IN REMEMBRANCE: 5-10-2015

DIANNE WHITE CLATTO, WEATHERCASTER WHO BROKE COLOR BARRIER

DIANNE CLATTO
Dianne White Clatto, in 1967, giving the weather report on KSD-TV. Credit St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Ms. Clatto, who died at 76 on Monday at a retirement center in St. Louis, broke into television by way of radio. She was a manager for Avon, the cosmetics company, and hosted a live radio show when Russ David, a bandleader with whom she sang in an impromptu performance on the air, referred her to an executive of KSD-TV in St. Louis. She was hired as a $75-a-week “weathergirl” in 1962.

“What am I supposed to do?” she recalled asking her new bosses, in an interview with the Weather Channel. “They said to me, ‘This is called television.’ They said to me, ‘When those two red lights come on, start talking.’ And I said, ‘About what?’ And they said, ‘Preferably something about the weather.’ ”

Dianne Elizabeth Johnson was born in St. Louis on Dec. 28, 1938, the daughter of Milton and Nettie Johnson and a descendant of a Civil War general’s slave mistress. She was among the first black students to enroll at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

She was also the first black model for a St. Louis department store, Stix, Baer & Fuller, and, not long after leaving the university in 1959, was hired as a radio host. Stations in St. Louis and Memphis broadcast her program.

When she was auditioning at KSD for the job of weathergirl on the 10 p.m. news, one of her several competitors was Mary Frann, another St. Louis native, who later played Bob Newhart’s wife on his hit 1980s sitcom, “Newhart.”

Ms. Clatto was soon training with the National Weather Service, the Weather Corporation of America and the KSD weathercaster Howard DeMere, but she held on to her job with Avon until she filled the television slot seven days a week and her salary doubled. (KSD is now KSDK.)

After 12 years, when weathergirls went out of fashion — primarily in favor of meteorologists, most of whom were men — she began reporting news and features. Fired in 1986, she sued the station, charging it with age discrimination, and later settled.

In 1988, she was charged with larceny after a bank incorrectly credited her account with $111,000. She pleaded guilty, saying she mistook the credit for the proceeds of the settlement of her lawsuit. The court required her to pay $50,000 in restitution, but she insisted on returning the full amount.

She later worked as an assistant to Mayor Francis G. Slay of St. Louis and was the host of local radio and cable television programs.

Ms. Clatto’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Her third husband, John Clatto, died in 1997. She is survived by her son, John, who confirmed her death, and two grandchildren. No cause of death was given.

Establishing whether Ms. Clatto was actually the nation’s first full-time black weathercaster is problematic.

“I have checked with numerous sources, and they all agree: She was the first black female weathercaster on television in the United States,” said Bob Butler, a reporter with KCBS Radio in San Francisco and the president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

An article in the Sept. 4, 1963, issue of Variety headlined “St. Louis’s KSD-TV Sepia Weather Gal” said she would be “the first of her race to be booked as regular on-the-air talent in some years at a local commercial TV station here.”

Jet magazine unequivocally credits Trudy Haynes, a New York native, as the nation’s first black weathercaster and television reporter. She joined WXYZ in Detroit in September 1963. But Ms. Haynes said in an interview that if Ms. Clatto began in 1962, then she would have indeed been the first.

The reference guide “Contemporary Black Biography” describes June Bacon-Bercey as the first black female television meteorologist in the country, in Buffalo in 1970. (That was the same year that John Amos began playing Gordy Howard, the black weatherman on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”)

“Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology,” by Robert Henson, says only that Steve Baskerville became the first black weathercaster on network television, for the “CBS Morning News,” in 1984. And in 1996, Mr. Roker began working as the regular weekday weather anchor on the “Today” show. Ms. Clatto was unquestionably a hometown pioneer who, she told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “felt the weight of the world on my shoulders” as a role model during her early years of broadcasting.

“She had a very strong personality, and coming along in a time when she came along, I think you had to be pretty tough-minded and tough-willed,” her son said.

