In memoriam: Notables who died in 2014 | News | Palo Alto Online |


In memoriam: Notables who died in 2014

Remembering people who made a difference in the Palo Alto area

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Another year is gone, and its passing has seen the departure of many citizens, friends and loved ones. Through their actions and personalities, each community member who died in 2014 made an undeniable impact upon those around them, leaving memories to contemplate and cherish.

The Weekly's "In memoriam" section highlights a few figures whose achievements and activities encapsulated the vitality of local life and culture. As always, selecting those to include from the list of notables has been challenging.

That list included Chinese artist Anna Wu Weakland; biotechnology entrepreneur Alejandro Zaffaroni; community member Setsuko Ishiyama; Downtown Streets Team supervisor Michael Davis; two former Palo Alto mayors, Ed Arnold and Alan Henderson; former planning commission chair Eduardo Martinez; and a number of venerable Stanford University professors.

The following provides a sampling of the many rich and inspiring lives that ended and were celebrated throughout 2014.


Tom and Ellen Wyman

Tom Wyman, a longtime Palo Alto volunteer, died on March 17. He was 86. Ellen Wyman, Tom's wife and a lifelong activist and volunteer, died on Sept. 14. She was 86.

Together the Wymans were involved in many local civic issues, from supporting the "residentialist" mission of the 1960s and '70s to curb Palo Alto's urbanization to advocating and fundraising for Palo Alto's libraries. In 2005, they were both honored with the Avenidas Lifetimes of Achievement award.

Tom Wyman moved to Palo Alto in 1936 from a mining camp in Tennessee. He grew up in Palo Alto, attending local schools including Palo Alto High School. He went on to study at San Jose State University for two years before joining the U.S. Navy and touring the Pacific. Upon his return, he studied mining engineering and geology at Stanford University.

Afterwards, he did stints in Eastern mines as a "powder monkey" in coal mines. He also worked in Texas oil fields, learning the business from the bottom up, before becoming an oil executive for Chevron, where he worked for 42 years.

He met Ellen in Chicago, and the couple married in 1955. They moved for his work a few times before returning to Palo Alto in 1964 to raise a son and daughter.

A lover of the city's libraries, Tom devoted the last few decades of his life to enhancing them. He was proud of his work with the Friends of the Palo Alto Library book sales, which he and Ellen helped turn into a robust fundraising operation bringing in $100,000 annually. Together they also grew the ranks of the organization's volunteers.

In 1999, he wrote a book, "Palo Alto and its Libraries, a Long Time Love Affair." He also advocated politically for local libraries, opposing the closure of branch libraries and acting as the first chair of the Palo Alto Library Advisory Commission.

He also served as president of the Palo Alto Historical Association and as a board member with the Palo Alto History Museum, among other posts.

Ellen Wyman grew up in Danville, Illinois. She went on to graduate from the University of Illinois and worked for a time as a marketing and opinion researcher.

After marrying Tom in 1955, she moved multiple times for his work, including to Bakersfield where she taught at a local college. When the couple moved to San Francisco, Ellen became involved with the League of Women Voters and successfully recruited corporations to help distribute nonpartisan voting materials.

Her volunteering and activism continued in Palo Alto. She helped to found the Association for a Balanced Community, which identified pro- and slow-growth City Council candidates prior to the recall election of 1967. She helped fight growth again in the 1980s by founding Palo Alto Tomorrow, a group that surveyed public opinion on growth, with her friend Betty Meltzer.

Her civic involvement went beyond that single issue: She helped to educate the public on local issues through Palo Alto Civic League and connected community leaders through Leadership Palo Alto (later Leadership Midpeninsula). She also served with the PTA, the Palo Alto Civic League and the Santa Clara County Grand Jury. In addition, she worked with her husband to revamp the Friends of the Palo Alto Library's book sales.

Speaking about both of the Wymans, former Vice Mayor Enid Pearson said, "They were always there when there was a big issue. You can count on them. They were faithful and steady."


Ira Ruskin

Ira Ruskin, a former state Assemblyman who represented Palo Alto for six years, died on July 3. He was 70.

He served nine years as a city councilman in Redwood City starting in 1995 and was mayor from 1999 through 2001. He was elected to the State Assembly as a Democrat in 2004, when he defeated Republican Steve Poizner to succeed former Palo Alto Mayor Joe Simitian. Ruskin was re-elected twice before being termed out in 2010.

As a Redwood City councilman, he worked with Palo Alto officials to advocate for the creation of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, an organization of cities that use Hetch Hetchy water, and he was its founding chairman. Ruskin was also a member of the Committee for Green Foothills.

