Click photo to enlarge
Ali Akbar Khanof San Anselmo. Master of Indian music died June 18
They were artists, coaches, a fallen soldier and a survivor of Nazi Germany. One was a crusading journalist, another a long-loved school teacher, another a small-town publisher.

Some were nationally known visionaries. Others made their mark locally.

Among the Marin County residents who died in 2009, there were many whose connections and contributions to the community will be felt for years to come.

Here are some:

- Jan. 21: Kenneth Rosenthal, 79, of Tiburon, a San Francisco trial attorney who escaped Nazi Germany as a child, died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Rosenthal presided over the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association in 1984 and taught law in addition to serving on several community groups including the Tiburon Open Space Committee, North Bay Children's Center and St. Stephens Primary School in Belvedere. The German native fled the country as the Nazis came to power, first to Amsterdam and then Guatemala, his mother's country of origin, before arriving in the United States.

In September, his widow, Joan Rosenthal, 75, was found dead from a gunshot to the head at the gate of the couple's longtime Hilary Drive home that shocked the quiet Tiburon community. The identity of her killer remains unknown.

- March 2: Bruce Hildreth, 59, of Greenbrae, a longtime softball coach and basketball scorekeeper for the Branson School, died of heart failure after collapsing at a softball game.

Mr. Hildreth, nephew of IJ columnist Beth Ashley, was one of the first varsity softball coaches in the county, helping Branson start its program 27 years ago.


Advertisement

In May, the team earned its second consecutive section title in the North Coast Section championship, an honor it dedicated to Mr. Hildreth.

- March 15: Pirkle Jones, 95, of Mill Valley, a celebrated photographer, died at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Rafael.

Mr. Jones, a colleague of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, chronicled people, politics and landscapes of Northern California for more than 60 years. His photographs of the Black Panthers caused a furor when exhibited at San Francisco's de Young Museum in 1968. Known for exquisite black-and-white prints, Mr. Jones was honored in recent years with retrospectives at a multitude of institutions including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Marin Community Foundation.

- May 2: U.S. Army Spc. Jake Velloza, 22, of Inverness, was killed in an ambush outside of Mosul, Iraq. The lifelong West Marin resident, a Tomales High School graduate, was one of two U.S. Army soldiers killed when a lone gunman opened fire on a group of Americans.

Hundreds of flag-waving mourners packed Highway 101 overpasses to salute the vehicle procession that returned his body to West Marin for burial.

- May 13: Brian O'Neill, 67, of Novato, longtime superintendent of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, died of heart-related problems at a San Francisco hospital.

As head of the nation's largest national park in an urban setting stretching more than 76,000 acres, Mr. O'Neill sought to forge beneficial friendships with organizations and communities, colleagues said. In Marin, he helped oversee completion of the Cavallo Point retreat center at Fort Baker and helped with the makeover of the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands.

Hundreds turned out for a memorial under a large tent at Crissy Field, the former San Francisco airfield Mr. O'Neill had helped convert into one of the jewels of the GGNRA.

- May 13: Dr. Leonard Shlain, 71, a pioneering surgeon and best-selling author, died of brain cancer at his home in Mill Valley. Dr. Shlain had served as chairman of laparoscopic surgery at California Pacific Medical Center and was an associate professor of surgery at UC San Francisco Medical Center.

He was the author of three books that drew fans in fields as divergent as politics and pop music. Al Gore said in the New Yorker that one of Dr. Shlain's books was at the top of his reading list, and pop diva Bjork cited his "The Alphabet vs. The Goddess" as the inspiration for one of her albums.

- June 1: Don Ritchie, 62, of Fairfax, longtime teacher and administrator at Marin Catholic High School, died after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Mr. Ritchie, who began his 37-year career at the Kentfield school as a biology teacher, branched out to work with various athletic teams before taking on front-office duties including assistant principal, dean of students and principal. In the late 1980s, he reorganized school administration in the face of falling enrollment before returning to the classroom.

After four years as principal, Mr. Ritchie stepped down in July 2008 to focus on treatment of his cancer.

- June 2: Phyllis Ellman, 86, of Glen Ellen, a former Tiburon resident who helped save Ring Mountain as open space, died of leukemia.

Known as "Mother Botany" for her knowledge of local wildflowers, Mrs. Ellman helped preserve 372 acres of Ring Mountain in the late 1970s. The Phyllis Ellman Loop Tail is named in recognition of her. She also pushed for creation of the Tiburon Bike Path and South of the Knoll playground at Richardson Bay Lineal Park.

On Sept. 27, her husband, George Ellman, 85, died of cancer at his Glen Ellen home. Mr. Ellman, a former mayor of Tiburon, joined in his wife's efforts to keep Richardson Bay from being filled and developed. The couple also helped prevent Blackie's Pasture and McKegney Green from becoming part of a proposed expansion of Tiburon Boulevard.

A noted booster of the Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit, he requested his ashes be on the first SMART train scheduled to roll down the tracks.

- June 12: Robert Derzon, 78, of Mill Valley, a retired U.S. health official, died of swine flu while visiting a friend in Orangeville, Ontario.

Mr. Derzon helped establish a public hospital authority in New York City in the 1960s and served as director of hospitals and clinics for the University of California at San Francisco. In 1977, he served under President Jimmy Carter as the first administrator of the Healthcare Financing Administration, which united Medicare and Medicaid. Mr. Derzon briefly served on the Marin Healthcare District board in 2006

Prior to his death, Mr. Derzon was on a trip to New York City to attend a ceremony at New York University, which had created the Robert Derzon Chair in Health & Public Service at its Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

- June 18: Ali Akbar Khan, 87, of San Anselmo, a revered Indian music master, died of complications from kidney disease at his home.

