June 11, 1925 to May 29, 2014

A passion for life

Felisa Vanoff, who danced lead roles in the New York City Opera and choreographed many a Hollywood TV show, died of natural causes on Wednesday, May 29th, at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 89.

vanhoff3.jpgIn tandem with her Emmy-Award-winning producer husband, Nick Vanoff, Felisa was a magnificent hostess, whose joy in entertaining resulted in glittering gatherings of actors, painters, dancers, writers, composers, musicians, titans of industry and politicians. But it was her passion for life that trumped any star-studded affair.

The type to remark on the magnificence of a day or the color of a flower, Vanoff expressed the same enthusiasm for people, always making them feel special and encouraging them to pursue great things.

Explosively dramatic

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October 2, 1985 to April 7, 2014

 “Be courageous”

Christal Ann Higgins, a vivacious blonde known for her generous spirit and unfailing optimism, passed away at a Fort Worth, Texas hospice on Monday, April 7. Just 28, she died of clear cell renal cell carcinoma (CCRCC), leaving family and friends devastated.

“Christal took on cancer with the same tenacity that she tackled life,” said her aunt, Sherilyn Ricketts of Fort Worth.84221874.jpg “It won the hearts of anyone who had the privilege to know her.”

As a young girl, Christal was told by her Great-Aunt Jo that she looked like the Princess of Monaco. The petite young woman, who so resembled Grace Kelly, battled cancer with humor, grace and dignity. Her motto was “Be courageous.” (Chrystal at right with one of her nurses.)

Christal “Scooter” Higgins came into the world on October 2, 1985 in Stephenville, TX, the older of two daughters born to Bennie Higgins and Michelle Carson. She was given the name “Scooter” by her father when she was a baby because she would scoot across the floor in her diaper. 

Theater Sweetheart

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November 14, 1947 to March 4, 2014

By Andwele Lewis

She brought joy to all those around her

Dr. Victoria Marlene Jackson Binion, a distinguished clinical psychologist and passionate advocate for African Americans in the field of mental health, died Tuesday, March 4, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. She was 66.

She did it all: scholar, psychologist, professor, public servant, writer, researcher, activist, artist, textile weaver, collector, world traveler andmost of allloving wife, mother, sister, aunt and friend.

Scholarships, fellowships, and honors





September 7, 1916 to August 22, 1993

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

A Beautiful Mind 

She was a superb golfer, award-winning painter, fiercely loyal friend, adoring wife and spectacular mother. She was not maternal8e5d67e9-628c-4485-821f-010bec57def8.jpg in the traditional sense, however. Elizabeth “Betsy” Burke Schottke didn’t sew, bake cookies or host Girl Scout meetings. But, oh God, was she ever fun. As her oldest daughter, I can attest to that. She was also shrewd in her advice, profoundly wise and blessed with a delicious sense of the absurd. She was darn frugal, however, as all of us vividly recall. “Mom never bought anything (in terms of clothes) unless it was on sale,” my sister Bonnie Daybell (the middle child) said. “Of course, it always had to come from Saks or Neiman Marcus.” Avoiding family discord was another Betsy trait, said my youngest sister, Julie Larson. “Mom liked to keep the peace. She didn’t want anyone to argue.”





April 15, 1949 to November 25, 2013

She married her soul mate

Susan Felix, cherished for her generous nature, love of whales and heavenly chocolate-chip-caramel bars, died peacefully on Monday, November 25, 2013 at William Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan—her husband at her side. The 12-year resident of Shelby, MI (formerly of Clawson), was just 64.

Married nearly 40 years to the love of her life, Raymond R. “Buddy” Felix III, Susie, as many called her, realized her fondest dream earlier this year when Ray surprised her with a trip to go whale watching in Maine. “The trip was a big deal,” said one close friend.

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A 2013 Special Remembrance

November 7 or 11, 1915 to September 16, 2003

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

“A Mississippi River Card Shark”

Dominic Alfred Leone, a larger than life character who dressed like a high-roller and went AWOL from the Army in 1942 to marry the woman he loved, died of respiratory failure in Los Angeles on September 16, 2003. He was 87. All these many years after his passing, Dominic—or “Ace” as everyone called him—still dominates the conversation in a sprawling Italian family that occupies two coasts. Ace’s nephew, Paul Picerni, taking credit for the nickname, said his uncle always reminded him of a “Mississippi River card shark.” A slick dresser who identified with George Raft and Frank Sinatra, Ace could have passed for a Hollywood producer of the consigliore to the Gambino Family, his nephew said.

