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In Memoriam: 2020

Part one of a look back at some special individuals we lost in 2020.

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The prospect of death and death itself have been unifying themes in both our nation and region this year like no time since World War II or Vietnam.

Too many people have suffered or been lost to the coronavirus. But as 2020 becomes history we are also reminded of others who moved to different seats in the bleachers of the universe after long careers and fruitful service. We each can make our own lists of those we will miss, but the following is a list of a few late personalities who shined especially brightly in our community. 

Gloria Weiner-Adams
  • Gloria Weiner-Adams

Gloria Weiner-Adams, who died at 89 on Feb. 5, created a nexus of fashion and retail at Saxon Shoes, the retailer that her first husband, Jules “Jack” Weiner, opened in 1953 on East Grace Street downtown. Over the years, the stylish Casablanca, Morocco, native expanded the family business’ retail mix to become the suburban draw it remains at Short Pump Town Center.

Preddy D. Ray Sr., who died at 69 on March 14, was into historic preservation. In 1981, the Richmond native and Carver resident founded the nonprofit Task Force for Historic Preservation of the Minority Community. Ray secured a grant from the Ford Foundation to assist in his work in Church Hill and Jackson Ward. Establishing community gardens was also a passion. 

William A. “Bill” Royall Jr. - SCOTT ELMQUIST/FILE
  • Scott Elmquist/File
  • William A. “Bill” Royall Jr.

Tazewell County-born businessman and contemporary art collector William A. “Bill” Royall Jr. died June 25 at 74. He settled here in 1969 while promoting the gubernatorial campaign of A. Linwood Holton and later served in the Gov. John Dalton administration. Soon thereafter he developed a direct mail marketing and research firm and in 1983 established Royall & Co. to market political campaigns and nonprofits. It later shifted gears to offer student recruitment services for colleges and universities. Culturally, Royall and his wife, Pamela Kiecker Royall, spurred development of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Contemporary Art that opened in April 2018. And despite contracting ALS, a neurodegenerative disease in early 2019, Bill Royall sat front-and-center later that year for the unveiling at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of “Rumours of War,” a Kehinde Whiley sculpture whose acquisition the Royalls championed at the museum.

John H. Hager - WENDELL POWELL STUDIO
  • Wendell Powell Studio
  • John H. Hager

“Good to see you,” was how tobacco company executive-turned Virginia Republican kingpin John H. Hager sincerely greeted all he met. And the natural politician met quite a few folks since he remained on the go, from Accomac to Abingdon, even after his term as lieutenant governor, from 1998 to 2002. This was despite the fact he remained wheelchair-bound since contracting polio in 1973. Hager, an inspiration to many for his determination, guidance and service to Virginia, died Aug. 2 at 83.

Randy Strawderman was a local theatrical wunderkind who wrote, acted, danced, directed and produced. He died Aug. 5. Closely associated with Barksdale Theatre and then the Virginia Repertory after it merged with the Hanover Courthouse company, he mounted such memorable productions as “Red Hot and Cole,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” But his students perhaps remember this mercurial personality best as an inspirational teacher at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk where he shared his boundless talents. 

The Hon. James Michael Lumpkin, a North Side native who served the U.S. Army in Japan from 1946 to 1948 and went on to a long career in the judiciary, also died Aug. 5 at 92. After a private law practice, he was appointed to a judgeship on the Richmond Circuit Court that he filled from 1970 to 1992 after which he was a substitute judge for six years. 

Dr. Diane Elaine Harris Marsh
  • Dr. Diane Elaine Harris Marsh

As a girl growing up in Church Hill, Dr. Diane Elaine Harris Marsh often accompanied her physician father on house calls. After graduation from Maggie L. Walker High School, she earned an art degree from Virginia Union University. She later graduated from dentistry school at Howard University. In 1961 she set up a practice in Church Hill, becoming one of the nation’s few female dentists. Meanwhile, while her husband, Henry L. Marsh, who survives her, often traveled, developing a storied law, civil rights and political career that included serving as the city’s first Black mayor (and later a state Senator), Dr. Marsh reared their children. She died on Sept. 1 at 84.

