Lives of the East Bay 2016

We say goodbye to people of remarkable talents whose deaths leave us contemplative and saddened. Their legacies live on through their amazing art and the good works they set in motion.


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Ben Bagdikian.

Ben Bagdikian, 96. Journalist and former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. A fearless and intrepid reporter, Bagdikian never shied away from exposing the truth despite risk or controversy; he was instrumental in making public the Pentagon Papers, and once went undercover as a convicted murderer to expose abuses in the prison system. An early critic of media consolidation, Bagdikian warned that lateral integration between news outlets threatened the integrity of the profession in his book The Media Monopoly.

Joonhong Ahn, 58. UC Berkeley professor of nuclear engineering. A dedicated teacher known for his packed schedule and fast pace, Ahn was widely respected as one of the foremost experts on Asian nuclear power. His research focused on radioactive waste management and the environmental impact of nuclear power, among other topics. He was also instrumental in founding UC Berkeley’s engineering ethics program.

Erik Bauersfeld, 93. Acclaimed voice actor and radio dramatist. A Berkeley resident, Bauersfeld was best known for bringing life to iconic Star Wars characters Bib Fortuna and Admiral Ackbar in Return of the Jedi. In the latter case, Bauersfeld’s distinctive reading of Ackbar’s line, “It’s a trap!,” became one of the most memorable and beloved lines of the entire franchise.

Earl Solomon Burroughs, 90. Oakland-based singer and songwriter. His stage name was “Jack Hammer,” but he was best known as the co-writer of the 1957 Jerry Lee Lewis hit "Great Balls of Fire," though he had a long career spanning four decades as a working musician. In the ’60s, Burroughs penned a litany of spin-off songs based on Chubby Checker’s "The Twist" that became so popular overseas he was dubbed “the Twistin’ King of Europe.”

George Carroll, 94. Former Richmond mayor. In an era marred by prejudice, Carroll overcame the odds to achieve a series of landmark firsts, becoming Richmond’s first black lawyer in 1954, the city’s first black mayor in 1964, and the county’s first black judge in 1965. Soft-spoken and friendly but always with unstoppable determination, Carroll originally rejected a Superior Court appointment so that he could continue to advocate for better housing, education, and job opportunities for minorities.

Peter Y.H. Chen, 89. Alameda resident and booster. Chen was born in China, but grew up attending American, Irish, Italian, and French schools in Shanghai, which instilled his lifelong intellectual curiosity and regard for the diversity of the human experience. Over his life, the multilingual Chen worked in varied professions, including a decade as a beat reporter for a major daily English language newspaper in Hong Kong and 20 years working with and for the city of Oakland to redevelop the city’s Chinatown.

Walter Jackson Freeman III, 89. UC Berkeley professor emeritus of neurobiology. Freeman was a pioneer in the fledgling field of neuroscience in 1959 and was one of the first professors to tackle the questions of how thousands of neurons firing in the brain can create thought. Freeman was known for his willing embrace of any approach or philosophy that he thought could help further his understanding of the brain. Freeman also served as president of the International Neural Network Society in 1994.

Ruth Margaret Jackson Ganong, 91. Former Albany mayor. Driven by a fierce passion for the city she called home, Ganong dedicated her life to public service and to working to improve Albany. Besides two terms as mayor, Ganong, who died in late 2015, also served as president of boards of the Albany school district and the Albany YMCA. She also helped found the Albany Bay Committee, which collaborated with Save the Bay to block plans to landfill the San Francisco Bay.


Mic Gillette.

Mic Gillette, 64. Funk/soul trombonist with Oakland’s Tower of Power. Gillette started his musical career as a brass wunderkind, wowing audiences with his trombone prowess at the age of 15 when he joined the band Gotham City Crime Fighters (which later became Tower of Power), but he continued to grow and improve from there. As an adult, he also toured with bands like the Rolling Stones and Heart, but retired from touring in the ’80s to concentrate on being a full-time father to his daughter.

Paul “Grabs” Grabowicz, 66. UC Berkeley professor of journalism. Famously crabby but also famously giving of his time and support, “Grabs” acted as a curmudgeonly but beloved mentor to generations of student reporters as a senior lecturer at Northgate. Grabowicz, who died in late 2015, had a 20-year career as a reporter and editor for the Oakland Tribune before transitioning into teaching, and was one of the early boosters for modern web-based journalism.

