In Memoriam: Palo Alto notables who died in 2016 | News | Palo Alto Online |


In Memoriam: Palo Alto notables who died in 2016

Community members we lost were volunteers, pioneers in their fields

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As the Weekly reflects on 2016, we remember those who played a significant role in shaping the Palo Alto community, the nation and even the world.

Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, these leaders left an indelible impression, from a philanthropist, to a theoretical physicist, to an advocate for the arts. Here are some snapshots of their impactful lives.

Kirke Comstock

Former Palo Alto councilman and mayor Kirke Comstock died from Alzheimer's disease on Aug. 23 at the age of 86. Known as a "residentialist," he presided over the City of Palo Alto in the 1960s and 1970s, when it faced its first wave of quality-of-life struggles. He is responsible for preserving many of the city's open space area such as Foothills Park and the Gamble Garden. Known as a lifelong lover of the environment, he and his wife, Dorothy Brand Comstock, were on the board of the Committee for Green Foothills, which helped to save Midpeninsula open space areas from development. After serving on Palo Alto's City Council for 14 years and working at United Airlines for 44 years, he moved to Portola Valley Ranch in the 1990s. He began public service in Portola Valley by first serving on the planning commission for five years. He was elected to serve as a councilman in 1999 and became the town's mayor in 2000 before retiring in 2003.

Sidney Drell

Sidney Drell died on Dec. 21 at the age of 90. Professor emeritus of theoretical physics at SLAC National Accelorator Laboratory and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, Drell was known as a staunch opponent of nuclear proliferation. His dedication to arms control lasted over 50 years, during which he served on numerous panels advising Congress, the intelligence community and the military. His research focused on quantum electrodynamics and quantum chomodynamics. He and and associate Tung-Mow Yan formulated the Drell-Yan Process, which became an important tool in particle physics. He will be remembered for his research and lifetime of service to his country.

Keith Clark

Keith Clark, who died on Oct. 2, at the age of 94, was a beloved and significant figure in the Palo Alto community. Clark coached high school sports and was most known for his coaching of tennis, especially at Palo Alto High School, where he compiled a record of 301-73. From 1991 to 1996, Clark helped lead Palo Alto High to six straight section championships. He was inducted into the National High School Coaches Hall of Fame for his accomplishments. He will be remembered as a mentor and for his legacy of more than 1,000 victories in tennis, football, basketball and cross country in his 52-year career.

Peter deCourcy Hero

Peter deCourcy Hero, who died on Aug. 21 at the age of 73, was a highly respected philanthropist in the Silicon Valley. Hero is perhaps best-known for taking over the Community Foundation of Santa Clara County in 1988 and growing its assets from $9 million to $1.2 billion by the time he stepped down in 2006. Hero created a culture of philanthropy in the Midpeninsula during the tech boom, encouraging tech tycoons to practice charitable giving. He was instrumental in merging the Community Foundation with the Peninsula Community Foundation in San Mateo, creating one foundation that would work together in charitable work. His friends and family remember him as generous and devoted to making the lives around him better.

Gladys "Laddie" Hughes

Gladys "Laddie" Hughes died on July 17 at the age of 91. She was widely known and respected in the area for her public service. Her passion was the pursuit of equal rights for women. Her national efforts on this issue, as well as her work in national Republican politics, earned her the respect and friendship of figures like presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In recognition of her work in public service, she was appointed to the U.S. President's Committee on the National Medal of Science (Reagan) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nursing Division (Bush). On top of this, Hughes was the president of the Woman's Club of Palo Alto and participated in numerous speaking engagements regarding gender equality.

Billy Prior

Billy Prior, who died on June 21 at the age of 96, was born in Palo Alto and, according to a Palo Alto historian, held the record as the native who lived here the longest. Along with this distinction, Prior was also in the Battle of Normandy as well as one of the first women soldiers to arrive in Paris after its liberation. Prior was passionate about nature and wildlife, she volunteered for 33 years for the Sempervirens Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the land and redwoods found in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Freddie Maddalena

Freddie Maddalena died on May 7 at the age of 87. Maddalena was a notable figure in the restaurant and entertainment business in Palo Alto. He started his professional career in 1950, when he opened Mood Indigo, a sophisticated jazz nightclub in Toronto. It was famous for hosting celebrities like Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte. Maddalena moved to the Bay Area in the 1960s and worked at the Cabana Resort in Palo Alto. In 1976, he took over 544 Emerson St. in Palo Alto and called it "Maddalenas." It was a classy and elegant restaurant that drew famous customers throughout the years, such as Warren Beatty and Steve Jobs. Finally, he opened his own Cabaret Club at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel and Resort at the age of 80, capping his stellar career the Midpeninsula.

Paula Kirkeby

Paula Zollotto Kirkeby died on April 1 at the age of 81. In October 1969, Kirkeby and her husband, Phillip, opened the Smith-Anderson gallery in Palo Alto. The gallery would go on to become an artistic hub of the community, representing the work of national as well as international artists. It was to be her life's work. Over the years, the gallery has supported countless artists due to Kirkeby's generosity and respect for the arts. She will be remembered for her energy and passion and for being a vital figure in the Palo Alto art scene.

