E. LYNN HARRIS, WHO WROTE OF GAY BLACK MEN’S LIVES
Published: July 24, 2009
E. Lynn Harris, whose novels about successful and glamorous black men with sexual identity conflicts (and the women and men who love them) made him one of the nation’s most popular writers, died in Los Angeles on Thursday. He was 54 and lived in Atlanta.
John Bazemore/Associated Press
E. Lynn Harris
A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner said the cause of death had not yet been determined.
Mr. Harris fell briefly ill earlier in the week on a train to Los Angeles, said Laura Gilmore, a publicist for Mr. Harris, but he had seen a doctor and everything seemed fine. She said she had spoken to him by phone at his hotel Thursday evening and had no inkling of a problem. He died shortly thereafter.
“A doctor was called and couldn’t revive him,” Ms. Gilmore said.
Mr. Harris clearly tapped a rich vein of reader interest with his racy and sometimes graphic tales of affluent, ambitious, powerful black men — athletes, businessmen, lawyers and the like — who nonetheless struggled with their attraction to both men and women. His books married the superficial glamour of jet-setting potboilers with an emotional candor that shed light on a segment of society that had received little attention: black men on the down low — that is, men who are publicly heterosexual but secretly have sex with men.
Mr. Harris, who was openly gay but who lived for many years in denial or shame or both over that fact, was able to draw on his own experiences to make credible the emotional conflicts of his characters, and his readers, many of them women, were drawn to his books because they addressed issues that were often surreptitiously pertinent to their own lives.
“But our sex life was not without its complications,” A. J. Richardson, the gay narrator of Mr. Harris’s most recent novel, “Basketball Jones,” says about his love affair with a closeted professional athlete. “After our first time together, I could see how guilty he felt the moment sex was over. He shut down suddenly, as if someone had thrown a switch.
No longer the sweet-talking, smooth-as-silk man between the sheets, he turned dead serious, and in a tone more forceful than the situation called for, Dray made me promise to keep what we’d done a secret. He was especially terrified of his father finding out, believing the family would disown him.”
Mr. Harris’s leap to fame was an unlikely success story. He was in his mid-30s, making his living as a computer salesman, when he began to write. His first book, “Invisible Life,” was self-published in 1991 — and he sold it himself, too, out of his car, on black college campuses, in barbershops in black neighborhoods — until it was discovered and published as a trade paperback in 1994.
After that Mr. Harris wrote 11 other books, including “Just as I Am,” “If This World Were Mine,” “A Love of My Own” and “Any Way the Wind Blows.” A memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” underscoring how far and how fast Mr. Harris’s star rose, begins with his suicide attempt in August 1990. According to his publisher, Doubleday, Mr. Harris had 10 consecutive books on the New York Times best-seller list, and more than four million copies of his books are in print.
“He wasn’t considered a literary writer,” his agent, John Hawkins, said in an interview on Friday, a fact of which Mr. Harris was very conscious. “He always said he’d like to learn someday to be a good writer, and the people around him all said, ‘Keep still.’ Because his writing touched people.”
Everette Lynn Harris was born in Flint, Mich., on June 20, 1955, and grew up in Little Rock, Ark. He met his father only briefly, when he was 14, and for years had believed that Ben Odis Harris, who had married his mother, was his biological father. In his memoir Mr. Harris wrote that his stepfather, a sign painter by trade, was a drinker who beat him and his mother, Etta, and who routinely humiliated him for any behavior he deemed “sissy.” His first homosexual experience occurred in the ninth grade; it and many others ended badly. The confusion and alienation he felt as a boy and as a young man would become the fuel for his fiction.
“There was no category for someone like me,” Mr. Harris said in an interview with The New York Times in 2003, “who wanted everything I saw on TV and who wanted everything I thought the world wanted for me — a relationship with someone, a home, to achieve a certain degree of the American dream.”
Mr. Harris studied journalism at the University of Arkansas
, where he was a cheerleader, a pursuit that became a lifelong passion; he later coached cheerleaders at his alma mater.
After college he went to work as a salesman for I.B.M.
In addition to his mother, who lives in Little Rock, he is survived by three sisters, Anita Harris-Nelson and Janetta Ogbulafor, both of Little Rock, and Zettoria McDaniel of Irving, Tex.
