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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, February 22, 2020

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Owen Bieber, former UAW leaderZoe Caldwell, Tony-winning Australian actressJean Daniel, French journalistJa'Net DuBois, 'Good Times' actressTony Fernandez, shortstop with five All-Star teamsDawn Mello, retailer who revived Bergdorf GoodmanKellye Nakahara, played Nurse Yamato on 'M*A*S*H'Charles Portis, novelistPop Smoke, rising young rapperSy Sperling, founder of Hair Club for MenLawrence Tester, computer scientist who invented 'cut, copy, and paste'Mickey Wright, champion golfer

Art and Literature

Charles Portis (86) novelist, a favorite among critics and writers for such shaggy dog stories as Norwood and Gringos and a bounty for Hollywood whose bloody Western True Grit was a best-seller twice adapted into Oscar-nominated films, including the 1969 John Wayne feature. Portis was among the most admired authors to nearly vanish from public consciousness in his own lifetime. His fans included Tom Wolfe, Roy Blount Jr., and Larry McMurtry, and he was often compared to Mark Twain for his plain-spoken humor and wry perspective. Portis saw the world from the ground up, from bars and shacks and trailer homes, and few spun wilder and funnier stories. In a Portis novel, usually set in the South and south of the border, characters embarked on journeys that took the most unpredictable detours. A former newspaper reporter, Portis had been suffering from Alzheimer’s in recent years. He died in Little Rock, Arkansas on February 17, 2020.

Business and Science

Dawn Mello (88) visionary retailer who forged a career in the mid-‘70s and ’80s, recasting Bergdorf Goodman, a once musty relic on Fifth Avenue, as a temple of high-end consumption. In the ’90s Mello helped to restore luster to Gucci and a cluster of fading brands. Her keen eye helped to shift the landscape of American fashion and retailing. To admirers she was a force field, one of the few women to rise to leadership positions in retailing, wielding clout, first as Bergdorf’s vice president and fashion director, then as president. She was also among the first to snap up and promote designers including Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Azzedine Alaïa, Kate Spade, and Tom Ford at the start of their careers. Mello died in New York City on February 16, 2020.

Sy Sperling (78) Hair Club for Men founder, famous for the TV commercials where he proclaimed, “I’m not only the Hair Club president, but I’m also a client.” In the late ‘60s Sperling was a balding New York swimming pool salesman, growing frustrated with toupees. Using a weaving technique he learned from his hair stylist, he took $10,000 in credit card debt to open his own salon on Madison Avenue, where he perfected a system in which a nylon mesh cap was glued to the scalp. The client’s remaining hair would grow through it, then hair purchased from women that matched the color was woven into the mesh. The clients would then come in several times a year for adjustments. Business took off but by the late ‘70s had stagnated. Word of mouth was unreliable because many clients weren’t eager to tell their friends they were using a hair-replacement system. Sperling began advertising on TV, and in 1982 he went national with commercials running 400 times daily on late-night TV. They became so ubiquitous they were spoofed on the Tonight show and Saturday Night Live. Sperling sold the business to a group of investors in 2000 for $45 million. He died in Boca Raton, Florida on February 19, 2020.

Lawrence Tesler (74) pioneering computer scientist who in his work at Xerox and with Steve Jobs at Apple devoted himself to making it easier for users to interact with computers. Tesler worked at several of Silicon Valley’s most important companies. But it was as a young researcher at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in the ‘70s that he did his most significant work, helping to develop today’s style of computer interaction based on a graphical desktop metaphor and a mouse. Early in his Xerox career (began there in 1973), working with another researcher, Tim Mott, Tesler developed a program known as Gypsy, which did away with the restrictive modes that had made text editing complicated. For example, until Gypsy, most text-editing software had one mode for entering text and another for editing it. Tesler was passionate about simplifying interaction with computers. At Apple he was responsible for the idea that a computer mouse should have only one button. He died in Portola Valley, California on February 16, 2020.

News and Entertainment

Zoe Caldwell (86) actress who won Tony Awards—four in all—in the ‘60s, ’80s, and ’90s, the last for portraying opera star Maria Callas in Master Class, Terence McNally’s study of the end of the singer’s career. Born in Australia, Caldwell began her acting career in that country. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in England in 1959. Then, after a stop at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, she was part of the first season of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis in 1963. In 1966 she was in a bill of two short Tennessee Williams plays on Broadway, combined under the title Slapstick Tragedy. The run lasted only seven performances, but Caldwell made an impression: She won a Tony Award for best featured actress in a play. A more memorable performance came in 1968 when she starred on Broadway in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Jay Allen’s play based on a Muriel Sparks novel about an imperious teacher in the ‘30s. Caldwell died of Parkinson’s disease in Pound Ridge, New York on February 16, 2020.

Jean Daniel (99) French journalist who, on a secret mission to Havana in the fall of 1963, delivered a proposal from President John F. Kennedy to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. It was an offer to explore a rapprochement. Despite the distrust and raw feelings of the Cuban missile crisis, which had nearly plunged the world into nuclear war a year earlier, Daniel, a confidant of political leaders in many capitals during the Cold War, found Castro cautiously receptive to Kennedy’s overture. Three days later—it was November 22, 1963—over lunch at Castro’s seafront retreat on Varadero Beach, they were still discussing the offer when the phone rang with the news of Kennedy's assassination. Both knew instantly that rapprochement had died with the president. Daniel died in Paris, France on February 19, 2020.