In the California State Assembly, he championed an environmental bill to safeguard the state through toxic-substances reporting. He also introduced a bill that funded the successful Parolee Reentry Program in East Palo Alto, which helped more than 100 persons change their lives for the better. He served on the Budget, Business and Professions, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials and Higher Education committees of the Assembly, among others.

Ruskin had planned to run for Simitian's seat in the state Senate in 2012, but in 2011 he announced that he had undergone surgery for a malignant brain tumor and was preparing to go through further radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

His Assembly successor Rich Gordon praised Ruskin's service in the Assembly after the 2011 announcement of his illness. He said he has been "impressed by the deep respect that so many in Sacramento have for Ira."


Ryland Kelley

Ryland Kelley, a Palo Alto native, developer and poet, died on Aug. 30 of liver cancer. He was 88.

A prominent real estate developer in a firm started by his father (Hare, Brewer & Kelley), he brought to life many landmark, and sometimes controversial, projects in the area with his brother, William "Bill" Kelley. Throughout his life, he supported land-preservation efforts, innovative solutions to ecological problems and the arts. He and his wife, Shirley, were also founding shareholders of the Palo Alto Weekly.

"Rye was a fire hose of ideas, some brilliant, some ahead of their time and some completely crazy," Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said. "This creativity and joie de vivre touched everything he did professionally and, in retirement, came out in beautiful poetry written for friends and family."

Born in 1925 at the old Palo Alto Hospital, Kelley attended Palo Alto High School. He graduated from Stanford in 1949, where he met his wife, Shirley.

Kelley and his brother's development projects included the beach resort community Pajaro Dunes on Monterey Bay; the 10-story building at 525 University AVe. in Palo Alto; five-star Palo Alto restaurant La Tour; Mayfield Mall, an early indoor mall; and the planned communities of Lindenwood in Atherton and Ladera in Portola Valley. He also built the community of Hidden Valley in Woodside and was involved in the creation of the Stanford Research Park.

Kelley's company rescued the 500-home Ladera development in the early 1950s, after he was approached by the nonprofit cooperative Peninsula Housing Association, which was facing bankruptcy. He and his wife lived in Ladera for 55 years. At the time of his death, the couple lived in Woodside, his family said.

He is also known for land-preservation efforts that include donating the first land acquisition to the nonprofit Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in 1979, which became the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. He was also a co-founder and chairman of the board of trustees at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, a board he served on for more than 30 years.

In his retirement, Kelley became a prolific poet. He composed a 100-page book of poems for Palo Alto's 100th anniversary, "Rings of Growth." He also wrote and staged a play, "Lyndon," about former President Lyndon Johnson playing a fictitious role in the death of President Kennedy.

Arts & Media

Greg Brown

Greg Brown, a Palo Alto muralist whose work continues to shock and amuse local pedestrians, died on Aug. 29 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 62.

A Barron Park resident, Brown had been a fixture of Palo Alto's public-art scene since 1975, when the city hired him as "artist in residence." The following year, he launched his "Pedestrian Series" nine trompe l'oeil vignettes on the walls of downtown buildings a project he pitched to the city's first Art Commission. These include the images of Spiro Agnew pushing a cat (later changed to an alien) in a baby stroller on the Restoration Hardware building and of a boy casting a fishing line on the historic U.S. Post Office building.

His wife, Julie Brown, said the subjects in the murals were often modeled after friends and family, as well as just regular people.

"He loved people," she said. "He just thought people, with all their foibles and perfections and imperfections, should be glorified."

He drew his first mural in 1956 as part of a grade-school assignment. He went on to take a few classes at the Palo Alto Art League but later opted for a more informal approach, an apprenticeship to artist and neighbor Roberto Lupetti. He grew as an artist, selling paintings in San Francisco as a teenager in order to buy his first car. He also spent time in his youth at Smith Andersen, then a gallery in downtown Palo Alto, where he met other artists and showed off his work, owner Paula Kirkeby said. He graduated from Palo Alto High School early and worked with Lupetti until he was about 21.

As Palo Alto's artist in residence, Greg Brown started with paintings but quickly changed to murals, preferring the public nature of the art. For the rest of his career, he never stopped working, toggling between public and private realms. Other projects included art for Palo Alto's centennial celebration in 1994 and a mural of a peacefully falling violinist on a concert hall in Linkoping, Sweden, one of Palo Alto's "sister cities."

Shirley Temple Black

Shirley Temple Black, popular child movie star, diplomat and longtime Woodside resident, died on Feb. 10 at her home surrounded by her family. She was 85.

