End-of-the-year lists fill websites, newspapers and magazines. The best movies, important scientific breakthroughs, memorable sports moments, critical political events and economic news, and on and on.
But locally, as 2019 comes to a close, a list worth making, whether from a personal or community standpoint, includes people from every corner of our community who made a difference, perhaps even major contributions to our lives, or were just plain fun and outstanding personalities who enhanced our lives. There were losses of many notable figures this year, but rather than sadness at their passing, we might be heartened by how well and fruitfully they lived amongst us.
E. Bruce Heilman, a former president of the University of Richmond, died on Oct. 20 at 93. If President Frederick Boatwright was a visionary president of UR early on, and George Modlin preserved the school during tough economic times in the mid-20th century, Heilman was a builder. He was at the helm from 1971 to 1986, having assumed office soon after the E. Claiborne Robins family donated $50 million, then a record to an American school. Heilman helped grow that gift significantly by sparking Richmond to become one of the nation’s top undergraduate liberal art schools. In retirement, the former Marine, who served in World War II, effectively championed veteran issues.
William Reeves was an Episcopal priest and educator who became headmaster of the Collegiate Boys School in 1976 where he served until the early 1990s. He was as a gifted, engaging and compassionate leader.
Another minister and teacher was Cessar Lenia Scott, a leader of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia for 33 years. He died on April 28 at 74. Scott added his wise counsel to many local organizations, including the Council for American’s First Freedom, which sought to raise greater awareness of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom enacted in 1786. It became the basis for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
- Scott Elmquist/FIle
- Roy A. West
John DeVeaux Riddick, a World War II veteran, brilliant actor and indispensable force for seven decades in our region’s theater and dance worlds, died on Sept. 7 at 93. For many years he was a designer and the technical director of the Theater at Bolling Haxall House, the Richmond Ballet and the Concert Ballet of Virginia.
Multitalented and whip-smart Martha Mabey died Oct. 1 at 82. This educator developed the highly regarded Montessori School of Richmond. She also established the Mabey Art Gallery in Carytown and authored published novels, including “The Anointing,” and “Artists Die Best in Black.”
- Scott Elmquist/File
- Haig Jamgochian
Haig Jamgochian, a Marine in World War II and the most iconoclastic and controversial architect in Richmond’s history, died on Nov. 18 at 95. Do you know the crinkled aluminum-clad building near Willow Lawn? Enough said.
In politics, a consequential governor, Democrat Gerald A. Baliles, who served from 1986 to 1990, died on Nov. 1 at 79. His official accomplishments included passage of a long-range transportation measure. Having been reared on a western Virginia farm, he committed Virginia to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, raising teachers’ salaries, and appointed the first woman to the state Supreme Court. The state under Baliles “took its modern form,” said W. Taylor Reveley IV, Longwood University’s president. Baliles also worked to enhance Dulles International Airport and later directed the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.
Greater Richmond bade farewell to a number of other former officials. Ralph L. Bill Axelle Jr., a lawyer with the Williams Mullens firm who represented Henrico County in the General Assembly for 16 years beginning in 1974, died on Jan. 24 at 75.
A dedicated Chesterfield official was the New Jersey transplant and former county supervisor, Joan Cruse Girone. This first woman elected to the Board of Supervisors broke up the old-boy network to champion regional cooperation and economic development. She died on April 14 at 91.
Walter T. Kenney Sr., a postal union official and a real gentleman, served as Richmond’s mayor from 1990 to 1994. He died on Jan. 28 at 88. In office, racial reconciliation became one of his trademarks.
A former Richmond public school principal, the outspoken and controversial former mayor Roy A. West died on May 25 at 89. He was elected to City Council in 1982, was soon chosen mayor, and served for six years.
Activist Ora Mae Perry Lomax, a North Carolina native who experienced the Jim Crow era, died April 19 at 87. In the 1960s she picketed Thalhimers department store when its restaurants refused to serve blacks. Later, she led voter drives and co-founded the Richmond Chapter of Women in the NAACP. In 1961 she was the first black saleswoman at the Raylass Department Store and went on to careers at Thalhimers, Miller & Rhoads and LaVogue, all upscale fashion destinations. Later, Lomax and her husband operated a combination barber and beauty shop on Hull Street.
- Scott Elmquist/File
- Lille A. Estes
On Jan. 31, Richmond lost community strategist Lille A. Estes, a public housing advocate and former mayoral candidate, as well as co-founder of Residents of Public Housing in Richmond Against Mass Evictions. Right until the end, she was fighting for new ways to bring community voices together while launching the Community Justice Network.
