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

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Bob Bergland, Jimmy Carter's secretary of agricultureWilliam Blum, US foreign policy dissenterJerry Chesnut, country songwriterMelvin Dummar, claimed to be heir of Howard HughesAlvin Epstein, right, in Samuel Beckett's 'Endgame' with Elaine StritchRiccardo Giacconi, Nobel-winning astrophysicistJohn J. Gibbons, lawyer and judgeRalph Koltai, set designer for stage, ballet, and operaMeng Lang, Chinese poetEleanor Emmons Maccoby, psychologist who studied gender differencesTimothy C. May, advocate of Internet privacyYuan Mu, Chinese Communist Party propaganda officialWilliam Newsom 3rd, former judge and father of California's Gov.-Elect Gavin NewsomJoan Steinbrenner, widow of NY Yankees owner George SteinbrennerNancy Wilson, Grammy-winning singerDeborah Zall, dancer and choreographer

Art and Literature

Meng Lang (57) poet who promoted Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, along with other dissident Chinese writers. Meng’s writing has been published and translated into many languages, and he was a cofounder of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, a nonprofit organization formed in 2011 to promote freedom of expression and publication. He was also a longtime supporter of Liu, a renegade Chinese intellectual who protected students from encroaching soldiers during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and won the Nobel Peace Prize years later while locked away. In 2017 Liu became the first Nobel laureate to die in state custody since 1938. Among Meng’s last projects was an anthology of poems in Liu’s memory, published earlier this year in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Meng died of lung cancer in Hong Kong on December 12, 2018.

Business and Science

Riccardo Giacconi (87) astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for pioneering the study of the universe through the X-rays emitted in the cosmos by black holes, exploding stars, and galaxies. Giacconi left lasting imprints on major astronomical institutions like the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which runs the Hubble Space Telescope, and the European Southern Observatory in Germany, where he oversaw the building of the largest telescope on Earth. He helped to set the pattern for how large scientific projects are run today. Giacconi died in the La Jolla section of San Diego, California on December 9, 2018.

Eleanor Emmons Maccoby (101) psychologist and a pioneer in the field of gender studies who was the first woman to head the Stanford University psychology department. Maccoby, whom the American Psychological Association listed among the 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, conducted research in child development and gender studies. She explored a wide range of topics, including interactions between parent and child and the effect of divorce on children. But the overarching themes of her long career were the differences between the sexes and how they develop. Those were the subjects of two of her most significant books: The Psychology of Sex Differences (1974) and The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together (1998). Maccoby died of pneumonia in Palo Alto, California on December 11, 2018.

Timothy C. May (66) physicist, polemicist, and advocate of Internet privacy who helped to start a movement aimed at protecting the privacy of individuals online. As leader of a group called the Cypherpunks, May, in his writings, foreshadowed and influenced many of the concerns about privacy and government control that have come to dominate the Internet age. Much of his writing, incorporating elements of advanced math, libertarian politics, and even science fiction, was circulated by the Cypherpunks, a group he cofounded with John Gilmore and Eric Hughes in 1992. It inspired later online movements like WikiLeaks and cryptocurrency technologies like Bitcoin. May died in Corralitos, California on December 13, 2018.


John J. Gibbons (94) lawyer who persuaded the authorities in Newark, New Jersey to provide access to the courts for people detained during riots in 1967 and nearly 40 years later argued successfully before the US Supreme Court that foreign prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba had legal rights too. Gibbons also spent 20 years as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, based in Philadelphia, and was its chief judge for three years. The Guantánamo detainees—16 were involved in two consolidated cases—contended that they had been denied access to lawyers and federal courts in violation of their due process rights. Lawyers representing the administration of President George W. Bush responded that the courts had no jurisdiction over the base because the detainees were not American citizens and not on American soil. Gibbons argued that the US held sovereignty over the base through a perpetual lease with Cuba. He died in Maplewood, New Jersey on December 9, 2018.

William Newsom 3rd (84) former California judge, environmental advocate, and father of California’s governor-elect, Gavin Newsom. Judge Newsom was appointed to the Placer County Superior Court in 1975 and to the State Court of Appeals in ’78 by Gov. Jerry Brown, who was serving the first of his four terms at the time. Judge Newsom retired in 1995. A staunch advocate of environmental protection, he served on the boards of the Sierra Club Foundation and the Environmental Defense Fund. He died in San Francisco, California on December 12, 2018.

News and Entertainment

Jerry Chesnut (87) blue-collar songwriter who wrote hits for Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, and more than 100 other popular artists, including another Elvis, Costello. Chesnut had a gift for portraying the struggles of working people, like the factory hand in “Oney,” a song, drawn from his experience with a tyrannical employer, that became a Top 10 country hit for Johnny Cash in 1972. “Looking at the World Through a Windshield,” a two-stepping country hit for singer Del Reeves in 1968, portrays a solitary trucker speeding through the night, longing for home. Written with Mike Hoyer, the song was later recorded by country-rock bands Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. Chesnut had experienced respiratory problems since October. He died in Brentwood, Tennessee on December 15, 2018.

