In Memoriam: A tribute to remarkable figures of the Midpeninsula | News | Palo Alto Online |


In Memoriam: A tribute to remarkable figures of the Midpeninsula

Doctors, philanthropic leaders, activists among locals who died in 2019

This year, the Palo Alto area lost extraordinary figures whose lifelong work continues to inspire and help the generation they left behind. Though varied in their professions — from educational pioneers to health professionals — these diverse individuals all had in common a selfless desire to give back to their communities.

This list commemorates the contributions of a select few but is by no means comprehensive. If you would like to acknowledge others who died this year, leave your tributes under this article. To view additional obituaries, go to the Lasting Memories website, which can be found here.

Gertrude Dyer Wilks

Died Jan. 20, 2019, at 91

Born in 1927 on a plantation in Duboc, Louisiana, and later settling in East Palo Alto, Gertrude Dyer Wilks escaped the discrimination and violence of the rural south and later cemented her role as an educational pioneer and stalwart public servant.

Her activism began before East Palo Alto became a city. At the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she created the area's first private African American school system. And when East Palo Alto was finally incorporated, she served on the city's first City Council.

"She spoke with such passion and influence; nobody would tell her no," Wilks' granddaughter LaPria Wilks told the Weekly.

Later after seeing how the public education system was failing her three children, she founded Mothers for Equal Education to push for more educational opportunities for East Palo Alto's youth. The group rallied for the desegregation of schools and organized a "sneak out" program in which white Palo Alto residents took black children into their homes five days a week, so they could enroll in better schools.

In honor of her contributions, the private Nairobi School was renamed the Gertrude Wilks Academy before its closure in the 1980s.

Alan Grundmann

Died Feb. 5, 2019, at 86

Alan Grundmann dedicated most of his life to Stanford University, leaving an indelible mark upon the school.

In 1976, he became the first administrative director of the university's nearly 1,200-acre Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, promoting research and conservation through his position.

On top of managing the lands, he spearheaded the development of an on-site laboratory along with a docent center, a library of archival and reference material and other facilities that continue to be used by Stanford and other institutions for research and environmental education.

Prior to this position, he helped organize, finance and operate Stanford's first Upward Bound Program, which helps low-income, first-generation high school students prepare for a college education. In 1967, he became the assistant provost of the university, responsible for overseeing building renovations, construction and overall management of academic lands.

He later received the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson award in 1993 for his extraordinary contributions to Stanford.

A longtime friend from Harvard University remembers him as "a man of keen intellect, boundless curiosity, considered opinions — the man who had something worthwhile to say, to challenge, to defend."

Joseph Lawrence Naiman

Died June 23, 2019, at 86

Remembered by his family for his generous spirit, Joseph "Laurie" Naiman was a pediatric hematologist-oncologist whose contributions spanned from research and education to diligent clinical care.

Early in his career, he was the professor of pediatrics at Temple University School of Medicine and chief of hematology-oncology at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. In 1984, he moved to California and served as a medical director of the Northern California Region of the American Red Cross Blood Services and as a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Throughout his career, he authored more than 70 medical publications. But according to his family, his proudest accomplishment was developing a family support program for children with leukemia and cancer. He also was instrumental to the establishment of the Ronald McDonald House Charities when it first formed in Philadelphia in the 1970s.

Outside of health care, he was an active photographer. In Palo Alto, where he lived for more than three decades, he was a member of the Palo Alto Camera Club and elected as its president. His work received several awards, including two first-place prizes in the Palo Alto Weekly Photo Contest in 2002 and 2019. He also was a frequent contributor to the photo gallery.

Donald Fitton

Died June 26, 2019, at 94

Palo Alto resident Donald Fitton was one of the co-founders and first president of the nonprofit Creative Initiative Foundation, which later became the Foundation for Global Community before it dissolved in 2010. It began with the ambitious initiative to bring "about the cooperation of the races, the religions and the nations for the well-being of all humankind," according to its website.

As a young man, he aspired to be like his father, a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War I, and joined the U.S. Air Force. Later, he had a two-decade career as an executive in the scientific and technical publishing industry before he was inspired by Harry Rathbun, a business law professor at Stanford University, to make a career change.

In 1962, he co-founded the Creative Initiative Foundation with his wife, Virginia Fitton, and Rathbun and his wife, Emilia Rathbun, and later the AMR Institute, which was mainly concerned with couples' dynamics.