Lynda Steele

Lynda Steele died on Feb. 29 at the age of 67. She was known for advocating for the rights of persons with developmental disabilities for more than four decades. She was also at the forefront of the movement that helped bring the disabled out of institutions and integrate them into society. Steele was the executive director at Palo Alto's Abilities United for 21 years until her retirement in 2014. Under her leadership, the organization more than doubled its budget, from $2.9 million to $6 million, with the number of clients growing to more than 3,000 annually. She began her professional career at a time when the majority of the disabled were institutionalized in inhumane conditions and will be remembered for her passionate fight for granting these persons better lives.

Victor Frost

Victor Frost died on Feb. 12 at the age of 68. He was well-known in the community for challenging Palo Alto's "sit-lie" ordinance as a panhandler on constitutional grounds. People would see him sitting out on his milk crate panhandling often, and he only became more recognizable as he ran repeatedly for City Council. Frost will be remembered as a creative thinker and as someone who stood up for his rights. While Frost did not win his case in court, he fought hard and will be looked back on as a unique character in the life of Palo Alto.

R. Hewlett Lee

R. Hewlett "Hewey" Lee died on Jan. 20 at the age of 89. Lee was an accomplished surgeon known for his kindness and sense of humor. He was a major force in the medical field in the Midpeninsula, even serving as the president of the Santa Clara County Medical Society in the late 1960s, helping draft legislation that would help form MediCal. Lee was a delegate to the California Medical Association for 15 years and the American Medical Association for 10. One of his most important accomplishments was pioneering techniques in how to treat and diagnose breast cancer. Lee graduated from Stanford University and taught there for many years, even after his career as a surgeon had blossomed.

Sam Smidt

Sam Smidt died on Jan. 12 at the age of 84. Smidt was a graphic designer and artist specializing in design. As a young man, he served in the U.S. Navy in the Korean War. In 1954, Smidt took an art class at Steven's School in San Francisco (now the Academy of Art University) and then went on to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Smidt worked at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park after graduating. In the 1970s, he opened Sam Smidt Associates in Palo Alto Square and by the 1980s it was recognized as one of the Bay Area's top advertising agencies. Smidt went on to open his own studio on High Street after selling Sam Smidt Associates, as well as teaching design at San Jose State for 37 years.


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12 people like this
Posted by Clem Clemson
a resident of Professorville
on Dec 31, 2016 at 1:19 pm

Seems to me that there is a huge omission of the death of Bill Campbell who lived on Churchill. Wonder why?

Like this comment
Posted by @PAFreePress
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2017 at 6:35 am

Clem Clemson

Bill Campbell Web Link) Ok kindly point out his legacy and contributions to the Palo Alto community like others noted above.... please explain your criteria would be helpful...


10 people like this
Posted by J Palmer
a resident of another community
on Jan 2, 2017 at 9:00 am

Freddie had a private room upstairs at his Emerson Street restaurant where he would serve meals to then couples like Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt.

13 people like this
Posted by community member
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2017 at 2:34 pm

What about Ehud Krauss, founder and artistic director of Zohar school of dance and its out-reach programs since 1979?

12 people like this
Posted by Mark M~
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2017 at 10:37 am

And Dr. Davis Baldwin who died in November having practiced obstetrics and gynecology here in Palo Alto for fifty years and who ushered 1,000s of new Palo Altans into the world.

15 people like this
Posted by Kenneth C. Kaufman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2017 at 10:48 am

Lists are always dangerous. The omit more than they prove. This is a hurtful article

7 people like this
Posted by Margaret
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 3, 2017 at 11:32 am

John Allen, who died March 5th aged 68, was a much-loved youth soccer coach and team manager. He shared his expert knowledge of the game with countless Palo Alto children and their families, particularly dedicating his life to encouraging and supporting those who had limited opportunities. He touched the lives of many, and with great humor and dedication he encouraged all children to reach their full potential.

3 people like this
Posted by Dylan
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 3, 2017 at 11:59 am

A great man, Andy Grove, died this year. He didn't live in Palo Alto, but he was a huge supporter of the Palo Alto Children's Theatre.

Thanks to everyone for naming other people, because some I knew, but didn't know they had died, (like Ehud) others I'm glad to know about (John Allen).

6 people like this
Posted by Carl
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

to Kenneth
This is not a 'hurtful' article (though you might feel hurt).
As you said, when there are lists, some items get left out, depending upon who made the list and how many were considered.
Omission is not a sign of disrespect.
Nor is being included a sign of "being better than".
It is all merely recognition and remembrance.
So, as others have done, if you have a person you think worthy of recognition and remembrance, add their name and actions in a comment so that others will know as well.

2 people like this
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 3, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Kay Alexander was another important person who passed away this year. For many years she was the head of Art Education for the PAUSD. She was a leader in arts education at the state level as well, and locally also helped create Cultural Kaleidoscope, a pioneering program at the PA Art Center that brought kids from East Plo Alto and Palo Alto together to experience joint art classes. The program also put on terrific exhibits of children's art. I think she was also involved in creating Project LOOK! which engaged trained dozens in teaching art appreciation skills to PA school kids.

Kay was also a very gracious lady and a kindly mentor. The Weekly carried a nice obituary after her death earlier this fall, but I just wanted to call out her passing once again to the community. Arts education is SO important, and Kay Alexander really brought so much to our children.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2017 at 10:55 pm

Just an odd observation.... but Sidney Drell, an opponent of nuclear proliferation, dies one day before the headlines stating Trump wants to increase the nuclear arsenal.

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