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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, October 24, 2020

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Marge Champion, half of '50s dance team, with husband Gower in 'Show Boat' (1951)Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former right-hand man to Saddam HusseinH. Jesse Arnelle, cofounder of pioneer minority-owned corporate law firmMarylin Bender, '70s Sunday business editor at NY TimesWilliam Blinn, TV and film screenwriterAlan S. Boyd, first US secretary of transportationSpencer Davis, British rock guitaristArolde de Oliveira, Brazilian politicianJames A. Johnson, campaign operativeAlbert R. Johnson, bioethicistDr. J. Michael Lane, epidemiologist who helped to eradicate smallpoxMing Cho Lee, set designer shown with his set for 2005 revival of 'Moon for the Misbegotten'Enzo Mari, industrial designer with his Milan traffic bollardsBill Mathis, NY Jets running backJill Paton Walsh, British author of young-adult novelsJames Randi, magician who debunked 'supernatural' performersPeter Secchia, lumber company CEOMaurice Segal, public relations executiveViola Smith, big band drummer during WWIIJerry Jeff Walker, country singer and songwriter

Art and Literature

Enzo Mari (88) Italian industrial designer, artist, and polemicist who made simple, beautiful objects, including toys and traffic bollards, that delighted generations of Italians and design buffs all over the world. Mari was known as much for his grumpy pronouncements on the state of design—which he disdained as mostly unnecessary and a waste of labor and material—as for his own designs. His most beloved works include an elegant platter made from a slightly bent I-beam; a cunning puzzle of 16 animals jigsawed from a single piece of oak; a perpetual calendar that worked like old traffic signals, with days and months printed on plastic cards that pivot out; and a do-it-yourself handbook and anti-industrial manifesto for making furniture using only nails and standard lumber (no need for fancy joinery). Mari died of the coronavirus in Milan, Italy on October 19, 2020.

Jill Paton Walsh (83) in the ‘60s, Paton Walsh began writing young-adult books that challenged her readers in both plotting and messaging. There was Fireweed (1970), a story of two British adolescents who set up housekeeping in a bombed-out building during World War II. There was Goldengrove (1972), about two youths who make the transition from childhood to adulthood during an eventful summer. But in 1994 Paton Walsh achieved a whole different level of acclaim with a book for adults, Knowledge of Angels, a genre-defying medieval fable about an atheist and a girl raised by wolves. There she delved into themes of faith and reason and more; yet despite her success with books for young readers, no one in her native England would publish it. So Paton Walsh published it herself—and had the last laugh. The book was short-listed for the Booker Prize, one of the top literary awards in the world, and is said to be the first self-published book to make that elite list. Paton Walsh died of heart and kidney failure in Huntingdon, England, near Cambridge, on October 18, 2020.


Business and Science

Dr. J. Michael Lane (84) epidemiologist who waged a 13-year war against the scourge of smallpox and led the final drive for its global eradication in 1977, when the last known vestige of the disease was snuffed out in East Africa. In his years of writing and lecturing on smallpox, Lane drew a vivid portrait of that unseen enemy, one of humanity’s oldest and most terrifying infectious diseases. Perhaps emerging from a rodent virus 10,000 years ago, it periodically swept around the world over the centuries, killing or blinding a third of its victims: hundreds of millions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas; 80 per cent of the Native Americans who caught it from European invaders; and the multitudes and monarchs of many lands. Its traces were found in the 3,000-year-old mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V of Egypt. US Presidents George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln survived it, and in the 20th century it was blamed for 300 million deaths before it was finally wiped out in an international campaign led by public health officials in the US and the Soviet Union. Smallpox was declared dead by the World Health Organization in 1980 after a global search found no evidence of it more than two years after it had infected its last human being, a hospital cook in Somalia in 1977. Today, 40 years later, no verified smallpox case has surfaced anywhere, and historians call its extermination one of humanity’s greatest public health achievements. Lane died of colon cancer in Atlanta, Georgia on October 21, 2020.