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Harry Curieux Adamson


November 14, 1916 to April 22, 2012

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

A wildlife artist known to bird lovers everywhere

Harry Curieux Adamson—a wildlife artist who spent his life traipsing after the waterfowl he so majestically captured on canvas—passed away at home in Woodland, CA on Sunday, April 22, 2012. He was 95.

harry-cureiux-adamson.jpgAdamson painted to the end, even after he no longer packed up to travel the world in search of a migration of snow geese or gathering of pink-eared mallards.

A familiar sight in his California Waterfowl Association jacket and WW II veteran’s cap, the folksy, fair-haired artist with the ready sense of humor was known to bird lovers everywhere. He was that rare breed who raised millions for wildlife conservation and refused to hunt.

A flurry of Wigeon ducks

With his wife, Betty, at his side, he would spend hours in a duck blind, waiting for the rush of inspiration that informed his singular art—whether the ultimate result was a pair of stately Canadian geese escorting their young through a weedy marsh or a flurry of Wigeon ducks careening down from the heavens.

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April 18, 1952 to December 1, 2011

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

A knack for humor

Glorialee McClure understood something about human nature. The Florida bond specialist—a Pembroke Pines resident who dreamed of someday buying a farm and raising animals—preferred laughter to tears. She had a knack for humor, could whip out a wry aside in the time it takes to blink.

It was a familiar refrain, “You could have been a standup comic, Glowie,” people would say. Due to her effervescent nature and sunny approach to life, many called McClure “Glowie.” Others called her “Glo” or “Gloria.”

His mother’s generous spirit

The mother of two sons, Matthew and stepson William, Gloria raised them with equal passion and nobility. Matthew McClure may have summed up his mother’s generous spirit best. “You showed me how to be a man; you taught me how to have a heart; you were my best friend. I could talk to you about anything.”

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 by Katharine Blossom Lowrie

One long, curly strip of dialogue

sleepless02.jpgWho can forget Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin, the grieving widower in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) as he struggles to find the precise words to describe his late wife to son Jonah (Ross Malinger, shown left with Hanks), who fears his mom is fading from his memory. “She could peel an apple…in one long, curly strip,” Sam finally tells his son, a note of awe in his voice. “The whole apple.”

Obituaries, my stock and trade, rarely make a lasting impression on the living – not in comparison to that “one long, curly strip” of dialogue (thanks to screenwriter Nora Ephron) that resurrects the mother Jonah so longs to remember. Which brings me to a pet peeve: the sameness with which deceased celebrities are paraded past us at year’s end, not to mention the reels of film clips that spool in the midst of every Oscar-type telecast.

Familiarity has bred contempt. And I write this stuff!

Dean of Dirty Words

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Van Johnson


August 25, 1916 to December 11, 2008

by Katharine Blossom Lowrie

The perennial “guy next door”

Despite his lightweight reputation as the perennial “guy next door” in musicals and comedies of the ’40s and ’50s, Van Johnson (above with Esther Williams in an MGM publicity still ) accrued first-rate reviews for sturdier roles: the values-burdened naval lieutenant who relieves Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) of his command in Edward Dmytryk’s 1954 adaptation of the Herman Wouk novel, “The Caine Mutiny”; Deborah Kerr’s illicit lover in Dmytryk’s 1955 adaptation of Graham Green’s “The End of the Affair,” and a bomber pilot in two WWII films, “A Guy Named Joe” (1943) and “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944), in which the one-time chorus boy proved he could hold his own against the formidable Spencer Tracy.

An MGM musical junkie

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Helen Cecilia Spitzer


September 24, 1922 to October 31, 2008

Family and friends, knowing Helen Spitzer’s door was always open, flocked to the historic old Colonial at 2540 West Royalton Road over the years.  Helen’s hospitality, all say, was as huge and welcoming as her generous heart. Unfortunately, that heart gave out on Friday, Oct. 31, 2008, when Helen Cecilia Spitzer, 86, died unexpectedly at home, her loving caregivers, Julie and April, with her at the time. Spending her last hours in the place she loved best – the 105-year-old restored residence in Brentwood Lake Village, OH, a community developed by her late husband John A. Spitzer and his brothers – was as Helen would have wanted it, her family said.