She started her acting career at age 3 and starred in such hits as "Stand Up and Cheer" and "The Little Colonel." She ruled the box office in the 1930s.

After marrying in 1950 and leaving Hollywood behind, she lived in Woodside for much of her life. She met Charles Alden Black in 1950 when she was vacationing in Honolulu, and the couple married later that year at his parents' Monterey ranch.

After retiring from her film career at age 21, Shirley Temple Black became active in politics and held several diplomatic posts. She was U.S. ambassador to Ghana and later to Czechoslovakia during the collapse of the communist regime there in 1989. In 1967, Pete McCloskey beat her and nine other candidates to win a seat in Congress.

George Roberts, the owner of Roberts Market in Woodside, said, "She just was a very down-to-earth person, not like a celebrity. It was just a joy to know her. She was just like the gal next door."

She received many honors, including a special juvenile Academy Award in 1935, Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2006. In the late 1970s, she was grand marshal of the Woodside May Day parade, and she also served as a president of the Commonwealth Club of California.

Herb Wong

Herb Wong, a longtime Menlo Park resident renowned as a jazz expert and educator, died on April 20. He was 88.

Wong had strong ties to Palo Alto teaching jazz at the Palo Alto Adult School for 26 years and co-founding the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, a nonprofit jazz education organization where he served as artistic director.

After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, he earned a doctorate from University of California, Berkeley, in zoology and a master's degree in science education at San Jose State University. He went on to teach at several schools during his academic career and published numerous books on learning.

Dubbed a "Renaissance man" because of talents that spanned multiple career fields, Wong wrote about and produced jazz shows for decades, and he spent more than 25 years sharing his musical passions with others. He served as president of the International Association for Jazz Education and was elected to the Jazz Education Hall of Fame. Seven original jazz compositions have been written in his honor.

"Before they called it jazz education, this is what Herb was doing," said Paul Fingerote, a colleague and friend.

In addition to his part in the formation of the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, he taught 78 classes through the Palo Alto Adult School. All different, they focused on jazz instruments and great musicians, including vocalist Carmen McRae, who was the subject of his last course.

Kara Rosenberg, principal of the Palo Alto Adult School, said his classes developed a "tremendous following" and usually had somewhere between 25 and 75 students.

"He knew everybody," Rosenberg said, "and he knew whatever there was to know about jazz. It was actually mind-blowing."

Stanford University

Henry Breitrose

Henry S. Breitrose, professor emeritus in film at Stanford University, died on Oct. 2 at his home on Stanford campus after suffering from cancer. He was 78.

He founded the lauded master's program in documentary film and television at Stanford, which today boasts around 500 graduates. His magnetic teaching style and belief in the power of documentary film were admired by many students and fellow faculty members.

Born on July 22, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, he attended Stuyvesant High School. He then studied history and English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. While there he worked as a lighting and camera technician, or a grip, for the university where he became enamored with film.

He went on to receive a master's degree from Northwestern University in 1959 and then took a temporary position at Stanford as a "Film for Television" instructor.

He was later convinced to enter a Stanford Ph.D. program and joined the Communication Department faculty, where he developed the documentary film and television program.

Throughout his time teaching at Stanford, he assisted at other film schools in the U.S. and around the globe as a lecturer, consultant and instructor. Outside of academia, he served on a number of boards locally, among them ones for KQED and the Page Mill YMCA.

Martin Perl

Martin L. Perl, professor emeritus of physics at Stanford University and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, died on Sept. 30 at Stanford Hospital. He was 87.

A prolific and persistent researcher, he garnered the Nobel Prize in physics in 1995 for the discovery of a new group of elementary particles called the tau lepton.

He was born in 1927 in New York City to two immigrants who had fled persecution in a Polish region of Russia. After graduating high school at 16, he began college studies but left them to serve with the Merchant Marine and military during World War II. Upon returning, he studied chemical engineering at Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and earned his bachelor's degree in 1948.

For a time he worked as an engineer at General Electric, but at his wife Teri's urging, he returned to school to study physics. He went on to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. While first on the faculty of University of Michigan, he came to the Bay Area in 1963 to do research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, then under construction. Perl participated in the scientific communities at SLAC and Stanford for 50 years, working as an elementary particle physicist.

During his career he published more than 200 scientific papers, and in 1982 he received the Wolf Prize in physics. His Nobel Prize-winning research on the tau lepton lasted multiple decades, with major progress made during mid-1970s experiments with a machine that could detect short-lived particles. Even after he retired, he worked on projects at SLAC, including one funded by NASA investigating dark energy.

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