Peter Secchia (83) rarely boasted about his success but often marveled at it. At 25 Secchia went to work as a salesman for Universal Forest Products, a lumber company that grossed $1 million annually. Ultimately he worked his way up to chief executive and transformed the company into a global conglomerate, with annual sales of $1.6 billion by the time he retired in 2002. Secchia became a major donor to his alma mater, Michigan State University, and a civic leader and philanthropist in Grand Rapids, his adopted hometown. As a prominent Republican contributor and fundraiser, he also became a confidant of two US presidents: Gerald R. Ford and George H. W. Bush. Under Bush, Secchia was US ambassador to Italy and San Marino from 1989–93. He died of Covid-19 in Grand Rapids, Michigan on October 21, 2020.


Education

Albert R. Jonsen (89) bioethicist who brought the field of bioethics to the bedside. Jonsen’s way of reasoning influenced generations of medical ethicists. He was almost legendary among other bioethicists, respected for his wisdom and vast knowledge. His field, bioethics, is concerned with helping medical professionals, patients, and families to make difficult decisions on topics like the right to die and informed consent. It also weighs in on policy choices involving matters like the use of children or prisoners in medical research. Jonsen was a distinguished academic for most of his career—president of the University of San Francisco, where he taught philosophy and theology; chief of the division of medical ethics at UC San Francisco; and chairman of the department of medical history and ethics at the University of Washington. He died in San Francisco, California on October 21, 2020.


Law

H. Jesse Arnelle (86) helped to start one of the first minority-owned corporate law firms in the US 30 years after gaining acclaim as a two-sport star and the first black student body president at Penn State University. Historically, black lawyers had found little acceptance among blue-chip companies. They tended to gravitate instead to civil rights, criminal defense, personal injury, and family law. But when Arnelle and William Hastie established Arnelle & Hastie in San Francisco in 1984, they wanted a corporate clientele. Slowly they built a firm that at its peak had as many as 60 lawyers in cities around the US and that served major corporations like RJR Nabisco (defending it in tobacco litigation), AT&T, Coca-Cola, du Pont, Chrysler, Levi Strauss, and Merrill Lynch, besides the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. during the savings-and-loan crisis of the ‘80s. The firm also started one of California’s largest public-finance practices. Arnelle died of congestive heart failure in San Francisco, California on October 21, 2020.


News and Entertainment

Marylin Bender (95) when Bender was Sunday business editor of the New York Times in the ‘70s, she was one of only a handful of women with any editing clout in the newsroom. As the boss of her section, she was outraged to learn that her male deputy was making more money than she was. It was still an era when few women could be found in the Times’s newsroom, when there were no female photographers or national correspondents. The atmosphere prompted some women at the Times to bring a sex discrimination suit against the paper in 1974. Although Bender was not part of the suit, she was deposed for it. Eventually the case evolved into a class-action suit on behalf of almost 600 women. Just as a trial was set to start in 1978, the Times Co. announced a cash settlement and an affirmative action program. Today women make up 49 per cent of the newsroom staff and 46 per cent of its leadership; companywide, they make up 51 per cent of leadership positions. Bender died of dementia in New York City on October 19, 2020.

William Blinn (83) screenwriter for the landmark TV projects Brian’s Song, Roots, and the Prince film Purple Rain. Blinn won Emmy and Peabody honors for the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song, which dramatized the friendship between Chicago Bears players Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. It was a hit when it aired and is an enduring favorite with sports fans and critics. Hall of Fame running back Sayers died last month at age 77. Blinn’s work on Roots, the blockbuster 1977 miniseries adapted from Alex Haley’s book about his black ancestors in slavery and freedom, won an Emmy and a Humanitas Prize. His early TV credits included the ‘60s shows Rawhide, Bonanza, and My Favorite Martian. He also created and produced shows, among them Starsky & Hutch, The Rookies, and Pensacola: Wings of Gold, in a career that spanned 50 years. Blinn died in Burbank, California on October 22, 2020.

Marge Champion (101) dancer and choreographer who with her husband, Gower (died 1980), epitomized the clean-cut, all-American dance team of Hollywood musicals, Broadway productions, and TV variety shows of the ‘50s. Marjorie Belcher was a child of Hollywood, the daughter of a dance coach who taught her ballet, tap, and the twirls, kicks, and sweeps of the ballroom. She performed at the Hollywood Bowl as a girl and as a teenager was a model for three Walt Disney animated features, from the heroine of Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the Blue Fairy that gave life to the puppet in Pinocchio (1940), to the hippo ballerinas tripping lightly in tutus for “Dance of the Hours” in Fantasia (1940). But her career came to little until 1947, when she and Gower Champion, a childhood friend, became partners both professionally and personally. Over the next few years they were pivotal in the transition from the escapist musicals of the Depression to an exuberant new postwar age, successors to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and the first dance team to achieve national popularity through TV. The Champions divorced in 1973, and Gower became a Broadway choreographer and director (Bye Bye Birdie; Hello, Dolly!). Marge Champion died in Los Angeles, California on October 21, 2020.