Andrew Hatch, 117. Although widely believed to have been the world’s oldest man, Oakland’s Hatch could never formally prove the claim because he was born in 1898—a full 20 years before his birth state of Louisiana began requiring birth certificates. The independent-minded Hatch eschewed attention for his age and preferred a quiet life with friends and family. He passed away surrounded by loved ones.

Donald Jelinek, 82. Former Berkeley councilmember and civil rights lawyer. After earning his law degree at New York University, Jelinek worked with the civil rights movement and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Deep South as a grassroots organizer and a civil rights lawyer. In Berkeley, he’s remembered for his years on the city council as a staunch advocate for Berkeley’s student population.

Imelda Merlin, 98. Alameda historian. A longtime city resident and activist, Merlin first investigated the history of Alameda for her master’s degree in geography from UC Berkeley; her research was later published by Friends of the Alameda Free Library as Alameda, a Geographical History in 1977 and reprinted several times since. Her research was instrumental in preserving the city’s history.

Arthur Lipow, 81. Alameda-based social justice advocate and political scientist.  A studious historian and a meticulous thinker, Lipow is best known for writing a definitive guide to democratic socialism. But he wasn’t afraid to leave the classroom to get involved in the fight for equal justice: He was an active supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and was arrested protesting the final House Un-American Activities subcommittee in San Francisco in 1960.

Edward Joseph Lofgren, 102. Lawrence Berkeley Lab physicist. An early innovator in the field of particle accelerators, Lofgren was one of the initial physicists at Berkeley “Rad Lab,” which later became the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Among other projects over his long and illustrious career, Lofgren was instrumental in constructing the Bevatron, an early accelerator that began operation at the Lawrence Lab in 1954 and led to the groundbreaking discovery of the antineutron two years later. 

Malcolm Millar Lucas, 89. Former chief justice of California. Berkeley-born Lucas was appointed chief justice of California in 1986, a position he held for almost a decade, after the ouster of the court’s liberal majority. Although Lucas’ conservative mindset and literalist approach to the law were controversial, his solid leadership helped steady the high court in a time of turnover and turmoil.

Victor Royer, 79. Oakland artist. Royer wasn’t content with just one medium: He experimented with illustration, but was most known for his innovative kinetic sculptures that captured the imagination of the art world. His first break came while still a student at UC Berkeley when one of his sculptures was chosen to be part of the American entry of the Biennale de Paris 1963 at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Howard Schachman, 97. UC Berkeley molecular and cellular biology professor. Schachman’s research helped further the understanding of enzyme processes within the cell, but he is perhaps better remembered for his campaigns for stricter ethical standards in science. Disgusted by instances of misconduct within the scientific community, Schachman worked with the National Academy of Sciences to clarify the rules for prosecutions of fraud and plagiarism. He was active in Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in the 1960s and protested against the anti-Communist loyalty oaths required of faculty during the Red Scare.

Joyce Carol Thomas, 78. Berkeley-based poet, playwright, and children’s author. Known for her warm and vibrant personality, Thomas drew on her own experience growing up in a family of Oklahoma cotton pickers as well as traditional African folktales and African-American history to create compelling stories and memorable characters in over 30 award-winning books. She won a National Book Award and an American Book Award for her 1982 debut novel Marked by Fire.

Jack Walker, 65. Alameda-born rock drummer and musician. Drawn to the noise and power of the drums since a young age, Walker played with various bands around the Bay Area as a teen and later moved to San Francisco to become a founding member of The Stargroup Enterprise. Despite his love for the drums, Walker was a versatile musician who also served as the group’s pianist, composer, and backup vocalist.

Mary C. Warren, 94. Alameda County political activist. Warren was an energetic and tireless presence in her hometown of Pleasanton and all throughout Alameda County, volunteering with various civic groups and government committees over her 50 years in the area, including service on President Johnson’s Civil Rights Commission. Among her other endeavors, Warren helped to found the Oakland Business Political Action Committee and was a longtime director on the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority board.


Published online on Dec. 30, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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