Unmemorialized Notables of 2005

Nobody notices when you die between Christmas and New Year’s.

Three years ago I posted in this space an end-of-the-year roundup of people left out of magazine end-of-the-year roundups of notable deaths. My tribute really ought to have inaugurated an annual feature, but the years 2003 and 2004 got away from me. I now resume with 2005.

The problem, as I explained earlier, is that everybody wants to take the last two weeks of December off. It shouldn’t surprise us that magazines slap the croakers into the can as much as a month before New Year’s Day; after all, they have long lead times. But now even wire services are jumping the gun on “year in death” features. The Associated Press published its year-end roundup on Dec. 14. This was a major disservice to the ailing eminences who had the bad judgment to die between that date and Jan. 1. (The AP only partly mitigated this offense with its kind inclusion of my wife, who died in January.)

Let us proceed, then, to our unheralded dead.

Dec. 15: Samuel Cohn. A career official in the White House budget office from 1947, when it was called the Bureau of the Budget, to 1973, after it was renamed the Office of Management and Budget. By the time he left he was more or less running the place. He called himself “the SOB of the B.O.B.”

Dec. 20: William W. Howells. Grandson to William Dean Howells, a leading man of letters during the 19th century, William W. was a Harvard anthropologist who, through the examination of human skulls around the world, concluded that the genetic differences among races were vanishingly small. We really are all brothers under the skin.

Dec. 21: Albert Weimorts. Designed a big bomb built for the specific purpose of killing Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf war. It missed.

Horace “Sally” Crouch

Dec. 21: Horace “Sally” Crouch. Participated in Lt. Col. James Doolittle’s bombing raid over Japan on April 18, 1942. The raid was carried out to avenge Pearl Harbor. Sixteen “Doolittle Raiders” remain.

Dec. 23:  Norman Dane Vaughan. The last surviving member of Adm. Richard Byrd’s expedition to the South Pole in 1928-1930. A mountain in Antarctica is named after him.

Dec. 24: Cliff Sessions. Covered the civil rights movement for United Press International. Subsequently he was a flak for the Justice department and co-founder of National Journal, a magazine about Washington minutiae.

Dec. 24: Debra Moses. See below.

Dec. 25:  Charles W. Socarides. Pioneered treatment to “cure” homosexuality. He continued for the rest of his life to believe, with the steadfastness of a captain going down with his ship, that homosexuality was a mental illness. He held to this crackpot conviction even after he learned that one of his own sons was gay.

Dec. 26: Donald Dawson. Arguably “the nation’s first modern political advance man,” Dawson organized the famous whistle-stop campaign tour that saved Harry Truman’s bacon in the 1948 presidential election. Later he took some heat from Congress for having accepted, many years earlier, a free room from a hotel that received a loan from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation while Dawson was its personnel director. Dawson, who was never charged with a crime, claimed not to know about the loan. His answer to the accusation that he’d behaved unethically was pure distilled essence of Washington: “Senator, I did nothing improper, but I would not do it again.”

Vincent Schiavelli

Dec. 26: Vincent Schiavelli. Spectacularly weird-looking actor (see photograph, left) best known for his roles as a mental patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and as a very pissed-off ghost in Ghost.

Dec. 26: John Diebold. Early computer tycoon. In a 1952 book he turned the (then-technical) term “automation” into a synonym for “computerized.”

Dec. 26: Joseph McLellan. Quietly erudite music critic for the Washington Post.

Dec. 26: John Peter Moore. Personal assistant to Salvador Dali. After Dali died, Moore and his wife were ordered by a judge to pay $1.2 million to Dali’s foundation for tampering with one of Dali’s paintings.

John Peter Moore

Debra Moses, who died of breast cancer on Dec. 24, was a senior executive at Boston Properties and blazed a trail there for working mothers. She matters to me because, as her Washington Post obit explained, she “was known for supporting and encouraging other women with cancer to fight the disease, no matter what statistics and medical studies indicated.” One of those women was my late wife, Marjorie Williams.

I first met Debbie in the basement of Washington’s Sibley Hospital during the very worst month of my life—the month Marjorie was diagnosed with liver cancer. At that point Debbie’s cancer had spread to her brain. I was struggling to retrieve an X-ray and was visibly on the brink of a complete breakdown. She walked up and said, “I’m Debbie Moses. I’m a cancer patient here. Our daughters go to the same school. What can I do to help?” From that moment on, she never stopped providing assistance, advice, babysitting, and friendship to Marjorie and me—while pooh-poohing most offers to assist her in return. She was a courageous and strong and lovely woman. Like Marjorie’s death earlier this year at 47, Debbie’s death at 48 is obscene, a savage insult to decency. Good riddance to 2005.

[Update, Jan. 3: The Associated Press updated its “year in death” roundup on Dec. 22  and again on Dec. 30, so its Dec. 14 roundup, though premature, was not its last word on the subject, I’m pleased to learn.

In much the same spirit, I hereby update my own roundup of late-breaking obituaries with the following addendum. Conspiracy theorists take note: Two of the people who died during the last four days of December were connected, very indirectly, to the Kennedy assassination.

Dec. 16: John Spencer. Actor best known for his role as Leo McGarry, the tough-but-menschy chief of staff on The West Wing.

Dec. 16: John Magee. Chemist who participated in the Manhattan Project. He opposed using the atom bomb against Japan.

Dec. 19: Marjorie Kellogg. Author of the best-selling 1968 novel, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, subsequently made into a movie starring Liza Minnelli.

Dec. 23: Truman Gibson. Instrumental in desegregating the armed forces. From 1943 to 1945 Gibson was chief adviser on racial affairs to War Secretary Henry Stimson. After the war, Gibson was the sole black member of a blue-ribbon panel on universal military training appointed by President Harry Truman.

Dec. 27: Lewis Hanson. Piloted Air Force One for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. Hanson was the pilot who flew President Kennedy to Love Field on Nov. 22, 1963, and then, after Kennedy was killed, flew his body back to Washington.

Dec. 28: Evelyn Fowler Grubb. Activist for United States soldiers held prisoner in Vietnam. Grubb was national coordinator of the National League of POW/MIA Families in Washington in 1971 and 1972. Her husband was shot down over Vietnam in 1966 and held prisoner. After the war she learned that her husband had died in captivity.

Dec. 30: Tory Dent. A writer who wrote three acclaimed books of poetry about being HIV positive.

Dec. 30: Rona Jaffe. Author of chick-lit best sellers.

Dec. 30: Candy Barr. Famous Dallas stripper who wore a 10-gallon hat, six-shooters, and cowboy boots in her act. A onetime girlfriend of the gangster Mickey Cohen and friend of the Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, she told police after Ruby killed Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald that she was unaware of any conspiracy to kill the president.]