Virginia in recent times has known few criminal defense lawyers more visible and charismatic as Michael Morchower. The former FBI agent was dubbed Magic Mike from success in getting killers, drug dealers and politicians-gone-awry off the hook. The New Jersey native, who came to UR to play basketball and received his law degree there, died June 9 at 79.
Dr. Irwin Kelman “Kel” Cohen, a Troy, New York, native, came to Richmond in 1972 to the Medical College of Virginia, now the VCU Heath System, where he taught and founded the plastic surgery program and the Wounded Healing Laboratory for national research. He died on June 9 at 84.
Native Richmonder Stephen Allan Meyers, who died April 26 at 79, was keen on local history and owned swathes of downtown real estate. This invaluable figure on numerous downtown, civic, and Jewish organizations, had established Virginia Parking Service, which he and his wife ran for a quarter century.
Robert Reid Barber Jr., who died on Sept. 27 at 79, worked in advertising sales for much of his career before co-founding with Bill Martin in 1988 the Barber Martin Agency.
Thomas Harrell, former owner and operator of Carolina Bar-B-Que, a Church Hill institution on Nine Mile Road for 44 years, died Jan. 2 at 86. He served in the Army during the Korean War.
Richard J. Ripp, who made an indelible mark on Richmond’s restaurant scene, died June 24 at 89. Long before the region experienced its current culinary boom, he established such popular restaurants as the Crown and Shield, the Raleigh Grill, Black Horse Cellar, Hickory Hearth, the Abbey, Cattletown, O’Brienstein’s and Crab Louie’s. He also founded the Restaurant Company that franchised regional Arby’s. Later, with his sons, he opened two successful dining anchors in Carytown, Can Can Brasserie and Burger Bach.
Alexander Hamilton, a businessman in paper products and real estate who was an essential civic leader, died Nov. 12 at 85 while playing tennis. This veteran of the Korean War lent his wisdom to numerous boards, including the Children’s Hospital, Collegiate, the Richmond Symphony Foundation, the Richmond Ballet, the Greater Richmond YMCA and Westminster Canterbury.
Dennis A. Spurgeon died July 24 at 72. The Charleston native was a co-owner of Chez Foushee, the casually elegant downtown restaurant he co-founded with his husband, Andrew Hardie.
Three scions of prominent Richmond families died this year. On June 3, Benjamin J. Lambert IV died at 52 from prostate cancer. A financial planner, he worked at Wachovia, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, Merrill Lynch before joining SunTrust Investment Services. He also served on countless educational, arts and community organizations. He was the son of state Sen. Benjamin Lambert and the grandson of Mary Frances Warden Lambert and Benjamin Lambert Sr., founders of the storied Lambert Catering Service.
Bruce C. Gottwald Jr. died in a tragic vehicular accident on Oct. 20 at 61. He was the former chairman and chief executive officer of First Colony Corp., the holding company for First Colony Life Insurance.
On Sept. 2, Sidney Buford Scott, a last grandee of Richmond’s Main Street financial district and former chairman of Scott & Stringfellow brokerage firm that his grandfather had founded, died at 86. He was generous in spirit and with his pocketbook and one colleague cited cheerfulness as his greatest trait.
Our community also lost some irreplaceable grandes dames this year. Charlotte Mae Satterwhite Troxell died on Jan. 20 at 99. This Fredericksburg native was the matriarch of a family long entwined with the city’s fine musical groups. She performed in cantatas for more than 20 years, but to many visitors to Richmond hers was a beautiful and welcoming presence as the head hostess at the State Capitol for 27 years.
Elisabeth Ross Reed Carter, high-spirited and wise, died April 13 at 87. She loved the outdoors and served the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for 30 years, including a decade as trustee.
- Scott Elmquist/File
- Sara Belle November
Our theater scene has had few better patrons than the smart and generous Sara Belle November who died Sept. 18 at 91. For decades, she and her husband Neil probably attended every local production and wrote generous checks to keep the footlights on.
- Scott Elmquist/File
- True Farr Luck
The always fashionable and savvy True Farr Luck, who made significant gifts to the Massey Cancer Center at VCU, the Visual Arts Center of Virginia and Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, died Oct. 28 at 85. And at this time of the year we might recall that in 2006 she was Richmond Christmas Mother, one of the community’s highest accolades.