She never relented. She wrote her own obituary, paid for her funeral in advance, declined a memorial service and donated her body to Washington University School of Medicine.

Correction: May 8, 2015
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled Ms. Clatto’s first name. It is Dianne, not Diane. An earlier version misstated the year Ms. Clatto left the University of Missouri at Columbia. It was 1959, not 1956.

 SOURCE

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PETE BROWN, BLACK GOLFER WHOSE VICTORY BROKE GROUND

Pete Brown, with his wife, Margaret, after a PGA Tour win in 1970. Credit United Press International

PGA Tour officials announced his death. He had had several strokes and congestive heart failure, The Augusta Chronicle reported.

Brown joined the tour in 1963, two years after Charlie Sifford broke the color barrier, and played until 1978, making 356 career tournament starts and surviving the cut in 225 of them.

His history-making victory came in 1964 at the Waco Turner Open in Burneyville, Okla., where he made an up-and-down par to beat Dan Sikes by one shot. He took home $2,700 in prize money. He also won the 1970 Andy Williams-San Diego Open, rallying from seven shots behind in the final round to beat Tony Jacklin in a playoff at Torrey Pines.

At a time when professional golf was segregated, Brown won the United States Golf Association’s Negro National Open Championship four times.

His death followed by two days that of Calvin Peete, the most successful black professional golfer before Tiger Woods. Sifford died in February.

Brown was born on Feb. 2, 1935, in Port Gibson, Miss., and learned to play golf in Jackson, Miss., after working as a caddie.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Margaret, and six daughters, The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville said on its website.

After his victory at Torrey Pines in 1970, Brown told Newsweek magazine: “It’s going to take a while to get Negroes into golf, and that’s why I feel it’s so important to make a good showing. I feel that pressure, because I feel that I’m playing for all black people first and Pete Brown second.”

SOURCE

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GRACE LEE WHITNEY, YEOMAN JANICE RAND ON ‘STAR TREK’

Grace Lee Whitney, who appeared on “Star Trek” in its first season. Credit NBC, via Photofest

Her son Jonathan Dweck confirmed her death.

Ms. Whitney played Yeoman Rand in the first eight episodes before being written out of the series. In her 1998 autobiography, “The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy,” she wrote that her acting career largely ended after that.

She also wrote of becoming an alcoholic. She described struggling with her addiction for many years before seeking treatment and resuming her career with the help of Leonard Nimoy, who starred as Spock in the series. Mr. Nimoy died in February.

She returned for the “Star Trek” movie franchise, reprising her role in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.”

Ms. Whitney was born Mary Ann Chase on April 1, 1930, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Before joining the cast of “Star Trek,” she appeared on many television series, including “Bewitched,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “The Untouchables” and “Gunsmoke.”

Mr. Dweck said his mother wanted to be remembered more as a successful survivor of addiction than for her “Star Trek” fame. She dedicated her last 35 years to helping people with addiction problems, some of whom she met at “Star Trek” conventions, he said.

“Over time, she became appreciative of her short time on ‘Star Trek’ because she developed meaningful relationships with the fans, Leonard Nimoy and other cast members,” Mr. Dweck said.

Besides her son Jonathan, she is survived by another son, Scott Dweck.

Correction: May 5, 2015
An earlier version of the picture of Ms. Whitney, from NBC and Photofest, was posted in mirror image.

SOURCE

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JIM WRIGHT; HOUSE SPEAKER RESIGNED AMID ETHICS CHARGES

Speaker Jim Wright, Democrat of Texas, in 1977. Credit George Tames/The New York Times

The Thompson’s Harveson & Cole funeral home in Fort Worth confirmed his death, at a nursing home.

While his resignation was prompted by a yearlong ethics investigation, much of the enmity against Mr. Wright derived from the way he ran the House and saw his role as speaker.

Republicans attacked him for encouraging peace negotiations in Nicaragua, accusing him of seizing authority that properly belonged to President Ronald Reagan. They were also furious over the parliamentary tactics he used to marginalize them on the way to passing a heavy load of legislation in 1987 and 1988.