In one way, Mr. Harris owed his success to a stranger. One day in the early 1990s, he walked into a bookstore in Atlanta to try to persuade the store manager to carry his self-published book and was given some advice from a saleswoman on the floor whose name he never learned. She told him that he needed a New York agent and that the agent he needed was a man named John Hawkins.
“She mentioned me,” said Mr. Hawkins, who took on “Invisible Life” and sold it to Anchor Books.
“I have no idea who she was or how she knew of me,” Mr. Hawkins said. “But he contacted me, and I read his book, and I said ‘Sure.’ ”
HARRY PATCH, THE LAST OF BRITAIN’S ARMY VETERANS OF WORLD WAR 1
Published: July 25, 2009
LONDON — Harry Patch, the last British survivor of the fighting in the trenches on the Western Front where hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Britain
and its colonies were killed in World War I, died Saturday at the age of 111, according to staff members at the nursing home in western England where he lived his last years.
Don McCullin/Ministry of Defense
Mr. Patch’s death came 92 years after he fought in the army as a machine gunner in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, at Passchendaele in 1917.
“He just quietly slipped away at 9 a.m. this morning,” said Andrew Larpent, chief executive of the nursing home at Wells in Somerset. “It was how he would have wanted it, without having to be moved to hospitals, but here, peacefully with his friends and carers.”
In recent years, Mr. Patch and a dwindling group of other World War I veterans became poignant symbols in Britain of what President Woodrow Wilson
called “a war to end all wars,” and a reminder of the 20 million people historians estimate to have died in the conflict.
To many, the veterans stood as totems of a vanished age of self-sacrifice, loyalty and honor, and, some said, as a living rebuke to the more self-centered mores of contemporary Britain.
Those themes were echoed in the tributes that poured forth for Mr. Patch on Saturday, including from Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown
“We will never forget the bravery and enormous sacrifice of his generation, which will continue to serve as an example to us all,” the queen said in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.
Mr. Brown told reporters that he shared the grief “at the passing of a great man” and said: “The noblest of all generations has left us, but they will never be forgotten. We say today with still greater force, ‘We will remember them.’ ”
Just a week before Mr. Patch died, the only other living Briton who served on the Western Front, Henry Allingham
, who at 113 was Britain ’s oldest man, died in a nursing home in Brighton. Mr. Allingham, who saw combat on land, at sea and in the air as a mechanic for the Royal Naval Air Service, was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the world’s oldest man, according to available documentary records.
Mr. Allingham’s death led the Defense Ministry to describe Mr. Patch as “the last British survivor of the First World War.” That appeared not to take into account another British-born survivor, Claude Choules, 108, who served in the Royal Navy and lives in Australia.
In any case, Mr. Patch was unquestionably one of the last surviving veterans from a war in which nearly 70 million men on all sides were mobilized. An account of his death by The Associated Press said there were no French or German veterans of the war still living. The last living American veteran is Frank Woodruff Buckles of Charles Town, West Virginia, 108, who served in Britain and France during the war driving army ambulances and motorcycles.
In May 1917, Mr. Patch arrived in the frontline trenches and was almost immediately thrust into the fighting at Passchendaele, near the Belgian town of Ypres.
The battle was the brainchild of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, who intended the Allied offensive to punch through the front lines to German-occupied ports on the Belgian coast. The offensive quickly bogged down in the morass created by torrential rain and artillery fire, and gained only a few miles of wasteland at the cost of nearly half a million Allied soldiers’ lives.
According to his 2007 memoir, “The Last Fighting Tommy,” Mr. Patch survived three months of fighting unscathed until a German shell exploded over the heads of his machine-gun crew on the night of Sept. 17, 1917, killing three of his closest friends and wounding Mr. Patch so severely that he was sent home.
Born on June 17, 1898, Mr. Patch left school at 15 to become an apprentice plumber but was conscripted for military service on his 18th birthday. After World War I, he returned to plumbing, raised a family and outlived three wives and two sons from his first marriage. But for 80 years, until the end of the 20th century, he avoided talking about his wartime experiences.