The foundation's interests were broad and far-reaching. In 1982, he and Virginia helped co-found the Beyond War movement when the foundation's focus shifted toward educating the public about the catastrophic effects of global nuclear war.

The two continued to work with the Foundation for Global Community in Palo Alto, where they lived for over four decades.

Carroll Howell Harrington

Died Nov. 21, 2019, at 84

Carroll Howell Harrington was a tireless community activist and dedicated environmentalist.

As a Palo Alto resident for 50 years, she made her mark on the city in countless ways, from volunteering her graphic design skills for local political campaigns to working for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District as its first public information officer in the 1970s.

Since youth, she was a high academic achiever, receiving valedictorian status at her local high school in Taos, New Mexico. When she moved to California, she got her first job as a secretary for lifestyle publication Sunset Magazine. According to a 1972 issue of Anchora of Delta Gamma, the contacts she made there were instrumental to her environmental work as they later helped her publish a little green handbook, "If You Want to Save Your Environment ... Start at Home!" She donated the $10,000 in book sales to the American Association of University Women's scholarship fund.

On top of her activism, she sat on the board of the Palo Alto Community Fund and Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce. In 1993, she received the Athena Award, which recognizes influential business and professional women.

"Carroll was a hard worker on projects and issues in which she believed, with solid ideas and instincts and a willingness to put in the behind-the-scenes work required to make them successful," according to Jay Thorwaldson, former editor of Palo Alto Weekly.

Other notable locals who died in 2019

Henry Dure Bullock, founder of commercial real estate investment firm, Menlo Equities.

Mary Carlstead, high school teacher and Filoli Historic House and Garden docent.

George Comstock, mayor of Portola Valley, co-founder of Diablo Systems and founder of computer company Durango Systems.

Edward Teryl Hogan, tournament director of Palo Alto Golf Club and president of Palo Alto Lawn Bowls Club.

Bernardo Gonzalez Huerta, member of East Palo Alto's Public Works & Transportation Committee and Planning Commission.

William D. Iaculla, educator, artist and member of the Pacific Art League.

Joseph Kott, chief transportation official of Palo Alto and co-founder of Transportation Choices for Sustainable Communities.

John Clarke L'Heureux, Lane professor emeritus of humanities at Stanford University, author and poet.

James Weeks Lyons, dean emeritus of student affairs at Stanford University and lecturer in the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Roy Herrick Maffly, educator and former associate dean at the Stanford School of Medicine.

Stephanie Munoz, community activist for affordable housing and homeless support.

Everardo 'Lalo' Perez, former chief financial officer of Palo Alto.

Erika Nord Richards, physical therapist and lifetime member of the League of Women Voters.

Louis Sloss Jr., a founding shareholder of Embarcadero Media.

Hans Anton 'Tony' Tucher, president of Cypress String Quartet, member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the board of directors of the World Affairs Council.

Marilyn Koenick Yalom, gender studies scholar at Stanford University, author and cultural historian.

Related content:

• Weekly journalists recap the biggest news and surprising trends of the year on an episode of Behind the Headlines, now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page

Palo Alto's biggest, weirdest and wildest stories of 2019

News that made the decade: Recapping the defining moments of the 2010s

A year in Shop Talk: The openings and closings of 2019

An interview with a rat — and other reporters tales: What Weekly reporters did to get a few of this year's stories

Rising to the occasion: Photos illustrate how Palo Alto persevered in 2019

Odd stories from 2019 we wish came straight from our imaginations


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Lem Bishop
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 28, 2019 at 4:01 pm

Still breathing...would appreciate updates from PAHS alums.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 28, 2019 at 7:30 pm

^ Isn't that what Facebook is for?

(The school and many Paly clubs have pages but nobody keeps them current.)

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I did not know him personally but the New York Times obituary as did the Chronicle art section round up said the artist Robert Therrien 71 grew up here.

1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Ken Taylor, Stanford Professor and co-host of Philosophy Talk: Web Link

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Anne Le Ziblatt, formerly of Tamarine and Bong Su, is back with a Vietnamese noodle bar in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 7 comments | 3,229 views

Local Pols Debate Climate
By Sherry Listgarten | 10 comments | 2,643 views

Letting Christmas Linger
By Cheryl Bac | 5 comments | 1,394 views

The E.R.A. – no real equality yet. Why not?
By Diana Diamond | 13 comments | 858 views

Truth Matters (and so does good beer)
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 683 views