Mr. Khan, founder of the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, was considered a master of the sarod, a multistringed, lutelike instrument. He, along with his former brother-in-law, sitar great Ravi Shankar, was credited with popularizing North Indian classical music in the West.

Mr. Khan, who recorded many albums and performed widely, first visited the United States in 1955 to play at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He gave the first televised performance of Indian music on Alistair Cooke's "Omnibus" show.

More than 10,000 students have passed through his Marin school over the past 40 years.

- July 7: Barbara Gnoss, 66, of Belvedere, longtime editor and publisher of Tiburon's weekly newspaper, died after a two-year battle with primary peritoneal cancer.

In 1987, Mrs. Gnoss and a fellow editor took over ownership of The Ark after a decade writing for the community weekly. She and co-owner, Marilyn Kessler, served as co-editors and co-publishers, rotating as managing editor every four months, until Mrs. Gnoss retired due to her illness.

- July 9: Alex Forman, 62, of San Rafael, board president of the Marin Municipal Water District, died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

A longtime environmental leader and civil rights activist, Mr. Forman was on the executive committee of the San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club in the 1990s. He was also active in the Sierra Club Marin Group, serving terms as its chairman in 2003 and 2004. As a student at San Francisco State University in the 1960s, Mr. Forman helped lead a student strike against racial discrimination, leading to the formation of the first ethnic studies department on a U.S. college campus.

The trained acupuncturist helped start the Alternative Therapies Unit at San Francisco General Hospital, the first integrative health clinic set in a public hospital.

A member of the water board since 2000, Mr. Forman presided over rancorous meetings on desalination up through the weeks before his death.

- July 10: Arthur Okamura, 77, of Bolinas, a renowned painter and art teacher, died of an apparent heart attack near his home.

Mr. Okamura, an abstract expressionist whose mediums included paint, screen printing and drawing, rose to prominence as part of the San Francisco Renaissance movement in the 1950s.

His work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., the Whitney Museum in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

He was considered a central figure in the Bolinas cultural scene for his involvement in the 1976 creation of the New School at Commonweal, a local health and environmental research institute. Mr. Okamura taught weekly art classes at the institute and had been a teacher at the California College of the Arts in Oakland for 31 years.

- Aug. 4: Charles "Dooley" Stitham, 79, a Marinwood resident who wowed neighbors and visitors with his elaborate Christmas decorations for nearly 40 years, died of complications related to congestive heart failure. He received national attention for turning his Adobestone Court home into the "Christmas House" every holiday season.

This year, as a tribute to Mr. Stitham, his family decorated the house again, 50 years after the debut of his decorated house. The lights will stay up through Friday night.

- Aug. 8: Jeff Prugh, 69, of Chattanooga, Tenn., an author, journalist and former Independent Journal opinion page editor, died of cancer.

Mr. Prugh enjoyed a lengthy career in journalism, writing for the Los Angeles Times among other papers. As bureau chief in Atlanta, Mr. Prugh reported on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Prugh's legacy during his stint at the IJ in the mid-1990s was his crusade to install a median barrier on Highway 37.

Mr. Prugh wrote or co-authored three books including a biography of John Wooden, the former UCLA men's basketball coach, and "The List," an in-depth account of murders of blacks in Atlanta.

- Oct. 25: Lawrence Halprin, 93, of Kentfield, a noted landscape architect, died after a brief illness.

Mr. Halprin was known nationally for his design of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C., Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco and Sonoma County's Sea Ranch.

His San Francisco firm helped create some of the nation's best known urban landscape projects including Portland, Ore.'s Lovejoy Park; the Charlottesville Mall of Virginia and the approach to Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park. Locally, he helped design Embarcadero Plaza, Levi Strauss Plaza and Stern Grove in San Francisco.

- Nov. 17: Albert Bianchi, 80, a prominent Marin land use attorney, died at his Santa Rosa home. During a legal career that stretched nearly four decades in Marin, Mr. Bianchi spent time as town attorney for Corte Madera and general counsel to the Marin County Housing Authority and the Marin Association of Realtors.

He represented land owners and sponsors of several significant county projects including the Fireman's Fund headquarters in Novato, Dominican University in San Rafael and expansion of Marin General and Kaiser Permanente hospitals.

- Nov. 19: Judith O'Connell Allen, 69, of Kentfield, whose wide-ranging civic career included everything from the Kentfield School Board to the Bank of Marin board, died of a massive heart attack.

She served as a chairwoman, president or board member for the Branson School, the Beryl Buck Institute for Education, the Kentfield School Board, the President's Council of Dominican University, and the Kentfield Citizens Bond Oversight Committee.

In 1989, she became a founding director of Bank of Marin and was chairwoman from 2003 to 2007. She was still on the board at the time of her death, and had attended a board meeting the day before her heart attack.

- Dec. 13: Larry Sultan, 63, of Greenbrae, noted art photographer, died of cancer at his home.

Mr. Sultan earned international recognition for his work that explored the vanishing California dream, contemporary culture and idiosyncrasies of the American family.

His books and exhibitions featured a range of subjects from strange, dark photographs of industrial and government archives to photos of middle-class tract homes in the San Fernando Valley that served as pornographic film sets.

Earlier this year, Mr. Sultan was elected an artist trustee of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which has 70 of his photographs in its collection.