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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, November 24, 2018

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Meena Alexander, poet and scholarDr. Gerald S. Berenson, cardiologist who led Bogalusa Heart StudyJames H. Billington, headed US Library of Congress.Betty Bumpers, widow of former Arkansas governorRay  Chavez, oldest military survivor of Pearl Harbor attackWilliam J. Conklin, architect of US Navy MemorialMujahid Farid, advocate for release of elderly prisonersOlivia Hooker, among last survivors of 1921 Tulsa race riotRicky Jay, sleight-of-hand artistSy Kattelson, urban photographerSir Aaron Klug, 1982 Nobel Prize winner in chemistryTom Margittai, retired co-owner of NYC's now-defunct Four Seasons RestaurantBob McNair, founder and owner of NFL's Houston TexansWillie Naulls, pro basketball starJosé Peralta, New York State senatorNicolas Roeg, film directorMichael Paul Smith, creator of fake Internet town, Elgin ParkAmanda Sequoyah Swimmer, champion of Cherokee culture

Art and Literature

Meena Alexander (67) poet and scholar whose writings reflected the search for identity that came with a well-traveled life, including time in India, Africa, Europe, and the US. In both prose and poetry Alexander, a longtime professor at Hunter College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, explored feminism, postcolonialism, dislocation, memory, and more. She published numerous volumes of poetry, two novels, and a memoir, Fault Lines (1993). Alexander died of endometrial serous cancer in New York City on November 21, 2018,

William J. Conklin (95) architect who in the ‘60s helped to design the model community of Reston, Virginia and oversaw the restoration of the Greek Revival temple that since 1848 has served as Brooklyn’s seat of government. Conklin was also a principal designer of the US Navy Memorial, dedicated on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in 1987. He also worked with a design team, headed by architect Wallace K. Harrison, that proposed the creation of a residential community, combined with retail and office space, on landfill off Lower Manhattan. The concept was revised by Alex Cooper and Stanton Eckstut and led to Battery Park City on the Hudson River. Conklin and his collaborators, principally his longtime partner, James Rossant, were acclaimed for integrating modern structures into low-rise Manhattan blocks. Conklin died in Mitchellville, Maryland on November 22, 2018.

Sy Kattelson (95) photographer and member of the Photo League, who captured workaday New York in pictures for 50 years. In 1947 Kattelson joined the League, a leftist documentary and artistic photography group based in New York that helped to shape a generation of young photographers. Kattelson was not as well known as some other members, but he set himself apart with photographs that tended to be less political, often showing New Yorkers in unguarded moments as they rode subways, walked the avenues, wheeled perambulators, and otherwise went about their urban business. He died in Rhinebeck, New York on November 24, 2018.

Michael Paul Smith (67) former mail carrier who later became founder, chief architect, and mayor of Elgin Park, the most visited fake town in the US. The town, frozen in a mid-20th-century haze, exists only in the carefully staged photographs that Smith made with a cheap camera, vintage model miniature cars, tiny hand-built sets, and a keen sense of perspective. In 2010 the Flickr site where he displayed those pictures went viral, and within four years 74 million virtual visitors had spent time in Elgin Park. His mail-delivering experience, he said, helped to make his imaginary town as close to real as something nonexistent can be. Smith died of pancreatic cancer and diabetes in Reading, Massachusetts on November 19, 2018.

Amanda Sequoyah Swimmer (97) was born in North Carolina in 1921, a time when Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools as part of a national effort to assimilate them into mainstream culture. But as a child in fourth grade, she grew tired of being punished for speaking her native Cherokee and forced to use English, and one day she jumped her school’s courtyard fence and ran away for good. She fashioned a life devoted to the preservation of Cherokee culture, keeping its language and pottery traditions alive. Swimmer was revered in the mountainous tribal lands of western North Carolina—honored there as a “Beloved Woman”—and renowned as one of her people’s most skilled potters. Her work has been shown at the Smithsonian in Washington, the North Carolina State Museum, and at local museums across the state, Georgia, and Tennessee. It was also featured in the 2011 book Cherokee Pottery: From the Hands of Our Elders by M. Anna Fariello. Swimmer died in the Big Cove community in the federal land trust known as the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee on November 24, 2018.