When he did reminisce, it was with a sense that war was pointless. At a remembrance ceremony in 2007, he said he felt humbled to be “representing an entire generation,” but he insisted that the occasion was not about him. “It is for the countless millions who did not come home,” he said. “They are the heroes. It is also important that we remember those who lost their lives on both sides.”
In an interview with Britain’s ITN television news channel shortly before he died, Mr. Patch was asked if the effort invested by the Allies in World War I was worth the lives that were lost.
“No, it wasn’t worth one,” he said.
VERNON FORREST, FORMER BOXING CHAMPION
Published: July 26, 2009
, who held three boxing championships and scored a memorable upset of the welterweight titleholder Shane Mosley
in 2002, died Saturday night, apparently in an exchange of gunfire after he was robbed at a gas station in Atlanta. He was 38.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Vernon Forrest, right, landed a right hand hook against Ike Quartey during their Junior Middleweight fight at Madison Square Garden in 2006 in New York City.
Detective Lt. Keith Meadows of the Atlanta police told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a gunman robbed Forrest of several items after Forrest took his Jaguar to the gas station to put air in its tires. Forrest, who was armed as well, chased after the robber and evidently fired his weapon but was shot seven or eight times in the back, Meadows said.
The gunman and an accomplice fled in a car, and it was not clear whether Forrest had shot either of them. The 11-year-old son of Forrest’s girlfriend was with him at the gas station and saw the holdup but not the shooting, Meadows said.
The 6-foot-1 Forrest, known as the Viper for the speed of his fists, had fought professionally since 1992 and was considering a comeback from an injury.
Forrest had gained a spot on the United States Olympic boxing team for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, by defeating Mosley at the trials, prompting the January 2002 title fight at the Theater at Madison Square Garden to be hyped as Sweet Revenge.
Mosley came in at 38-0 as a pro but was unable to exact vengeance over Forrest, who had vacated his International Boxing Federation welterweight title to fight Mosley and entered with a 33-0 record. Forrest knocked Mosley down twice in the second round and won a 12-round unanimous decision, then outpointed Mosley in July 2002 in Indianapolis to retain his crown.
Forrest, who had a record of 41 victories (29 by knockout) and 3 defeats, lost his title in 2003 to Ricardo Mayorga
, the World Boxing Association welterweight champion. Forrest won the W.B.C. light-middleweight title with a victory over Carlos Baldomir in July 2007, lost it to Sergio Mora, then regained it from him in September 2008. Forrest was forced to vacate the title because of a rib injury.
A native of Augusta, Ga., Forrest was 9 when he wandered into a gym near his home, saw boxers training and vowed to emulate them. He became a top amateur boxer and studied business administration at Northern Michigan University before making the 1992 Olympic team, losing in the first round
after suffering from food poisoning. He turned pro later that year.
Forrest is survived by a son, Vernon Jr., his publicist, Kelly Swanson, told The Associated Press.
Before he fought Mosley for a title, Forrest said, “This is going to define my career.”
But he pursued a calling far beyond the boxing world as well. In the late 1990s, he founded the nonprofit Destiny’s Child
, providing group residences in Atlanta for people with mental and emotional disabilities. He bought a home for some of the wards and lived for a time in its basement, which became the organization’s office.
Forrest took several Destiny’s Child residents to his second bout with Mosley. Right after winning the decision, he ran into the stands to embrace them.
“The people I work with have been abused and neglected,” he said. “These are people that society turned their back on. Everybody needs help and everybody needs love.”
JOHN S. BARRY, POPULARIZER OF WD-40
Published: July 22, 2009
John S. Barry, an executive who masterminded the spread of WD-40
, the petroleum-based lubricant and protectant created for the space program, into millions of American households, died on July 3 in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego. He was 84.
John S. Barry
The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, said Garry Ridge, president and chief executive of the WD-40 Company.
The company says surveys show that WD-40, the slippery stuff in the blue and yellow aerosol can, can be found in as many as 80 percent of American homes and that it has at least 2,000 uses, most discovered by users themselves. These include silencing squeaky hinges, removing road tar from automobiles and protecting tools from rust.
Mr. Barry was not part of the Rocket Chemical Company in 1953, when its staff of three set out to develop a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for the aerospace industry in a small lab in San Diego. It took them 40 attempts to work out the water displacement formula. The name WD-40 stands for “water displacement, formulation successful in 40th attempt.”