“The wind beneath his wings”

Imbued with the kind of sturdy Midwestern values and strong Catholic faith that can sometimes seem quaint and old-fashioned in this day and age, Helen was a traditional housewife who stayed home to raise five children, while her husband worked long hours to build the family business. It paid off. John Spitzer, former Chairman of the Spitzer Organization, a group of companies encompassing automotive retailing and real estate development, turned his father’s modest hardware store in Grafton, OH into multiple auto franchises around the country, eventually becoming one of the nation’s largest automotive retailers.


The Family Store

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Sgt. William P. Rudd

1981 to October 5, 2008

Eight tours in service to his country

better-photo.jpg Sgt. William Patrick Rudd, 27, an Army Ranger who planned to go hunting with his father when he flew home to Madisonville, Kentucky for Thanksgiving, died Oct. 5th from wounds sustained while on combat patrol in northern Iraq. It was Patrick’s eighth deployment in support of the War on Terror – his sixth in Iraq. Two previous tours were spent in Afghanistan.

The one thing that sustains his father, William E. Rudd, a Madisonville real estate broker, is that his son loved his job. “When someone loves something so much and something bad happens, we’re at peace with it,” said Bill Rudd, who has been buoyed by “the love and prayers” of his community. “Through God’s strength, we’re able to celebrate his life.”

A lanky young man with the sunny disposition

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Butch Cassidy


January 26, 1925 to September 25, 2008

“There’s a point where feelings go beyond words,” Robert Redford said of the passing of his dear friend and favorite co-star, Paul Newman.  “My life – and this country – is better for his having been in it.”  (The two are shown above in their signature roles as Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) in a still from the 1969 20th Century Fox film.)


 An Uncommon Actor

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Atul Vyas

1988 to September 12, 2008

He could quote whole episodes of South Park and Family Guy

vyas.pngAtul Vyas, a brilliant physics and mathematics student who planned to attend medical school after graduating from Claremont McKenna College in 2009, was one of 25 victims of the Chatsworth train crash on Friday, Sept. 12.  The gregarious pre-med student, who doted on younger cousins and loved to play family pranks, was on his way home to see his parents in Simi Valley for the weekend when his Metrolink passenger train collided with a freight train.  He was only 20 years old.

A fan of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, Curious George books and strenuous workouts, Atul was known across the Claremont campus for his expertise at Super Smash Bros., a Nintendo video game, quoting whole episodes of “South Park” and “Family Guy”, and his luminous personality.  He lit up a room with his smile, said his grieving father Vijay Vyas, and never seemed to need to study all that hard to make top grades.

“Thoroughly brilliant, flying high”

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James William Adams, An Easy Rider


June 8, 1955 to September 9, 2008

by Jeremiah Adams

He died as a result of being stubborn

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Some obituaries are just too good to pass up-even if we didn’t write them. This gem, written by James Adams’ son, Jeremiah, appeared in the Star Tribune in Casper, Wyoming on September 16, 2008.]

A celebration of life for James William “Jim” Adams, 53, will be held at a later date.

He died Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008 at Memorial Hospital of Converse County in Douglas. Jim, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other’s courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle. It was primarily as a result of being stubborn and not following doctor’s orders, or maybe for just living life a little too hard for better than five decades.

He was born June 8, 1955 in Garrison, N.D. the son of James William and Ruby Helen (Clark) Adams.

Deprived of his final wish…to be run over by a beer truck

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David Nunez


June 16, 1980 to May 29, 2008

Flawed like the rest of us

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following message, posted originally in Spanish by a woman named Gloria, was in reaction to a Los Angeles Times obituary devoted to Sgt. 1st Class David Nunez, 27, of Los Angeles, a member of the U.S. Army’s elite Green Berets, who died as a result of small arms fire on May 29, 2008 in Shewan, Afghanistan.  More than anything else, the poignancy of the response rests in the first sentence, which stands as one of the most memorable (if not the most memorable) tributes to a young man who, while flawed like the rest of us, so loved his country that he made the ultimate sacrifice.

