As we start a new year, we remember Long Beach notables who died in 2021. They helped shape our humanity and our community by the lives they lived.
Although not an exhaustive list, here are my final salutes and thanks to those who gave so much to the community.
Public officials who died in 2021 included:
Sato, 99, the first female mayor of Long Beach and the first Asian American woman to serve as mayor of a major American city. Sato represented the Seventh District from 1975 to 1986, including two years as mayor appointed by her colleagues.
In 2015, Long Beach Unified School District opened the Sato Academy of Mathematics and Science, making it the first school in the district to be named for an Asian American. Sato might have been small in stature – she was 4 feet 10 inches – but she was a giant as a community leader and educator, said former Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill.
Topsy-Elvord, 90, known as “Mother Doris” for her legendary work in the community, was the first Black woman to be elected to the Long Beach City Council and the first Black person to serve on the harbor commission.
She was elected to the City Council in 1992 and served as vice mayor twice during her two terms on the council. She was appointed to the harbor commission in 2003.
Her last public appearance came in August when the city named the newly renovated community center complex in North Long Beach’s Houghton Park after her.
Karnette, 89, was a longtime teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District before getting into politics later in life. She served in the state Assembly from 1992 to 1994 and then the state Senate from 1996 to 2004. After that, she returned to the Assembly from 2004 to 2008.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn called Karnette “a trailblazer for women and a fierce advocate for her constituents, workers and public education. She will be remembered for her wit and sincerity.”
Eunice N. Sato, the first female mayor of Long Beach, has died at the age of 99. Eunice Sato at the 28th Annual Greater Long Beach Leadership Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the Long each Rescue Mission held at The Grand on Thursday, October 7, 2010. .Photo by Diandra Jay/Press-Telegram
2/8/11 – Doris Topsy-Elvord was born on June 17, 1931, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In 1942, her family moved to Long Beach, California. Topsy-Elvord has been in public service her entire life. She had a full career as a peace officer, was the first African American on the Long Beach city council and the first African American and third woman on the Harbor Commission for the Port of Long Beach, third woman. Her home looks like a museum of accomplishments, famous people and those she loves. Her philosophy in life is a quote from her mother, .”You can get anything done if you don’t care who gets the glory.” Photo by Brittany Murray / Press-Telegram
Former State Senator Betty Karnette asks Port of Long Beach Executive Director Richard D. Steinke a question during a question and answer session at the annual “State of the Port Address” held at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach on Jan. 29, 2010. Stephen Carr / Press-Telegram.
Former U.S. Rep. Steve Kuykendall, a fixture in South Bay politics who also spearheaded a successful effort to create temporary housing in Long Beach for families of veterans getting medical treatment and the city’s VA hospital, died Saturday, Jan. 23. He was 73. Kuykendall also served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1968 to 1973. (Courtesy of the Kuykendall family.)
Val Lerch, U.S. Coast Guard veteran salutes the flag during ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ during the Memorial Day service at Forest Lawn in Long Beach on Monday, May 27, 2019. (Photo by Ana P. Garcia, Contributing Photographer)
Mary Thoits, former Director of Senior Studies Lifetime Learning Program at Long Beach City College enjoys a laugh with Press-Telegram Public Editor Rich Archbold at Saturday’s Successful Aging Expo at The Grand in Long Beach. Photo: Tom Bray
Than Pok (Courtesy of Than Pok’s family)
Gerald Locklin, considered by many to be a legend in literary circles in Southern California, stands next to pictures of Hemingway and Bukowski. Locklin died from coronavirus-related complications Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. (Courtesy of Patricia Cherin)
A young Jim Willingham. (Courtesy of Brad Willingham)
John C. Wallace, a Long Beach community leader and philanthropist who helped thousands of kids through his support of the Boys & Girls Clubs and Boy Scouts, died Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, at his home. He was 94.(Courtesy of Scott Merrill)
Kirk J. Real, a longtime educator, community leader and volunteer who earned the title of “everyday hero” in the city of Lakewood, has died. He was 86. Accolades and condolences came pouring in from community leaders about Real, who had deep roots in the Lakewood, Bellflower, Artesia and Cerritos area. (Courtesy of Christ Presbyterian Church)
Tom Kell (Courtesy of Kell family)
Jose Flores (right) and his brother, Tom, sitting next to statue of Daryle Black, the Long Beach police officer killed by gang members. The bench and statue is at the Daryle Black Minipark on Pasadena Avenue in central Long Beach. (2012 by Rich Archbold)
Bill Porter, a nationally renowned neurosurgeon and professor and a community leader who helped save the Long Beach Symphony in the 1980s, has died. He was 94. (Courtesy photo)
Susan Scribner dressed up as an elf. (Courtesy of the Scribner family)
Martha Long was director of MHA Los Angeles’s The Village for 20 years. (Photo courtesy Paul Barry)
Darlene and Jack Quinn. (Courtesy Quinn family)
William Dalessi and his wife Margo. (Courtesy family)
John Futch, a Vietnam Veteran, lifelong journalist and former Press-Telegram editor has spent his retirement in Cambodia. Recently Futch has fallen ill in Cambodia and now family and friends are uniting to get him proper healthcare and possibly bring him home to the United States. (Photo courtesy of John Futch)
LaWahna Eldred, with her pup Little Joe in the late 1990s, is a former Press-Telegram newsroom secretary. She also served as P-T columnist Rich Archbold’s administrative assistant when he ran the paper — and was a close friend of his. Eldred died recently in Hawaii. (Courtesy of Rich Archbold)
Daughter Jackie traveled with great care from New York City to Long Beach in September 2020 to spend a month with her mother for Debbie’s 80th birthday. The two talked frequently on the phone, but spending time together in Debbie’s last season was priceless. Here, Jackie and Debbie on a boat ride in Long Beach. (Courtesy of the Hennessy/Tien/Levin family)
Press-Telegram columnist Rich Archbold visits with his friends Jack and Audrey Jones in Chicago in 1988. Jack Jones was Rich’s longtime friend from his home state of Illinois. Jones died recently at 93. (Courtesy of Rich Archbold.)
