|Debates over high-profile issues such as immigration and housing often take place in a public arena, but the story of 2007 ultimately unfolded in the lives of individuals and families.
Here are seven who touched local lives this year.
The Pedro Ramirez family
The Ramirez family -- including four children who are American citizens and their undocumented parents -- brought the immigration issue out of the abstract for many Palo Alto residents last spring.
The children -- Pedro, Jr., Adrian, Yadira and Adriana Ramirez -- were students in Palo Alto schools. They faced placement in foster care or deportation with their parents after federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents deported their father, Pedro Ramirez, on Feb. 28. Their mother, Isabel Aguirre, was to be deported in early April, and the family did not have the money to leave the country together.
The Weekly broke their story, igniting a firestorm of reportage about their plight around the world. Compassionate Palo Alto residents helped the family stay together until they were able to leave together for Mexico on April 11.
The children returned to California in August and are attending school and staying with friends at an undisclosed location, according to family friends.
Mengyao 'May' Zhou
On the surface Mengyao "May" Zhou was nearly perfect: 23, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at Stanford University with two degrees from MIT and three patents under her belt. She was among just 100 students in the Stanford Graduate Fellowships Program in Science and Engineering. She had even passed her qualifying exams.
But four days after being reported missing on Jan. 21, Zhou's body was found in the trunk of her silver Toyota Corolla, which had been parked at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Months later, even after an autopsy confirmed her death from a drug overdose of over-the-counter sleeping pills, her father insisted she had been murdered. Even a good-bye note e-mailed to her younger sister, on the day she was last seen, failed to convince the grieving father.
With the exception of a couple of conspiracy theorists, most commentators on Town Square (the Palo Alto Online community forum) simply offered heartfelt sympathy to the San Diego family. Others in the community revived questions about the unrelenting pressures that students face.
Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha-Arias
Siamese twins Yurelia and Fiorella Rocha-Arias are no longer joined at the hip -- or rather, the abdomen and chest.
Following a nine-hour separation surgery in November -- a first for Lucile Packard Children's Hospital -- the 2-year-old Costa Ricans were released from the hospital in mid-December. Both girls are nearly recovered from further surgeries, which dealt with Yurelia's congenital heart condition and Fiorella's chest reconstruction and skin closure.
Before the surgery, the girls could stand but could not walk. They had arrived at Ronald McDonald House with their mother in July, brought to Palo Alto by Mending Kids International. It took several months to prepare for the surgery.
Over the next six to eight weeks, the girls, now released from the hospital, will do physical therapy to help build muscle strength. Doctors are pleased. Their father has already returned home to care for the couple's other nine children.
Kevin Jones, a 26-year-old graduate student in U.C. Berkeley's School of Journalism, jumped at the chance to play chauffeur to one of his heroes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam last April.
But instead of relishing the time in the car, Jones unintentionally caused Halberstam's death in a fatal crash near the Dumbarton Bridge in Menlo Park while en route to an interview with a former New York Giants quarterback.
The 73-year-old Halberstam will be remembered for more than 20 books on subjects ranging from the Vietnam War ("The Best and the Brightest") to sports journalism. His latest book, "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War," was published posthumously.
Jones was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and pleaded no contest. He will be sentenced in February.
In 2002, a stroke left then-40-year-old Henry Evans a quadriplegic. This past June, he accompanied a team of Palo Alto High School students to MIT, where they showcased a robotic device the students had created to help the Los Altos Hills resident regain some of his independence. Called the Laserfinger, it attaches to Evan's eyeglasses and allows him to turn appliances on and off using a laser beam -- and one movement of his head.
Evans' impact at the MIT InvenTeams conference was so great, the organizers named an award after him: The Inspiration for Innovation Award.
The teens have been so motivated by the experience that they created another device that enables Evans to control a tennis-ball launcher, so he can play with the family dog. Also in the works are an iPod controller and a more complex remote control.
Those who've heard the story of the Laserfinger say it is a testament to Evans' perseverance -- and the teens' ingenuity.
Marc Andreessen and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen
When Silicon Valley entrepreneurs give, they give big. In early November, Stanford Hospital & Clinics became the recipient of a $27.5 million gift by Marc Andreessen and Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen.
Andreessen is the founder of two billion-dollar companies, including Netscape Communications. Arrillaga-Andreessen is a Stanford Graduate School of Business faculty member. She founded and chairs SV2: Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund, which invests financial, intellectual and human capital into nonprofits.
The couple, married in 2006, wanted their first gift to the community to make a difference in many people's lives, they said. The new state-of-the-art Stanford emergency room will benefit the entire region. Residents from as far away as San Benito County are flown in by helicopter to Stanford's emergency medical facility.
Willie Branch, 55, was living proof that you don't have to have money to change people's lives. The former Co-op Market checker with the winning smile and cheerful whistle was known for 30 years as a helpful, caring person who lifted shoppers' spirits.
When Branch fell on hard times and was forced onto the streets, residents responded by donating $20,000 to help him get back on his feet. Branch suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and an enlarged heart, however.
On Nov. 6, he died doing what he loved best: hanging out with people. He collapsed in Sunnyvale while playing pool (he was winning, friends say). He is survived by his parents, a sister, eight children and 16 grandchildren.
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