Alvin Epstein (93) classical stage actor and director who appeared in the 1956 Broadway premiere of Waiting for Godot and later became widely known for his mastery of that and other plays by Samuel Beckett. In a field not known for consistent employment, Epstein seemed never to stop working. His résumé from his years at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts alone includes more than 50 productions. He was a founding member of that company and the Yale Repertory Theater and was long affiliated with nonprofit and regional theater. Epstein’s acting career ranged across the Greeks, Shakespeare, Pirandello, and the occasional musical, but Beckett was always at its core. He played the slave Lucky, who delivers a 700-word monologue, in the first Broadway staging of Godot, Beckett’s groundbreaking existentialist work. Epstein died of pneumonia in Newton, Massachusetts on December 10, 2018.

Ralph Koltai (94) set designer who gave an often startling look to hundreds of major theatrical, balletic, and operatic productions in England, the US, and elsewhere. Koltai emigrated from Germany as a teenager just before World War II and later was part of the British team at the Nuremberg trials. He was one of the most influential stage designers of the second half of the 20th century, helping to move theater and opera sets away from utility and realism and toward interpretation and statement-making. It was not uncommon for an audience to gasp collectively upon first sight of one of his sets. Shown above is the one he created for a 1974 production of Oedipus at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England. Koltai died in Châtellerault, France on December 15, 2018.

Nancy Wilson (81) singer whose approach to her craft provided a bridge between the jazz-pop vocalists of the ‘50s and the pop-soul singers of the ‘60s and ’70s. In a long and celebrated career, Wilson performed American standards, jazz ballads, Broadway show tunes, rhythm and blues torch songs, and middle-of-the-road pop pieces, all delivered with a strong sense of a song’s narrative. She won three Grammy Awards, one for best R&B recording for the 1964 album How Glad I Am and two for best jazz vocal album, in 2005 and ’07. Wilson died in Pioneertown, California on December 13, 2018.

Deborah Zall (84) dancer and choreographer who studied with Martha Graham and later made her own mark with solo works depicting extraordinary women. Zall was known for vivid portrayals of women drawn from history, including Mary Queen of Scots and Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, the French author who wrote under the pseudonym George Sand, and fictional characters like Amanda Wingfield from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Zall gave performances that were praised for their commitment and focus. She died of pneumonia in New York City on December 11, 2018.

Politics and Military

Bob Bergland (90) Minnesota Democrat who, as a liberal congressman and President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of agriculture, was an advocate for America’s consumers and its farmers. A descendant of 19th century Norwegians who settled in the blizzard country of northern Minnesota, Bergland experienced poverty and unemployment and, as a young man, was forced to leave his farm for Florida to find work. Later, representing a largely rural district in Congress from 1971–77, then as a member of the Carter cabinet until ‘81, he spoke passionately about his hard-pressed constituents. Bergland died in his hometown of Roseau, Minnesota on December 9, 2018.

William Blum (85) computer programmer for the State Department who aspired to become a career Foreign Service officer but became disillusioned over the Vietnam War. Blum raged against US foreign policy for decades until one of his published anti-imperialist diatribes got a boost in sales thanks to a public tribute from Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabian cofounder of the militant Islamic group al-Qaeda. After helping to inaugurate a short-lived biweekly underground newspaper, the Washington Free Press, and joining in antiwar protests, Blum said he was pressured in 1967 to quit his government job. In the decades after that, he wrote largely controversial articles and columns, in print for publications like Foreign Policy Journal and Counterpunch, and later online. He also produced, and contributed to, exposés in books and other media about what he called misdeeds by the US at home and abroad that were carried out in the name of national security. Blum had been hospitalized after being injured in a fall in his apartment in October. He died of kidney failure in Arlington, Virginia on December 9, 2018.

Yuan Mu (90) Communist Party propaganda official who defended the Chinese military’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters around Tiananmen Square in 1989. Yuan won notoriety as an ally of Li Peng, premier during the Tiananmen crackdown, but first rose to prominence under Zhao Ziyang, Li’s more liberal rival. By 1983 Yuan was a spokesman for the government, although a brief biography issued at his funeral said he was formally made spokesman for the State Council, China’s cabinet, in 1986. He represented China to the outside world at a time of intense factional battles within the ruling Communist Party and a major restructuring of the Chinese economy. But Yuan was mainly remembered as public defender of the government’s response to the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in Beijing in June 1989. He died in Beijing, China on December 13, 2018.

Society and Religion

Melvin Dummar (74) Utah gas station owner in the '60s who never saw the $156 million he argued for decades that eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes unexpectedly bequeathed to him for rescuing him on a desert road and driving him for nearly three hours to Las Vegas in 1967. Dummar claimed to have received a copy of Hughes's handwritten will, and it said that Hughes had left him 1/16 of his estate. The revelation catapulted Dummar to the center of a media circus. Hughes died with no surviving immediate family and, according to his extended family, no will—which was why the document produced by Dummar, loaded with misspellings and incorrect information (unusual for the meticulous Hughes), caused such a sensation. Dummar, whose story was depicted in the 1980 film Melvin & Howard, died in Pahrump, Nevada on December 9, 2018.


Joan Steinbrenner (83) widow of late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Joan Steinbrenner held the title of Yankees vice chair. In 1956 she married George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010. Their son Hal has been the team’s controlling owner since November 2008. Joan Steinbrenner died in Tampa, Florida on December 14, 2018.

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