Convair, a unit of General Dynamics
, first used WD-40 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. The product worked so well that employees sneaked WD-40 cans out of the plant to use at home. Norm Larsen, the Rocket Chemical technician who invented WD-40, soon came up with the idea of selling it to the general public.
WD-40 hit store shelves in San Diego in 1958. In 1961, employees came in on a Saturday to produce the first truckload shipment to meet disaster needs of victims of Hurricane Carla on the Gulf Coast. WD-40 was used to recondition flood-damaged vehicles.
Sales continued to increase, but it was the arrival of Mr. Barry as president and chief executive in 1969 that jolted the company to dominance in its unusual niche market. He immediately changed the name of Rocket Chemical to the WD-40 Company, on the indisputable theory that it did not make rockets.
Mr. Barry was fiercely dedicated to protecting the secret formula of WD-40, not to mention its trademarks and distinctive container. The company never patented WD-40, in order to avoid having to disclose the ingredients publicly. Its name became synonymous with the product, like Kleenex.
Mr. Barry acknowledged in interviews with Forbes magazine in 1980 and 1988 that other companies, including giants like 3M
, made products that closely resembled WD-40.
“What they don’t have,” he said, “is the name.”
Mr. Barry brought marketing coherence and discipline to the company. He spruced up the packaging and increased the advertising budget, but most of all he pushed for distribution.
He emphasized free samples, including the 10,000 the company sent every month to soldiers in the Vietnam War to keep their weapons dry.
Within a little more than a decade, Mr. Barry was selling to 14,000 wholesalers, up from 1,200 when he started.
He kept tight control of the product. When Sears wanted to package WD-40 under its own label, Mr. Barry said no. When another big chain wanted the sort of price concessions to which it was accustomed, he refused.
He pushed to get WD-40 into supermarkets, where people buy on impulse. He also began an aggressive effort to sell WD-40 in foreign countries.
“We may appear to be a manufacturing company,” Mr. Barry said to Forbes, “but in fact we are a marketing company.”
Under Mr. Barry’s leadership, annual sales increased from $2 million in 1970 to $91 million in 1990. WD-40 reported sales of $317 million in 160 countries in its most recent fiscal year.
John Steven Barry was born in Minneapolis on Aug. 31, 1924. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota
, then enlisted the United States Navy
in a program for officer candidates, under which he studied at Harvard and Columbia.
He returned to 3M and worked for it and other companies until he succeeded his father-in-law, Cy Irving, as president of what would soon become the WD-40 Company. After resigning the company presidency, Mr. Barry stayed on as chairman until 2000.
Mr. Barry is survived by his wife of 56 years, the former Marian Irving; his sons, Randy and Steve; his daughter, Deborah Faneros; and four grandchildren.
People’s enthusiasm for sending in ideas for using WD-40 mushroomed under Mr. Barry.
The uses included preventing squirrels from climbing into a birdhouse; lubricating tuba valves; cleaning ostrich eggs for craft purposes; and freeing a tongue stuck to cold metal.
A bus driver in Asia used WD-40 to remove a python that had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus.
BRENDA JOYCE, WHO PLAYED JANE WITH TWO TARZANS
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: July 23, 2009
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Brenda Joyce, who played Jane with two movie Tarzans, died here on July 4. She was 92.
RKO Radio Pictures, via Photofest
Brenda Joyce with Johnny Weissmuller in “Tarzan and the Amazons” (1945).
A family friend, David Ragan, said she died of pneumonia at a nursing home after suffering from dementia for a decade.
Ms. Joyce, who was born Betty Leabo, appeared in about two dozen movies, but was best known for succeeding Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane in the “Tarzan” pictures. She appeared in five “Tarzan” movies in the 1940s, beginning with “Tarzan and the Amazons” opposite Johnny Weissmuller
in 1945. Her final “Tarzan” film was “Tarzan’s Magic Fountain,” with Lex Barker, in 1949, which was also the last year she acted in movies.
Mr. Ragan said that she later spent a decade working with recent immigrants to help them find housing and jobs.
She is survived by a son, two daughters and three grandchildren.