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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, March 20, 2021

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Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., third-generation heir to Bechtel construction empirePaul Brock, founding executive director of NABJHenry Darrow, popular Latino actorConstance Demby, composer of New Age musicAmaranth Roslyn Ehrenhalt, Abstract Expressionist painterRobert Hershon, poet and publisher of others' poetryFrances Degen Horowitz, president of CUNY Graduate CenterDick Hoyt, father who ran marathons pushing son in wheelchairPaul Jackson, played electric bass in Herbie Hancock's '70s jazz-funk bandYaphet Kotto, film, TV, and stage actorGlynn S. Lunney, NASA flight directorJohn Magufuli, president of TanzaniaElsa Peretti, model turned jewelry designerEdith Prentiss, advocate for NYC's disabledFreddie Redd, jazz pianist and composerBarbara Rickles, widow of comedian Don RicklesAl Rojas, longtime UFW labor organizerSabine Schmitz, German racing driverAlvin Sykes, self-taught legal and legislative operatorKent Taylor, founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse chain

Art and Literature

Amaranth Roslyn Ehrenhalt (93) multifaceted artist best known for her paintings. Ehrenhalt was part of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, working first in New York in the early ‘50s, then in Paris, producing canvasses full of vibrant colors. She spent much of her life in Europe, which left her less well known in the US than many of her contemporaries, but her work, which included prints, tapestries, and mosaics, has been gaining new attention in recent years. She was still making art in her East Harlem apartment in her 90s. She died of Covid-19 in New York City on March 16, 2021.


Business and Science

Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. (95) third-generation heir to the Bechtel Corp. construction empire who led its global drive for 30 years and provided President Ronald Reagan with key Cabinet members. The Stanford-educated engineer became a billionaire while leading the San Francisco-based firm’s expansion through “mega-projects” in Saudi Arabia, the US, and Canada. At 35, he took over as president from his father in 1960 and oversaw contracts for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in north San Diego County, the Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia, and the James Bay hydroelectric project in Canada. In less than 20 years he doubled the company’s size. His net worth was $3.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Bechtel died in San Francisco, California on March 15, 2021.

Robert Hershon (84) writer of sly, perceptive poetry who as a founder of Hanging Loose Press also furthered the careers of countless other poets. Hershon published more than a dozen collections of his own poems, works that could be amusing, touching, or both. He was a godfather of sorts to many younger poets. In 1966 he joined Dick Lourie, Ron Schreiber, and Emmett Jarrett in founding Hanging Loose Press, which at first was a poetry journal of loose mimeographed pages (thus the name) sold in a printed envelope that did double duty as a cover. But libraries and bookstores despised the loose page format, and after 25 issues Hershon and his colleagues converted to a bound journal, which is still published. In the ‘70s the press began publishing books as well. Its website says it has now published some 220. Hershon died of pneumonia in Brooklyn, New York on March 20, 2021.

Glynn S. Lunney (84) NASA flight director who played a major role in America’s space program and was hailed for his leadership in the rescue of three Apollo 13 astronauts when their spacecraft was rocked by an explosion en route to the moon in 1973. Lunney, who joined NASA at its inception in 1958 and became its chief flight director in ‘68, worked out of mission control in Houston in developing the elaborate procedures for the flight of Apollo 11, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on their pioneering journey to the moon in July 1969. He managed the July 1975 mission in which an Apollo spacecraft with three astronauts docked with a two-man Russian Soyuz spaceship. But Lunney was remembered especially for his take-charge efforts in the dramatic rescue of Apollo 13 astronauts James L. Lovell Jr., Fred W. Haise Jr., and John L. Swigert Jr. Along with three other flight directors and numerous NASA scientists and astronauts at the command center, he worked out the complex plan that enabled them to make it back to Earth. Lunney died of stomach cancer in Clear Lake, Texas on March 19, 2021.