Press-Telegram Rich Archbold, left, with his friend Bud Pagel on Catalina Island in 2002. Pagel died recently in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Courtesy Rich Archbold)
Kuykendall, 73, was a fixture in South Bay politics who began his political career as a Rancho Palos Verdes City Council member in 1991, served in the state Assembly in 1994 and ended in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2001.
He spearheaded a successful effort to create Fisher House, temporary housing in Long Beach for families of veterans getting medical treatment at the VA hospital.
Lerch, 69, was an iconic North Long Beach resident who served on the Long Beach City Council from 2002 to 2010, including one term as vice mayor. He served 12 years with the U.S. Coast Guard and another 12 years in the active reserves and was a leader in building the Long Beach Veterans Day Parade.
He was honored at this year’s Veterans Day festival but couldn’t attend because of health issues. Firefighters from Station No. 12, which Lerch helped rebuild during his tenure on the City Council, came to his house to honor him.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, called Lerch the epitome of a public servant — someone who served his nation in uniform and his community as a leader and mentor.
Other notable people
More folks who died in 2021 included:
- Mary Thoits, 97, the dynamic, fun-loving creator of Long Beach City College’s popular Senior Studies program. She had a strong zest for life, skydiving to celebrate her 85th birthday, flying her first plane when she was 16 and swimming in the ocean for exercise and spiritual stimulation.
- Than Pok, 77, the first executive director of United Cambodian Community, a nonprofit helping thousands of Cambodian refugees settle in Southern California after they fled the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
- Gerald Locklin, 79, a local teacher, writer and poet who helped shape the literary landscape of Southern California for decades. He taught writing at Cal State Long Beach for 42 years but was also a prolific writer himself.
- Jim Willingham, 92, a success in the automobile business who began selling cars in Long Beach in 1950, eventually growing his business into one of the biggest dealerships in the city. He also served as head of the Chamber of Commerce, was founding chairman of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and was former head of the National Automobile Dealership Association.
- John C. Wallace, 94, a Long Beach community leader and philanthropist who helped thousands of kids through his support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Long Beach and Boy Scouts. He also was an astute businessman who built Petrolane into a large petroleum services company.
- Kirk J. Real, 86, a longtime educator, community leader and volunteer who earned the title of “everyday hero” in the city of Lakewood. Real began his teaching career in the Bellflower Unified School District in 1957 and served as principal for every elementary school in the district, except for two. He was the longest serving commissioner in Lakewood history.
- Tom Kell, 71, a professional singer-songwriter who carved out a second career later in life as the beloved music teacher at Lakewood Christian Schools in Long Beach. He taught children how to have fun, enjoy life and, above all, how to sing.
- Jose Flores, 88, made impossible dreams come true for people in need. He fed those who were homeless, helped kids in trouble, created a park honoring a police officer killed in the line of duty and worked tirelessly as a volunteer helping the youth division of the Long Beach Police Department.
- Dr. Robert “Bill” Porter, 94, a nationally renowned neurosurgeon and professor — and a community leader who helped save the Long Beach Symphony in the 1980s.
- Leo Haggerty, 94, a legendary football coach at St. Anthony and La Mirada high schools.
- Susan Scribner, 69, earned the title “Queen of Nonprofits” by helping thousands of organizations in the art of fundraising and other skills to strengthen their services.
- Martha Long, 82, who shaped The Village mental health and rehabilitation center in downtown Long Beach.
- Darlene Quinn, 83, a Long Beach native who left the world of high fashion to become a writer who penned the award-winning “Webs of Power” book series.
- William Dalessi, 98, founder of Long Beach’s premier Congressional Cup race.
The hardest columns I had to write this year involved the deaths of several close friends, most of whom worked with me at the Press-Telegram. It gives me heartache realizing my lifelong friends are gone.
My Press-Telegram colleagues include:
- John C. Futch, 75, a news editor whose career spanned three decades at the P-T. He was an intense, fearless and loyal leader and friend.
- LaWahna Eldred, 94, the newsroom secretary and my personal administrative assistant for several years. She was maybe the most positive, enthusiastic and optimistic person I have ever met.
- Debbie Hennessy, 80, a former longtime administrator for the California State University Academic Senate and wife of the late Press-Telegram columnist Tom Hennessy. Debbie, dubbed “The Duchess” by her late husband, loved giving to others who needed help all her life, said her son, John Tien.
- Harold Davies, 85, production director at the Press-Telegram who worked with the newsroom when we had to stretch deadlines for a big story. He started the presses for the final edition of the Press-Telegram produced from the historic building at Sixth Street and Pine Avenue.
- Burt Fleischmann, 90, who spent 40 years in the Press-Telegram’s circulation department, selling papers in stores and in vending machines on the street. Burt loved nothing more than big stories, especially those that produced “extras,” because it meant selling more papers.
Other longtime friends who died were:
- Jack Jones, 93, who ran a newspaper agency in Lombard, Illinois, and gave me my first newspaper job as a paper boy.
- Al Bud “Bunkie” Pagel, 93, my roommate when we both worked at The Miami Herald. Pagel, from Neligh, Nebraska, had a distinguished writing and reporting career before becoming a beloved journalism professor at the University of Nebraska.
I hope that, in reading this, you think about the people who shaped your life and take the opportunity to share their stories with your loved ones and others.
Each of these friends made my life richer, better and more fun.