Business and Science

Dr. Gerald S. Berenson (96) cardiologist who found that detecting and reducing elevated weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol in young children could help to prevent heart disease when they became adults. Berenson was a professor of cardiology at the Louisiana State University Health New Orleans School of Medicine when, in 1972, he initiated what became known as the Bogalusa Heart Study, a 40-year survey that tracked 16,000 children from birth to adulthood. The study resulted in worldwide preventive programs to encourage exercise and lower salt and fat consumption beginning when children are very young. Those measures could ward off or mitigate atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, the study concluded. The survey was one of the first to cover a population from infancy to adulthood in a single, multiracial community, Bogalusa, Louisisana. Berenson, who lived in New Orleans, had been visiting a daughter in Houston, Texas when he died of a heart attack in his sleep on November 22, 2018.

Sir Aaron Klug (92) winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1982 for devising ways to create three-dimensional images of biological molecules like proteins and DNA. Trained as a physicist, Klug—Lithuanian-born and raised in South Africa—became interested in the ‘60s in how techniques to discern the structure of crystals could be applied to biology. At first he bounced X-rays off biological molecules, but in the mid-‘60s he switched to electrons. Electron microscopy can make out tiny features as small as atoms, but it requires that samples be placed in a vacuum—an unfriendly environment for almost all components of living organisms. Klug and his collaborators worked around that issue by using heavy metals to encase the molecules. Klug was director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England from 1986–96 and played a key role in establishing what is now the Wellcome Sanger Institute, which completed about a third of the sequencing of the Human Genome Project. Knighted in 1988, he died in Cambridge, England on November 20, 2018.

Tom Margittai (90) World War II Hungarian refugee who, with partner Paul Kovi (died 1998), rejuvenated New York's Four Seasons restaurant into a majestic—and, for the first time, profitable—three-star magnet for Manhattan’s power brokers. Joseph Baum of the culinary conglomerate Restaurant Associates had created the Four Seasons on the ground floor of the Seagram Building, on Park Avenue and East 52nd Street, in 1959, but by ‘73 it was considered past its prime. Margittai and Kovi offered to buy it. The partners promoted the restaurant with a personal stamp. They published an “Annual Love Letter to New Yorkers” and signed it, “From the-two-of-us.” By 1977 Margittai and Kovi had so revolutionized the restaurant that book publisher Michael Korda proclaimed that its formerly forsaken bar, later called the Grill Room, had become “the most powerful place to eat lunch in town.” Margittai died in Santa Fe, New Mexico of complications after heart surgery, on November 23, 2018.


James H. Billington (89) former Librarian of Congress who led the world’s largest library for nearly 30 years and brought it into the digital age. Billington, chief librarian for 28 years, doubled the size of the library’s traditional analogue collections, from 85.5 million items in 1987 to more than 160 million. He also was credited with creating a massive new Library of Congress online, making research and legislative databases more easily accessible. He retired in 2015. Billington died of pneumonia in Washington, DC on November 20, 2018.


Mujahid Farid (69) former prisoner who became an advocate for the timely release of elderly inmates. Farid was a founder and a lead organizer of the organization Release Aging People in Prison, known as RAPP. His interest grew directly from his own experience. He was incarcerated after being convicted of manslaughter and the attempted murder of a New York police officer in January 1978. He was given concurrent prison sentences of 11–22 years for the manslaughter conviction and 15 years to life for attempted murder. At the end of the 15-year minimum, the state parole board denied him parole nine times. Each time his case came up, the board dealt almost exclusively with his crimes and his conviction as a violent offender, ignoring his model behavior in prison and his advancing age. On his 10th attempt, in 2011, Farid was released after 33 years. He was 62. Upon his release he dedicated himself to trying to change New York State’s parole system. Farid died of pancreatic cancer in the Bronx, New York on November 20, 2018.

News and Entertainment

Ricky Jay (72) magician who appeared in films including Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Jay’s career in acting spanned decades, with appearances on TV's Deadwood and in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. He also wrote and gave lectures on the art of magic, with presentations at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University. Jay died in Los Angeles, California on November 24, 2018.