If anyone should tackle a survey or history of Richmond artists in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, sculptor Myron Helfgott, who died Sept. 25 at 84, should feature prominently. The highly engaging and deeply serious talent hailed from Chicago and Indiana where he had studied extensively with visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller.  In 1968, he joined the Virginia Commonwealth University art faculty and immediately became a star when he exhibited his work in galleries. He retired from teaching in 2002 but continued to make art as well as inspire and encourage all whom he met.  

Daryl Grove - TAYLOR ROCKWELL
  • Taylor Rockwell
  • Daryl Grove

Daryl Grove is the youngest star on this list. The inspired, English-born sports journalist co-produced and appeared on the Richmond-based “Total Soccer Show,” with Taylor Rockwell. He died at 40 on Oct. 22 of colon cancer. The podcast is embraced as one of the nation’s most popular soccer broadcasts. Grove got on the field himself, founding and coaching a team that embraced homeless and formerly homeless players. This is how Thad Williamson, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond heard about Grove’s brilliance. What Williamson wrote posthumously about Grove in Style Weekly might be applied to all the people mentioned above: “Daryl Grove was an amazing human being and a shining example of Richmond at its best: unique people using this unique city to make a life out of their passions while drawing in and helping others all the way.”  

Richmond native Earle Dunford, who served in the Army in World War II, had a 37-year career at the Richmond Times-Dispatch where he retired as city editor. For decades he was also a journalism instructor at the University of Richmond, his alma mater. He died Oct. 25 at 94. 

L.W. “Pete” Stratton was devoted to his craft of wallcovering. His family’s much-in-demand wallpapering company is in its fifth generation. Hidden beneath the wallpaper in many of Richmond’s finer homes are the signatures of Stratton or other family members. A U. S. Army rigger paratrooper in 1957, he died Nov. 9. 

Larry J. Bland - SANDRA SELLARS
  • Sandra Sellars
  • Larry J. Bland

A once-in-a-generation talent was West End Richmond-born Larry J. Bland. His music making ceased on Nov. 13 when he died at 67. For more than 45 years he inspired and led the Volunteer Choir, the region’s most recognizable vocal performing group (apologies to Gwar). Founded at Second Baptist Church, eventually musicians from other congregations joined his chorus. Leading as many as 125 musicians, the maestro thrilled audiences from Dogwood Dell to the Coliseum to the Queen of England when she visited Richmond in 2007 in observance of the 400th anniversary of the English settlement at Jamestown. 

Another local, Tyler Whitley, wrote for his high school paper at St. Christopher’s and later edited The Tiger at Hampden-Sydney College before beginning a journalistic career that lasted for half a century. He was business writer and political reporter at the Richmond News Leader and later at the Richmond Times-Dispatch when the papers were merged in 1992. Soon after, Whitley finally relinquished his keyboard and five governors attended his retirement party. It was -30- for Whitley on Nov. 18 when he died at 83.  

Nick Kafantaris, a native of Greece, loved people, especially customers who joined him at a booth or the bar reveling in the jocular and casual atmosphere he created at Joe’s Inn, a Fan District dining institution that he made a destination. He kept a close eye on the eatery he acquired in 1977 by living upstairs until recently. He died Nov. 22 at 76.

Native Richmonder Charles Samuel Luck III, after graduating from Virginia Military Institute and serving in the U.S. Air Force, joined the Luck Cos. having learned the quarrying and crushed stone industry from his father who had founded the company in 1923. The trailblazer in his industry died Dec. 1 at 87. His company slogan was ‘We Care.’ His philanthropies ranged from VMI to the contemporary arts scene, a favorite of his late wife True Luck, with the Visual Arts Center Workshop and the Institute for Contemporary Art as beneficiaries.

Don’t tell the kids, but Santa Claus died earlier this month. Well, not really, but Dan Mason Rowe, who held court for 50 holiday seasons at the former Miller & Rhoads downtown department store and at the Children’s Museum of Richmond as the Legendary Santa, died on Dec. 13 at 93. Rowe, who inherited the job from his brother, actor Hansford Rowe, was inducted into the Indiana-based International Santa Claus Hall of Fame in 2011.