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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, September 15, 2018

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Alan Abel, hoaxster who faked his own death in 1980Ruth Clark, civic leader and  philanthropistAdam Clymer, political reporterPeter Donat, TV and movie actorMarin Mazzie, three-time Tony-nominated Broadway actress and singerWalter Mischel, psychologist who devised 'marshmallow test'John S. Pritchard 3rd, longtime New York law enforcerMary Nooter Roberts, scholar of African artIra Sabin, record store owner who started 'JazzTimes' magazineRachid Taha, Algerian singerShan Tianfang, Chinese storytellerJohn  Wilcock, British travel writer and alternative press reporter

Art and Literature

Mary Nooter Roberts (59) scholar of African art who helped to change the way non-Western art is presented in Western museums. Roberts came to her work at the beginning of the multiculturalist revolution of the ‘80s, when a linear Western approach to art was being replaced by a dynamic concept of varied and parallel stories. She died of breast cancer in Los Angeles, California on September 11, 2018.

Business and Science

Ruth Clark (76) civic leader and philanthropist who founded a personnel agency both to meet the demand for data processors in the ‘70s and to relieve high unemployment in Harlem and other minority neighborhoods in New York. Clark’s professional education consisted of three weeks of training as a key-punch operator. But, having seen a rising demand for temporary workers in data processing, she spotted an entrepreneurial opening and seized it, founding Clark Unlimited Personnel in midtown Manhattan in 1974. Among her other civic activities, Clark founded the Support Network, a women’s organization that raised money to buy medical equipment for Harlem Hospital Center’s neonatal intensive care unit and to provide scholarships for minority students to attend New York prep schools. She died of respiratory failure and cancer in New York City on September 13, 2018.

Walter Mischel (88) psychologist whose studies of delayed gratification in young children clarified the importance of self-control in human development. Mischel's work led to a broad reconsideration of how personality is understood. He was probably best known for the marshmallow test, which challenged children to wait before eating a treat. That test and others like it grew out of Mischel’s frustration with the predominant personality models of the mid-20th century. One model was rooted in Freudian thinking and saw people as victims of unconscious, often conflicting desires. The other was based on personality questionnaires and categorized people as having certain traits, like recklessness or restraint. Neither model was very predictive of what people actually did in experiments, Mischel concluded, in part because the models ignored context. He died of pancreatic cancer in New York City on September 12, 2018.

Ira Sabin (90) bebop drummer who in 1970 started what became JazzTimes magazine, one of the world’s leading jazz publications, as a four-page newspaper to promote new releases at his record store in Washington. For Sabin, JazzTimes reflected the passion he had had for the music since he was a teenager. Sabin’s Discount Records became a musicians’ hangout, and in an era before chains like Tower Records started to dominate music retailing, it grew to hold what is believed to have been the largest jazz inventory of any record shop in the US. Sabin died of colorectal cancer in Rockville, Maryland on September 12, 2018.


John S. Pritchard 3rd (75) tenacious investigator whose law enforcement career spanned more than 30 years and six agencies in New York, involving some of the most notorious crimes of that era. Pritchard began as a beat cop and eventually broke ground for black people in the top ranks of the New York Police Department. He also helped to bring organized crime figures to justice as a federal agent and fought corruption among police officers and in government departments as inspector general of the Metropolitan Transit Authority and of Westchester County. He was acting chief of the Transit Police before it was absorbed into the NYPD. He was also police commissioner of Mount Vernon, New York, the Westchester County city where he was raised. Pritchard died of lung cancer in Port St. Lucie, Florida on September 13, 2018.

News and Entertainment

Alan Abel (94) professional hoaxster who for more than 50 years hoodwinked the American public by making himself the subject of a news obituary in the New York Times in 1980. Abel’s assumed death, orchestrated with military precision and involving a dozen accomplices, was confirmed to the Times by several rehearsed confederates. One masqueraded as the grieving widow; another posed as an undertaker, answering fact-checking calls on a dedicated phone line that Abel had installed. After the obituary was published, Abel, symbolically rising from the grave, held a news conference, and a much-abashed Times ran a retraction. This time around, confirmed by a care home and a funeral director, Abel apparently actually did die of cancer and heart failure in Southbury, Connecticut on September 14, 2018.