Nicolas Roeg (90) director of provocative and other-worldly films like Don’t Look Now who gave Mick Jagger and David Bowie enduring screen roles. During the ‘70s, Roeg sent Jenny Agutter and his son Luc Roeg on the Australian Outback odyssey Walkabout; gave Jagger a big-screen role in the thriller Performance, codirected with Donald Cammell; and plunged Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland into psychological horror in the Venice-set Don’t Look Now, which became famous for its realistic depiction of sex. Roeg said later that rumors the sex had been real were “very flattering” because that meant people felt the film was authentic. He died in London, England on November 23, 2018.

Politics and Military

Betty Bumpers (93) former Arkansas first lady who advocated childhood immunizations nationwide and pushed for limiting nuclear arms proliferation. Bumpers was long married to former Arkansas governor and four-term Democrat US Sen. Dale Bumpers (died 2016). After her husband became governor in 1971, Betty Bumpers pushed childhood immunizations in Arkansas and later advised other states on her efforts. She worked with former first lady Rosalynn Carter on a national childhood immunization program during the late ‘70s and later with fellow former Arkansas first lady Hillary Clinton. In 1982 Bumpers founded Peace Links with other congressional wives. The organization sought to bring together women in the US and in the then-Soviet Union to help reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to promote nonviolent resolutions to world conflicts. Betty Bumpers died in Little Rock, Arkansas after a recent fall and complications with dementia, on November 23, 2018.

Ray Chavez (106) oldest US military survivor of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged the US into World War II. As recently as last May, Chavez had traveled to Washington, DC, where he was honored on Memorial Day by President Donald Trump. Daniel Martinez, chief historian for the National Park Service at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, confirmed that Chavez was the oldest survivor of the attack that killed 2,335 US military personnel and 68 civilians. Chavez, who had been battling pneumonia, died in his sleep in the San Diego suburb of Poway, California on November 21, 2018.

Olivia Hooker (103) one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma race riots and among the first black women in the US Coast Guard. Hooker was 6 years old when one of the worst race riots in US history broke out and destroyed much of a Tulsa neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” She hid under a table as a torch-carrying mob destroyed her family’s home and recalled hearing the mob use an axe to destroy her sister’s piano. For a child, she said, it was horrifying trying to keep quiet. She died in White Plains, New York on November 20, 2018.

José Peralta (47) New York State senator, a Democrat. Peralta represented parts of Queens and was the first Dominican-American elected to the state's Senate. He served there for eight years after a previous eight in the state Assembly. He lost a primary last September to Jessica Ramos, who takes office in January. Peralta died unexpectedly in Queens, New York on November 21, 2018.


Bob McNair (81) man who brought football back to Houston after the Oilers left for Tennessee by founding the Texans. When Houston lost the Oilers to Tennessee after the 1996 season, McNair made it his mission to return the NFL to the city. He formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998, and on Oct. 6, ‘99 he was awarded the 32nd NFL franchise. The Texans began play in 2002. McNair had battled both leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma in recent years. He died in Houston, Texas on November 23, 2018.

Willie Naulls (84) four-time All-Star forward with the New York Knicks, a member of three consecutive NBA championship teams with the Boston Celtics, and one of pro basketball’s early black stars. A fine outside shooter and a rugged rebounder, Naulls was an All-American at UCLA in 1956, his senior season, playing for future Hall of Fame coach John Wooden. He was a second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Hawks, but Naulls played in only 19 games for the Hawks before they traded him to the Knicks in December 1956. He spent all or parts of seven seasons in New York, teaming with guard Richie Guerin and forward Kenny Sears as outstanding players on lackluster teams. When Naulls played in his first All-Star Game, in January 1958, he joined Bill Russell and Maurice Stokes as the only black players on the court. He became the Knicks’s captain in the early ‘60s and was the first black athlete to hold such a post for any team in a major American sport. After retiring, he became a pastor and created Willie Naulls Ministries in southern California. Naulls died in Laguna Niguel, California of respiratory failure resulting from Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare condition that can restrict blood flow to vital organs and tissues, on November 22, 2018.

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