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 starred in their signature roles as Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) in 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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