Elsa Peretti (80) fashion model turned jewelry designer whose creations for Tiffany & Co. revolutionized tastes in accessories and repositioned sterling silver as a luxury material. After arriving in New York in the late ‘60s, Peretti was an immediate hit as a runway model for designers like Halston, Issey Miyake, and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo. One day she decided that she wanted to try her hand at designing a piece of jewelry, inspired by something she had seen at a flea market. She took her idea—a tiny sterling silver bud vase to be worn as a pendant on a leather cord—to a silversmith in Spain and had it made. A model wore it in the next Sant’Angelo fashion show, people noticed, and Peretti’s design career took off. Tiffany, which hadn’t carried silver jewelry for 25 years, signed her in 1974. Peretti died in her sleep in Sant Martí Vell, a village in Catalonia, Spain, on March 18, 2021.

Kent Taylor (65) founder and chief executive of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain. Taylor, who was also chairman of the company’s board of directors, founded Texas Roadhouse in 1993. He sought to create an “affordable, Texas-style” restaurant but was turned down more than 80 times as he tried to find investors. Eventually he raised $300,000 from three doctors from Elizabethtown, Kentucky and sketched out the design for the first Texas Roadhouse on a cocktail napkin. The first Texas Roadhouse opened in Clarksville, Indiana. Three of the chain’s first five restaurants failed, but it opened 611 locations in 49 states and 28 international locations in 10 countries. Taylor had been active in Texas Roadhouse’s day-to-day operations. He oversaw decisions about the menu, selected the murals for the restaurants, and personally picked songs for the jukeboxes. He died by suicide after suffering from post-Covid-19 symptoms, including severe tinnitus, which causes ringing and other noises in the ear. His body was found in a field on his property near Louisville, Ky. on March 18, 2021.


Education

Frances Degen Horowitz 88) as president of the City University of New York Graduate Center for nearly 15 years, Horowitz raised its academic stature and transplanted it to a prestigious Fifth Avenue campus. A behaviorist who had distinguished herself in child psychology, Horowitz steered CUNY’s doctoral degree-granting program toward becoming a major research institution, despite competition for resources within the university system and the demands of some 7,000 full-time faculty members guarding their own prerogatives. She was instrumental in persuading city, state, and university officials to approve and finance the Graduate Center’s new $160 million headquarters, which opened in 1999 and allowed the school to consolidate 1,600 professors scattered in eight locations in one building, the former B. Altman department store, a century-old limestone landmark in the Italian Renaissance Revival style that occupies an entire city block, between Fifth and Madison Avenues and between 34th and 35th Streets. Frances Horowitz died of heart failure in New York City on March 15, 2021.


Law

Alvin Sykes (64) left high school in eighth grade, completed his education by reading legal textbooks at the public library, and later used his vast knowledge of the law to pry open long-dormant murder cases from the civil rights era—including the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till. Although he never took a bar exam, Sykes was a brilliant legal and legislative operator whose admirers included City Council members, politicians, and US attorneys general from both parties. Along with his work on cold cases, he successfully lobbied for local, state, and federal laws reforming jury selection; promoting animal rights; and enhancing the role of DNA in murder investigations. He died in Shawnee, Kansas on March 19, 2021.


News and Entertainment

Paul Brock (89) founding executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists who had a long career in the news media, public relations, and Democrat politics. Brock played a central role in 1975 in organizing the 44 founding members of the NABJ, the premiere organization of black journalists in the US. The group was formed in the years after the White House-appointed Kerner Commission concluded that poverty and institutional racism had led to the urban riots of the late ‘60s and that for too long the news media had covered the country “with white men’s eyes and white perspective.” The report helped to spur black journalists to form their own professional organizations in several cities. But Brock, who had already helped to found the Washington Association of Black Journalists, was among those who believed that a national organization was needed to promote more aggressive hiring practices across the industry and to improve how people of color were covered. Brock died of diabetes in Upper Marlboro, Maryland on March 14, 2021.