Spencer Davis (81) Welsh-born guitarist and bandleader whose rock group had ‘60s hits including “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man.” Influenced by the British blues and skiffle scenes, Davis performed in bands with future stars including the Rolling Stones’s Bill Wyman and Christine Perfect—later Fleetwood Mac’s Christine McVie. He formed the Spencer Davis Group in 1963 with a teenage Steve Winwood on keyboards and guitar, his brother Muff Winwood on bass, and Pete York on drums. With Steve Winwood as lead vocalist, the band had two No. 1 British singles—“Keep on Running” in 1965 and “Somebody Help Me” in ‘66—and seven British top 40 hits before Steve Winwood’s departure in ’67. Davis released several solo albums without recapturing his ‘60s fame and later reformed the Spencer Davis Group without the Winwood brothers. In later years he was regarded as an influential elder statesman of British rock. He died in Los Angeles, California while being treated for pneumonia, on October 19, 2020.

Ming Cho Lee (90) set designer who created sets for hundreds of plays, dance works, and operas and whose ideas continue to influence the field. An emeritus professor at the Yale School of Drama, Lee was a Tony Award winner for the 1983 play K2, about two mountain climbers scaling that Himalayan peak, for which he put a huge Styrofoam-and-wood mountain onstage at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Broadway. If his K2 set was realistic in the extreme—one actor had to scale it with spiked boots and pickax—many of Lee’s other creations went in the other direction, toward minimalism. He was principal designer for Joseph Papp early in the life of the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park, and he created sets for leading dance and opera companies as well, introducing new materials and new ways to envision a work. Lee died in New York City on October 23, 2020.

James Randi (92) magician who challenged the authenticity of spoon benders, mind readers, and faith healers and became regarded as the US's foremost skeptic. Entertainer, genius, debunker, atheist—Randi was them all. He began gaining attention not long after dropping out of high school to join a carnival. As the Amazing Randi, he escaped from a locked coffin submerged in water and from a straitjacket dangling over Niagara Falls. Magical as his feats seemed, Randi concluded his shows around the globe with a simple statement, insisting that no other-worldly powers were at play. He died in Plantation, Florida on October 20, 2020.

Maurice Segal (99) former publicity and advertising executive who oversaw the public relations campaigns for classic films such as Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, The Misfits, and West Side Story. Segal first got a foothold in the film industry in 1941 as a writer at 20th Century-Fox. Over the years he joined Century Theatres and worked as a publicist for Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures, and J. Arthur Rank. In 1957 he relocated to Los Angeles to work at United Artists, where he eventually became West Coast director of advertising and publicity. Segal was studio publicity director for Universal Pictures and National General Pictures, vice president at Taft Entertainment, and a partner in Max E. Youngstein & Associates, helping to craft campaigns for such films as Judgment at Nuremberg, Tom Jones, and Little Big Man. In 1974 he launched his own publicity and marketing firm, the Maurice E. Segal Co., with a roster of clients that included the trade magazine Hollywood Reporter, the LA Herald Examiner, the American Film Institute, Filmation Studios, and Avco Embassy Pictures. In the ‘80s Segal and his wife, marketing executive Claire Segal, formed the Segal Co., which represented such cultural institutions as the LA Music Center, LA Opera, Center Theatre Group, and the Pasadena Symphony. A former member of the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Segal died in Burbank, California on October 18, 2020.

Viola Smith (107) played a giant 12-piece drum kit, was billed as the “fastest girl drummer in the world,” and wrote a widely read essay during World War II urging big bands to hire female musicians in place of the male ones who had been drafted. Smith grew up playing in a jazz band with her seven sisters. Their father conceived of the group, the Schmitz Sisters Orchestra, and they performed at state fairs and toured the vaudeville circuit. After most of her sisters left the band, Smith started another all-female outfit, the Coquettes, which rose to modest national fame in the late ‘30s. She became the first female star of jazz drumming. She performed at President Harry S. Truman’s inauguration gala and worked with Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb. Her showcase tune was called “Snake Charmer,” in which she showed her virtuosity in a flashy solo. When people called her the “female Gene Krupa,” she corrected them: Krupa, she said, was the male Viola Smith. Smith died in Costa Mesa, California on October 21, 2020.

