A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending Jan. 26
Lois Spellman, 90, the former Washington state first lady, died Thursday, just days after her husband of 63 years, former Gov. John Spellman, passed on Jan. 16.
In an emailed statement, her family said she died peacefully after a life of service to her family and community, including her efforts to promote volunteerism, food banks and Northwest artists.
Warren A. Miller, 93, the pioneering snow-sports filmmaker whose infectious zeal for the “pure freedom” associated with skiing, snowboarding and other pursuits inspired multiple generations of adventure seekers around the globe, died Wednesday at his home on Orcas Island.
A quick-witted, self-taught filmmaker who first filmed his own scenes for an annual self-narrated ski movie shown in small venues, Mr. Miller produced more than 500 adventure-sport films. To his legions of fans, Mr. Miller’s annual ski flick amounted to cinematic manna from heaven — an overdue shot of cold air and deep snow to stoke the fires within winter warriors who had suffered through the long, hot months of snowless summer. The films, most of which began with jaw-dropping alpine-ski sequences, featuring top skiers and snowboarders delivered by helicopter to some knee-knocking heights and set to a pounding rock-music beat, never failed to produce hooting, shouting and delirium among the snow-deprived faithful.
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Levon Brooks, 58, a Mississippi man who spent 16 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit died Wednesday at his home in Columbus, Mississippi, a decade after being released. His widow, Dinah Brooks, said he was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago.
Brooks was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for the 1990 rape and killing of Courtney Smith, the 3-year-old daughter of his former girlfriend. He was released from prison in February 2008 after DNA evidence pointed to another man, who confessed.
Hugh Masekela, 78, a South African trumpeter, singer and activist whose music became symbolic of the country’s anti-apartheid movement, even as he spent three decades in exile, died Tuesday in Johannesburg.
Masekela came to the forefront of his country’s music scene in the 1950s, when he became a pioneer of South African jazz as a member of the Jazz Epistles, a bebop sextet that included the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and other future stars. After a move to the United States in 1960, he won international acclaim and carried the mantle of his country’s freedom struggle.
Masekela tended to emphasize the breadth of the musical tradition that inspired him. “I was marinated in jazz, and I was seasoned in music from home,” he said in a 2009 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Song is the literature of South Africa.” He added, “There’s no political rally that ever happened in South Africa without singing being the main feature.”
In the 1980s, as the struggle against apartheid hit a fever pitch, he worked often with fellow expatriate musicians, and with others from different African nations. On songs like “Stimela (Coal Train),” “Mace and Grenades” and the anthem “Mandela (Bring Him Back Home),” he played spiraling, plump-toned trumpet lines and sang of fortitude and resisting oppression in a gravelly tenor, landing somewhere between a storyteller’s incantation and a folk singer’s croon.
Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, 88, who was chief of staff to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a key strategist behind civil-rights protests that turned the tide against racial injustice in the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, died early Tuesday at an assisted living facility near his home in Chester, Virginia.
For 37 years he was a towering community figure as the pastor at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem, and from 1965 to 1975 he was a special assistant on urban affairs to Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. In both posts he was a strong advocate of affordable housing and better schools in the low-income neighborhoods of Upper Manhattan.
Walker joined the fledgling Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1961 and served until 1964 as its executive director and, unofficially, as King’s right-hand man. At the SCLC, he devised a structured fundraising strategy and organized numerous protests, including a series of anti-segregation boycotts and demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, that came to be known as Project C. The C stood for “confrontation,” and the project is regarded as the blueprint for the civil rights movement’s success in the South.
Nicanor Parra, 103, a Chilean poet whose use of direct, colloquial and playful language, often for ironic and comic effect, pioneered the literary movement that became known as anti-poetry, died Tuesday, in Santiago, Chile.
An accomplished mathematician and physicist, Parra rose to fame in 1954 with the publication of his “Poems and Antipoems,” which used lucid language to evoke the humor and absurdity of modern life. “Laughter and tears” was the way he described the technique of anti-poetry, a movement that was in part a response to the conventional notion of poetry as a form of elevated expression for elite readers.