Henry Darrow (87) Emmy Award-winning actor best known as Manolito Montoya in the hit Western The High Chaparral and as the first Latino to play the dashing Zorro on TV. Beyond being an actor, Darrow was an activist who worked to expand the roles offered to Latinos on screen. In 1972, along with Ricardo Montalban, Carmen Zapata, and Edith Diaz, Darrow founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee. He was also a vice president of Nostros, the organization founded by Montalban to help Latino actors be cast in nonstereotypical roles. In 2012 Darrow received the Ricardo Montalban Lifetime Achievement Award at the ALMA Awards. He died in North Carolina on March 14, 2021.

Constance Demby (81) composer whose music, some of it played on instruments she designed, was much admired by New Age adherents, spiritual seekers, and fans of electronica. Demby’s 1986 album, Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate, was a breakthrough for both her and the New Age genre, selling more than 200,000 copies. Pulse magazine named it one of the top three New Age albums of the '80s. Her studio was full of synthesizers, computer monitors, and various instruments, including one she named the Space Bass, which she created in the ‘60s when she was an artist in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood making sculptures. She lived in Spain for a time before settling in California, and took her music all over the world. Demby died of a heart attack in Pasadena, California on March 19, 2021.

Paul Jackson (73):whose grooving electric bass lines drove much of Herbie Hancock’s pioneering jazz-funk in the ‘70s. In 1973, inspired by the music of Sly Stone and the Pointer Sisters and frustrated by many jazz musicians’ habit of dismissing groove-based music offhand, Hancock started the Headhunters, with Jackson on bass. The band’s first album, Head Hunters, became a smash. It was the first jazz LP to sell over a million copies, and it hit No. 13 on the Billboard albums chart, combining the acoustic-electric layering of Hancock’s previous band, Mwandishi, with a backbeat. The group modeled a new brand of sophisticated funk, and Jackson’s bass playing had everything to do with it. He died of sepsis brought on by complications of diabetes in Japan, where he had lived for more than 30 years, on March 18, 2021.

Yaphet Kotto (81) actor who brought magnetism and gravitas to films including Alien and the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. Kotto was a compelling presence across films, TV, and Broadway beginning with the films Nothing But a Man and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). He made his stage debut in a Boston production of Othello. In 1969 he replaced James Earl Jones in the Pulitzer-winning The Great White Hope on Broadway. His big-screen breakthrough came as Lt. Pope in Across 110th Street (1972). Kotto was best known as an infuriated FBI agent in Midnight Run who has his badge stolen by Robert De Niro, the James Bond villain Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, and technician Dennis Parker in Alien (1979). He was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the 1997 TV movie Raid on Entebbe. He played Al Giardello from 1993–99 on the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street. Kotto died in the Philippines on March 15, 2021.

Freddie Redd (92) pianist and composer who released a pair of well-received albums for Blue Note Records in the early ‘60s, then spent more than 50 years moving through different cities as an ambassador of jazz’s golden age. Redd was best known for writing the music for The Connection (1959), an Off-Broadway play by Jack Gelber that depicted the lives of heroin-addicted musicians in New York and that two years later became a renowned film. Redd appeared in both. Largely self-taught, he was known for his compositions and for his skill as an accompanist. The Music from The Connection, released in 1960, was Redd’s first album for Blue Note, followed in ‘61 by Shades of Redd. Redd recorded another album’s worth of material in 1961, but those tapes were shelved after he had a falling-out with one of Blue Note’s founders, Alfred Lion. It was finally released as Redd’s Blues in 1988. He died in his sleep in New York City on March 17, 2021.

Barbara Rickles (84) widow of comedian Don Rickles and a fictionalized target of his comic insults. The former Barbara Sklar met her future husband through his film agent, for whom she worked briefly. They married on March 14, 1965. By many accounts, the Rickleses had one of the happiest marriages in show business. They socialized often with another enduring Hollywood couple, Bob and Ginny Newhart. Don Rickles died at 90 in 2017. Barbara Rickles helped to produce the Emmy-winning documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) and the 2020 release Don Rickles Live in Concert. Don Rickles, in serious moments, would note that he was nearly 40 on his wedding day and had struggled for years to find someone. Barbara Rickles died in Los Angeles, California of non-Hodgkins lymphoma on what would have been their 56th wedding anniversary, March 14, 2021.