A womanizer, liar, and drinker

nunez-4.jpgYou were a womanizer, liar, and drinker. But this does not take away your good qualities. You were human, and like all humans you made errors. Nobody knows about me or about our love, and they never will know in reality what happened with us. It made me sad to see you buried and your death in this way. But my comfort is my memories of you and the time we lived together. We were very happy in that time. What I do know is that your only and true love was your work. You died doing what you wanted most in life. In reality I never understood what it was that you did but just hearing you talk about it was enough to know that you enjoyed it. Now you can rest, you did your part in this battle. You will always live in my heart. Gloria”

Into his third deployment

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Elizabeth Campbell


October 1, 1960 to July 20, 2008

An indomitable, spirit

Elizabeth A. Campbell, Director of Women’s Programs for Pacific Hills Treatment Centers in Dana Point – an indomitable spirit who breathed life, love and hope into those who had none – succumbed to lung cancer Sunday, July 20th. She was 47.

Her legend grew quickly at Pacific Hills, the scary click of her spike heels as she marched down the hall to a meeting, those in attendance often quivering in fear at the sound. Only 5’2″ and 120 lbs. “soaking wet,” according to her husband of 24 years, Greg Campbell, Elizabeth was a powerhouse presence, especially when something didn’t measure up to her rigorous standards. Whether at Pacific Hills, or at home in Aliso Viejo, said Greg, Director of Sales at Irvine BMW, she was like a drill sergeant. “Hey, Campbell,” she would call to her husband. “You made a mess. It’s unacceptable! It is not okay!”

The lucky person who gets those eyes

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Faoa L. Apineru


1976 to 2007 to August 3, 2008

Semper Fi

Considerably after the fact

apineru.jpgIt’s strange how one Marine’s death can affect so many – especially when it is acknowledged considerably after the fact. Such is the case with Faoa L. Apineru, 31, of Yorba Linda, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, who died on July 2, 2007, two years after suffering massive brain injuries due to a roadside bomb attack in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Yet, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) did not officially recognize his death as resulting from the Iraq war until August 3, 2008.

Just how did the DOD explain the cause of death of the strapping Samoan, formerly a black belt in karate and marathon runner, who was confined for over two years in the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, his brain so traumatized with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he had to relearn how to walk, talk and drive? Perhaps the DOD viewed Apineru’s loss of memory, his inability to distinguish nightmares from reality, his tendency to attack anyone who resembled a “jihadist” (his term for the enemy, said his brother, Selemaea Apineru of Colorado) as some sort of a chemical imbalance.  The Department of Defense isn’t saying.

Reliving the attack in recurring nightmares

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Cyd Charisse


1921 to 2008

Pure glamour and romantic escapism

If you once sat enthralled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals, the name Cyd Charisse evokes Technicolor images of pure glamour and romantic escapism, images that have long since passed into film history.  Shown above with Fred Astaire in MGM’s The Band Wagon (1953), Charisse – who was to movie dance partners as rhythm is to blues – died of complications from a heart attack in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 17. She was 86.

You won’t see her like today.

In contemporary musicals like Mamma Mia (2008) and Hairspray (2007), actors still break into song and dance, but it’s not the same as watching icons of the genre like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Band Wagon. Not that Charisse ever broke into song – unless her voice was dubbed. She could not sing a note, and her acting was at best “on cue,” according to one critic.

The epitome of dance

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Timothy John Russert Jr.


May 7, 1950 to June 13, 2008

by Katharine Blossom Lowrie 

Meet the Best

My sister called from Arizona that fatal Friday afternoon. “Tim Russert died,” she exclaimed, the shock in her voice reverberating through the phone. “I’m in my car and just heard it on NPR. You were the only one I could think of to call.”  (Photo: Reuters)

My sister is an educator, and I am a journalist, professions that have something in common, mainly the ability to communicate. Other than that, our lives couldn’t have taken more divergent paths – except for one overwhelming passion: politics. Fortunately, we are on the identical side of the political fence. But even if we were not paired up in terms of party affiliation, watching Meet The Press would have been de-rigueur on Sunday mornings for both of us. That was one of the splendors of Russert’s talent: to serve as an impartial witness to the facts and let us judge for ourselves. Whether Democrat or Republican, you got an unbiased view of the day’s hottest issues – from the host, at any rate.  (Oh, maybe a hint of a lean toward the Dems at times.)

Never mean, petty or disparaging

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