Ursula K. Le Guin, 88, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died Monday at her home in Portland. She had been in poor health for several months.
Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But even when her protagonists are male, they avoid the macho posturing of so many science fiction and fantasy heroes. The conflicts they face are typically rooted in a clash of cultures and resolved more by conciliation and self-sacrifice than by swordplay or space battles. Writing, she believed, could be a moral force.
“If you cannot or will not imagine the results of your actions, there’s no way you can act morally or responsibly,” she told The Guardian in an interview in 2005. “Little kids can’t do it; babies are morally monsters — completely greedy. Their imagination has to be trained into foresight and empathy.”
Jack Whitten, 78, an artist who began as an abstract expressionist but pushed that genre to new places and explored many others in a long career, died Jan. 20 in New York. The cause was complications of chronic leukemia.
Whitten, a black man who grew up in the South as the civil-rights movement was gaining steam there, brought those experiences and sensibilities north when he came to New York in 1959. They are evident in many of his works, including a series he called “Black Monoliths” honoring figures like Ralph Ellison and Muhammad Ali.
A curious and all-embracing spirit led him to create works on subjects as diverse as quantum physics and the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. It also led him to experiment with different ways to use paint, and even occasionally to try other art forms.
Naomi Parker Fraley, 96, the real Rosie the Riveter, died Jan. 20, in Longview. Over the years, a welter of American women have been identified as the model for Rosie, the female war worker of 1940s popular culture who became a feminist touchstone in the late 20th century. It turns out she was a California waitress, who had worked in a Navy machine shop during World War II.
“The women of this country these days need some icons,” Fraley said in the People magazine.
Paul Bocuse, 91, the most celebrated French chef of the postwar era and a leading figure in the pathbreaking culinary movement known as nouvelle cuisine, died Jan. 20. His signature dishes not only pleased the palate; they also seduced the eye and piqued the imagination.
Bocuse emerged as the first among a brilliant band of chefs who developed a modernized version of classic French cooking in the late 1960s and early ’70s, cheered on by Henri Gault and Christian Millau, the publishers of the influential Gault-Millau Guide. Following the lead of Fernand Point, the spiritual father of nouvelle cuisine and a mentor to many of its pioneers, Bocuse shaped a style of cooking at the Auberge du Pont de Collonges, his three-star restaurant near Lyon, that stressed fresh ingredients, lighter sauces, unusual flavor combinations and relentless innovation that, in his case, rested on a solid mastery of classic technique.
John Coleman, 83, who co-founded The Weather Channel and was the original meteorologist on ABC’s “Good Morning America” during a six-decade broadcasting career but who later drew criticism for openly doubting that climate change is man-made, died Jan. 20 in Las Vegas.
Dorothy Malone, 93, actress who won hearts of 1960s television viewers as the long-suffering mother in the nighttime soap “Peyton Place,” died Jan. 19 of natural causes in her hometown of Dallas. Her first notable role was as a seductive bookstore clerk in the classic noir “The Big Sleep”; she went on to win the 1956 supporting actress Oscar portraying an alcoholic nymphomaniac who tries to steal a married Rock Hudson from Lauren Bacall in “Written on the Wind.”
Olivia Cole, 75, an actress best known for her Emmy Award-winning role in the acclaimed miniseries “Roots,” died Jan. 19 at her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The cause was a heart attack.
In 1977, Cole won a supporting-actress Emmy for her portrayal of Matilda, the wife of Chicken George (Ben Vereen), in “Roots,” the eight-episode ABC miniseries based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1976 book by Alex Haley. The enormous success of the series did not translate into stardom to all black actors involved, as she expected, but she worked steadily in TV and theater. In 2016, Cole appeared in a production of the 1995 play “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” at the Long Wharf Theater and Hartford Stage in Connecticut.