Adam Clymer (81) political reporter, editor, and pollster who worked for the New York Times and other newspapers. Clymer covered the Vietnam War, eight presidential campaigns, and the downfalls of Nikita S. Khrushchev and Richard M. Nixon as a reporter and editor during his decades-long career. He had Parkinson’s disease and myasthenia gravis, a neuromuscular condition, but died of pancreatic cancer, in Washington, DC on September 10, 2018.

Peter Donat (90) Canadian actor who played Agent Fox Mulder’s father on The X-Files and had roles on TV shows, in films, and onstage. Donat had guest roles on TV shows such as Murder, She Wrote, Hawaii Five-O, Hill Street Blues, and The FBI. He also appeared in the Francis Ford Coppola films The Godfather Part II and Tucker: The Man & His Dream. He died of diabetes in Point Reyes Station, California on September 10, 2018.

Marin Mazzie (57) actress and soprano, a three-time Tony Award nominee known for powerhouse Broadway performances in Ragtime, Passion, and a revival of Kiss Me, Kate. Mazzie’s broad career went from screwball comedy—in Kiss Me, Kate and Monty Python’s Spamalot on Broadway and London’s West End—to dysfunctional moms in Next to Normal and Carrie. She earned other Broadway roles in Man of La Mancha, Bullets over Broadway, Enron, and Into the Woods. She learned of her cancer diagnosis on the opening day of a concert production of Zorba! in May 2015 but refused to pull out. Mazzie died of ovarian cancer in New York City on September 13, 2018.

Rachid Taha (59) Algerian singer who blended Arabic music with rock and techno and at times wore blue contact lenses to protest anti-Arab prejudice in his adoptive France. Taha had recently finished recording an album due for release in 2019. He was scheduled to film the first music video for one of the new songs, “Je suis Africain” (“I am African”). Born in 1958 in Algeria, Taha moved to France at age 10 with his parents. With the group Carte de Sejour (Residence Permit), he caused a stir in France in 1986 with a husky-voiced rocky cover of legendary singer-songwriter Charles Trenet’s sentimental, patriotic “Douce France” (“Sweet France“). The group distributed copies of the song in France’s parliament as lawmakers were debating changes to the country’s nationality laws. Taha died overnight after suffering a heart attack at his home in the Paris, France suburb of Les Lilas, one week before his 60th birthday, on September 11–12, 2018.

Shan Tianfang (83) storyteller whose oral renditions of classical Chinese novels and historical events propelled the ancient pingshu tradition into the modern age for generations of Chinese. Shan tried for many years to avoid becoming a performer of pingshu, the Song dynasty-era storytelling tradition. Growing up in ‘50s China in a family of folk art performers, he had seen struggle first-hand. It was a life of constant financial troubles and low social status. So it was with great reluctance when, out of financial necessity, he became an apprentice to a family friend who was a master of pingshu and made his debut in 1956. But with the onset of the repressive Cultural Revolution in 1966, radicalized youth sought to root out all remnants of China’s ancient “feudal” culture, and that included pingshu. With the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Shan revived his career. He died of multiple organ failure in Beijing, China on September 11, 2018.

John Wilcock (91) British journalist and travel writer who played a major role in the emergence of the alternative press at the Village Voice, the East Village Other, and the Underground Press Syndicate. In the ‘60s and early ’70s, a free-wheeling age of psychedelic drugs and antiwar protests, Wilcock led two lives. He was both the author of many “$5-a-day” travel books and a driving force behind underground publications that, spurning traditional journalism, attacked political, social, and cultural norms with bawdy language and comic-book imagery, all of it financed by sexually explicit advertising. He died in Ojai, California after suffering several strokes, nearly two weeks after the demise of the Village Voice, on September 13, 2018,

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