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.
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 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, 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, 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 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 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 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 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 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.