Politics and Military

John Magufuli (61) president of Tanzania, a populist leader who played down the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic and steered his country away from democratic ideals. Magufuli, a trained chemist, was first elected in October 2015 on an anticorruption platform. He was initially lauded for his efforts to bolster the economy, stem wasteful spending, and upgrade Tanzania’s infrastructure. But the leader, popularly known as “the Bulldozer,” was soon accused of muzzling dissent, rolling back freedom of expression and association, and pushing through laws that shored up his Party of the Revolution’s grip on power. That marked a sharp departure from policies of his two immediate predecessors, who had promoted their East African nation as a peaceful, business-friendly democracy. Magufuli had suffered from chronic atrial fibrillation for more than 10 years. He died of heart complications in the port city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on March 17, 2021.

Al Rojas (82) while the United Farm Workers union prepared to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Delano grape boycott, Rojas was too busy plotting his next move to join in the festivities. There was no doubt the longtime labor organizer understood the importance of the anniversary. The late ‘60s boycott organized by Filipino and Latino laborers marked a milestone for farmworkers and revolutionized the labor movement in the US. It led to the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which established collective-bargaining power for farmworkers in the state. But Rojas knew there were still too many laborers who needed help. Working within the shadows of big-time labor organizers, he pushed for labor justice across the nation and in Mexico. He believed rank-and-file workers should wield power over their own labor and lives. He died of kidney failure on March 20, 2021.


Society and Religion

Edith Prentiss (69) advocate for the disabled who fought to make New York more navigable for everyone. In 2004 the city’s taxi fleet had only three wheelchair-accessible cabs—minivans with ramps—and people like Prentiss had a less than one in 4,000 chance of hailing one. The number of accessible vehicles eventually inched up to 231, but it took nearly 10 years and a class-action lawsuit—of which Prentiss was a plaintiff—before the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission agreed to make the fleet 50 per cent accessible by 2020. Prentiss also fought for accessibility on subways and in police stations, restaurants, and public parks, and she fought for issues that didn’t affect her directly, like those that might impede people with mental, visual, auditory, or other disabilities. She died of cardiopulmonary arrest in New York City on March 16, 2021.


Sports

Dick Hoyt (80) became a familiar sight pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair at road races around the country, especially the Boston Marathon. Rick Hoyt was born in 1962, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, unable to control his limbs or speak. But in 1972, engineers at Tufts University built a computer that allowed Rick to communicate by choosing letters with a tap of his head. His first words were “Go Bruins,” revealing a passionate love for sports. In 1977 Rick asked to be involved in a five-mile benefit run. Although his father was not a competitive runner, he pushed Rick in his wheelchair the entire distance, finishing next to last. While they were most associated with the Boston Marathon and became revered and inspirational figures in that city, the two completed more than 1,000 races, many in astonishingly fast times. Their fastest marathon time came in 1992 at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington and Virginia: 2 hours 40 minutes 47 seconds. That time put the elder Hoyt first in the 50-to-59 age division despite his extra load. They ran the Boston Marathon nearly every year from 1980–2014. Dick Hoyt died of congestive heart failure in Holland, Massachusetts on March 17, 2021.

Sabine Schmitz (51) for Schmitz, going to the storied Nürburgring car racing track in western Germany was like going to school. Growing up near the track, one of the world’s most famous, she had always loved speed and by her own account completed more than 20,000 laps of that circuit. Schmitz was a popular German racing driver and former featured participant on the BBC show Top Gear known for her punchy comments and a buoyant personality that stood out in a male-dominated industry. A cheerful and spirited driver, Schmitz was called “Queen of the Nürburgring” and the “fastest taxi driver in the world” for driving thrill-seeking racing fans around the track in a BMW. She won the popular Nürburgring 24-hour race in 1996—becoming the first woman to do so—then again the next year. Schmitz died of cancer in Trier, in southwestern Germany on March 16, 2021.


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