanese heritage. Only one had been awarded during the war itself. Akaka, who did not run for reelection in 2012, had been hospitalized for several months. He died in Honolulu, Hawaii on April 6, 2018.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (81) antiapartheid activist and ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, South African antiapartheid revolutionary and political leader who was president of his country from 1994-99. Madikizela-Mandela was married to Mandela from 1958–96. Mandela, who died in 2013, was imprisoned throughout most of their marriage, and Madikizela-Mandela’s own activism against white minority rule led to her being imprisoned for months and placed under house arrest for years. Her political activism was marred by her conviction in 1991 for kidnapping and assault, for which she was fined. She faced those allegations again during the 1997 hearings before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, a panel that investigated apartheid-era crimes. As a parliamentarian after South Africa’s first all-race elections, she was convicted of fraud. Madikizela-Mandela had been in and out of hospital since the start of the year. She died in Johannesburg, South Africa on April 2, 2018.

Charles McDew (79) whose three arrests in two days as a college student for violating South Carolina's racial codes transformed him into a civil rights pioneer. In 1960, just months after those three arrests, McDew, as a college freshman from Ohio, became a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group dedicated to direct action but nonviolent tactics in fighting for racial justice. From later that fall until 1963, he was the organization’s second chairman, serving between Marion Barry, who became mayor of Washington, DC, and John Lewis, later elected to Congress from Georgia. McDew died of a heart attack in West Newton, Massachusetts on April 3, 2018.

Mary Regula (91) former congressman’s wife who founded the National First Ladies’ Library in Ohio. Regula was a former schoolteacher and avid campaigner for her husband, former US Rep. Ralph Regula (died in July 2017 at 92), a Republican who was elected to 18 terms in the US House. Mary Regula was the driving force behind the First Ladies' Library in Canton, fund-raising and turning the idea into reality despite her husband’s initial reluctance. She died in Navarre, Ohio eight months after the death of her husband, on April 5, 2018.

Efrain Rios Montt (91) Guatemalan military dictator charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed by his troops during the country’s long-running civil war. Gen. Rios Montt assumed power on Mar. 23, 1982 in a coup staged by junior officers. Guatemala was long familiar with rule by military strongmen and human rights abuses, but during Rios Montt’s 17-month reign, repression by state security forces reached new levels of brutality. A United Nations-sponsored truth commission found that nearly half of all the human rights violations during the 36-year conflict occurred in 1982, a year when Rios Montt was de facto ruler of Guatemala for nine months. More than 200,000 Guatemalans perished during the civil war’s violence, and government forces were responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Rios Montt died of a heart attack in Guatemala City, Guatemala on April 1, 2018.


Bob Beattie (85) coached the US ski team in 1964 when its men won their first alpine medals at the Olympics and brought lively analysis to his work as a skiing commentator for ABC Sports. Beattie helped to launch the World Cup circuit more than 50 years ago and was part of the commentary crew that called one of the most thrilling Alpine races at the 1976 Winter Games. He died in Fruita, Colorado on April 1, 2018.

Eric Bristow (60) British laborer’s son who began mastering the pub game of darts as a teenager and became a dominant world champion in the ‘80s. Nicknamed the Crafty Cockney, Bristow won five British Darts Organization world titles from 1980–86 using an unusual technique: Before letting a dart fly, he would raise his right pinkie as if he were daintily lifting a cup of tea. His cheeky personality helped to fuel the popularity of the game and move its tournaments from halls with 1,000 seats to arenas with 10,000 or more filled with screaming fans. Prize money has swelled since the ‘80s. When he won the world title in 1986, Bristow earned the equivalent of $29,650. The reigning Professional Darts Corp. world champion, Rob Cross, earned the equivalent of $541,000 in taking the title. Bristow died in Liverpool, England of a heart attack he suffered outside the Echo Arena after a tournament, where he was working as a hospitality host, on April 5, 2018.

Ray ('Butch') Wilkins (61) midfielder who captained England’s national soccer team and played for illustrious clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, and AC Milan in a 24-year career. Nicknamed Butch, Wilkins was a gifted two-footed, or ambidextrous, midfielder and an intelligent passer. He began his professional career as a substitute with Chelsea in 1973, when he was just 17, and became a team captain in '75. Wilkins played in 194 games for United and scored 10 goals, winning the Football Association Challenge Cup with the club in 1983, before he moved to AC Milan in ’84. He played in Milan for three years before embarking on a short stint at Paris Saint-Germain. He also played for the Rangers, winning the Scottish league title with them in 1989, and Queens Park Rangers in a club career that ended in ’97. At the international level, Wilkins played 84 times for England—as team captain for 10 games. He had been placed in a coma after suffering cardiac arrest on March 30. He died five days later in London, England on April 4, 2018.

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