Ja'Net DuBois (87) actress who played neighbor Willona Woods on Good Times and composed and sang the theme song for The Jeffersons. DuBois’s song “Movin’ on Up” provided an upbeat introduction to The Jeffersons during the show’s 10-season run. She had a prolific career beyond the ‘70s hit Good Times, winning two Emmy Awards for her voice work on the WB series The PJs. Her Willona was the single, sexy neighbor and best friend of star Esther Rolle’s Florida Evans. Although the comedy had plenty of one-liners, DuBois’s appearances gave an extra dose of comedic relief. Her career started in theater, where she appeared in Broadway productions of Golden Boy and A Raisin in the Sun. She died in Glendale, California on February 17, 2020.

Kellye Nakahara (72) film and TV actress best known for playing Lt. Nurse Kellye Yamato on M*A*S*H. A native of Hawaii, Nakahara also appeared in the film Clue and in John Hughes’s She’s Having a Baby. More recently she worked as a watercolor artist and was involved in her local arts community. M*A*S*H, the acclaimed sitcom set during the Korean War, ran from 1972–83. Nurse Kellye carried a secret crush on the show’s major character, womanizing surgeon Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda. In a memorable scene, Kellye reveals her feelings, scolding Hawkeye for having his “eyes ... on every nurse” except her. Nakahara died in Pasadena, California on February 16, 2020.

Pop Smoke (20) rising Brooklyn rapper, born Bashar Barakah Jackson, who had a breakout year of hit songs and albums. Smoke was fatally shot during a break-in at a Hollywood Hills, California home, his label said. Police found him shortly before 5 a.m. after responding to a 911 call from someone who reported that intruders, including one armed with a handgun, were breaking in. The home is owned and rented out by Edwin Arroyave and his wife Teddi Mellencamp, daughter of Rock & Roll Hall-of-Famer John Mellencamp and a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Teddi Mellencamp said she and her husband were not aware of any further details beyond what they learned through media reports. Police said the 911 call came from “back East” and reported the break-in was occurring at a friend’s home. Pop Smoke came onto the rap scene in 2018 and broke out last spring with “Welcome to the Party” a gangsta anthem in which he brags about shootings, killings, and drugs. Earlier this month he released the album Meet the Woo 2, which debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. It was the follow-up to his first official release, Meet the Woo, last July. He died on February 19, 2020.

Politics and Military

Owen Bieber (90) US labor leader who led the United Auto Workers union from the auto industry’s dark days of the early ‘80s to the prosperity of the mid-‘90s. Taking over as its president in 1983, Bieber shepherded the UAW through a recession, the Reagan era, industry downsizing, and expanding global competition. He led the UAW through contract talks that won its members wages, benefits, and job and income security that were unmatched in other major US industries. Under Bieber, the UAW also actively supported the Solidarity labor movement, which challenged Poland’s Communist government, and the antiapartheid movement in South Africa. Bieber traveled to South Africa twice, raising the alarm about the imprisonment of labor activists and smuggling images of torture out of the country. In 1986 he was arrested while marching at the South African embassy in Washington, DC. When former South African President Nelson Mandela toured the US after his release from prison, Bieber stood at his side during a rally in Detroit. Bieber died on February 17, 2020.


Tony Fernandez (57) shortstop who made five All-Star teams during his 17 seasons in the major leagues and helped the Toronto Blue Jays to win the 1993 World Series. Fernandez won four straight Gold Gloves with the Blue Jays in the ‘80s and held club records for career hits and games played. A clutch hitter in five trips to the postseason, he had four separate stints with Toronto and played for six other teams, including the New York Yankees, who replaced him at shortstop in 1996 with 21-year-old Derek Jeter. Fernandez was slated to slide over to second base and stick around as insurance, but he broke his right elbow (for the second time in his career) lunging for a ball late in spring training and missed the entire season. The next year he caught on at second with the Cleveland Indians and was instrumental in their 1997 American League pennant. He batted .357 in the AL Championship Series against Baltimore and homered in the 11th inning at Camden Yards to give Cleveland a 1-0 victory in the clinching Game 6—his only postseason home run. Fernandez, who had waited years for a new kidney, was in a medically induced coma when he died of kidney disease in Weston, Florida on February 16, 2020.

Mickey Wright (85) golf great with a magnificent swing who won 13 majors among her 82 victories and gave the fledgling Ladies Professional Golf Association a crucial lift. Wright joined the LPGA in 1955, and the Hall of Famer’s 82 wins place her second on the all-time list behind Kathy Whitworth, who won 88. The Associated Press in 1999 named Wright the Female Golfer of the Century and Female Athlete of the Year in 1963 and ’64. A Golf magazine poll of experts in 2009 called her the best female golfer ever, and men’s champions Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson said Wright had the best swing they ever saw. Wright had been hospitalized in Florida the last few weeks after a fall. She died of a heart attack three days after her 85th birthday, on February 17, 2020.

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