Jerry Jeff Walker (78) Texas country singer and songwriter who wrote the pop song “Mr. Bojangles” and helped to build a new era on the Austin music scene of the ‘70s. Walker emerged from New York's Greenwich Village folk scene of the ‘60s and was a founding member of the band Circus Maximus. He later moved to Texas and in 1972 scored a hit with his version of the Guy Clark song “LA Freeway.” With the Lost Gonzo Band, Walker recorded a 1973 album live in Texas called Viva Terlingua that became a classic of the country-rock scene. In Austin he associated with the likes of Willie Nelson and Clark, morphing the local country scene along the way. In all, Walker released nearly 40 albums from 1967–2018. He died of throat cancer in Austin, Texas on October 23, 2020.


Politics and Military

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (78) one of the most senior leaders of Saddam Hussein’s government and the highest-ranking figure to have avoided capture after the American invasion in 2003. American officials, believing Douri was behind a spate of attacks, offered a $10 million reward for information on his whereabouts. He was Hussein’s right-hand man and part of his inner circle in a government that dealt brutally with Iraqi civilians and unleashed catastrophic regional wars. He was secretary-general of Hussein’s once-powerful but now banned Baath Party, which called him a passionate and faithful leader who believed in the right of his people to a dignified life. Even though it is banned, the party has continued to send occasional emails and messages on social media. Douri suffered from leukemia and had received treatment for it for years. He died in Iraq on October 24, 2020.

Alan S. Boyd (98) first US secretary of transportation, named by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 to integrate the nation’s sprawling networks of planes, trains, ships, and highways into a new superagency. Boyd won relatively high marks for a two-year effort to merge dozens of transportation-related federal agencies into a cabinet-level department with 95,000 employees and a more than $5 billion budget. Half a century later, the Department of Transportation’s $76.5 billion budget and 54,700 employees regulate aviation, railroads, mass transit, shipping, highways, pipelines, the St. Lawrence Seaway, and other transport entities. After the 911 attacks, the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard were transferred in 2003 to a new Department of Homeland Security. Boyd died in Seattle, Washington on October 18, 2020.

Arolde de Oliveira (83) used his background in electrical engineering to rise to powerful positions in Brazil’s government-run telecommunications sector during the country’s long years of dictatorship, 1964–85. De Oliveira moved on to politics, riding the wave of Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical movement to nine terms as a congressman, and in 2018 he was one of six ultraconservative senators elected on President Jair Bolsonaro’s coattails. After the coronavirus pandemic hit in the spring, Sen. De Oliveira fell in line with the president’s dismissiveness of the disease. The senator publicly disparaged social distancing as useless, contended that the number of cases was being inflated by the news media, and touted chloroquine as a potential cure despite evidence to the contrary. Several retired senators in Brazil have died of the disease, and Bolsonaro contracted the virus but recovered. De Oliveira was hospitalized in Rio de Janeiro with Covid-19 in September and died of it, making him Brazil’s first sitting senator to succumb to the virus, on October 21, 2020.

James A. Johnson (76) former campaign operative who was chief executive of housing lender Fannie Mae in the ‘90s and chairman of Walter Mondale’s presidential bid. Johnson chaired the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Brookings Institution think tank, and Fannie Mae all at the same time. Besides running Mondale’s failed run for the White House against Ronald Reagan in 1984, he was a key player in the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Edmund Muskie, and George McGovern. Johnson died of a neurological condition in Washington, DC on October 18, 2020.


Sports

Bill Mathis (81) running back, an original member of the New York Jets franchise. Mathis played his entire career in New York. He joined the Titans, as the Jets were originally known, in 1960, the year the American Football League began. He was named the franchise’s Most Valuable Player in 1961 and was selected an AFL All-Star in ‘61 and ’63. He helped the Jets to beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III in 1969 in a stunning upset. In his 10-year career, Mathis rushed for 3,589 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also caught 149 passes for 1,775 yards and nine scores. He died on October 20, 2020.


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