The main ethics charges against Mr. Wright were that he had improperly accepted $145,000 in gifts from a Fort Worth developer, George Mallick, through a company that they owned together, and that the royalties he received for a slim book he wrote, “Reflections of a Public Man,” were actually a dodge to evade rules limiting gifts and speaking fees. The House Ethics Committee was preparing to decide whether he was guilty or not when he resigned.

Mr. Wright, left, and Robert H. Michel, the House minority leader, talking with reporters outside the White House in 1987. Credit Barry Thumma/Associated Press

Mr. Wright insisted into retirement that Mr. Mallick had no personal interest in any particular legislation, which would have made any gifts to the speaker questionable, and that in any case he and his wife had not received gifts but rather compensation for work performed for the development company. As for the book, he insisted that House ethics rules specifically exempted all copyright royalties from congressional limits on outside income.

When he announced his resignation, on May 31, 1989, Mr. Wright said he hoped his departure would heal the partisan rancor of the House.

“All of us in both political parties must resolve to bring this period of mindless cannibalism to an end,” he said.

But his resignation did nothing to avert a new era of ferocious partisanship in the House. Leaders in both parties were brought down by ethics charges, the so-called permanent campaign by members of Congress made cooperation between Republicans and Democrats nearly impossible, and House voting reached historic levels of partisan polarization.

Beyond the specifics of the ethics charges, it was clear that Mr. Wright’s bullish style of leadership in his two and half years as speaker was a crucial factor in his downfall, not only in the opposition efforts spearheaded by Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia, but also in the ultimate unwillingness of some Democrats to fight for him.

His effectiveness was one cause of Republican criticism. Mr. Gingrich repeatedly accused him of ethical lapses, but Mr. Gingrich also told John M. Barry, author of the 1989 book “The Ambition and the Power”: “If he survives this ethics thing, he may become the greatest speaker since Henry Clay.”

Mr. Wright’s aggressiveness made some Democrats restive. In the very active 100th Congress, he got many major bills passed — on welfare, the environment, highways, taxes and more — but to do so he had to force members to cast tough votes.“In essence, Wright wanted to govern the country from the House,” Mr. Barry wrote in his book. “That required overawing the Senate and confronting and defeating the White House.”

No effort by Mr. Wright matched that description as well as his drive to sponsor peace talks in Nicaragua between its leftist Sandinista government and the contras, who were seeking to overthrow it in a guerrilla war aided by the Reagan administration.

Reagan initially invited Mr. Wright to support the aid to the contras as congressional opposition to it intensified in 1987. He agreed, and they issued a joint statement.

Mr. Wright, right, and Vice President Dan Quayle applauded as President George Bush addressed a joint session of Congress in 1989. Credit Bob Daugherty/Associated Press

But when Mr. Wright discussed concrete proposals with Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, whom the administration distrusted and would not meet, Reagan aides accused him of trying to usurp the role of the executive branch and conduct his own foreign policy. In his diary, Reagan himself dismissed Mr. Wright’s efforts as “monkeyshines.” Mr. Wright argued that many in the Reagan administration did not want peace talks for fear they might succeed and stop any further congressional financing of the contras.

A peace agreement in Nicaragua was reached after both Mr. Wright and Reagan left office in 1989, with George Bush succeeding the president and Thomas S. Foley succeeding Mr. Wright as speaker. In an election the next year, a contra candidate defeated Mr. Ortega, and the new secretary of state, James A. Baker III, congratulated Mr. Wright. “But for you there would have been no bipartisan accord,” he wrote, “without which there would have been no election.”

Mr. Wright in 2007, in an interview for this obituary, called his role in defusing the Nicaraguan conflict the “major accomplishment” of his career — “the fact that I was able to help bring about peace in Central America after a decade of war.”

That assessment is widely shared. Jorge Castaneda, the former Mexican foreign minister and a professor at New York University, said in an interview that Mr. Wright’s leadership “led to an end of the war.”

Philip Brenner, a Latin American expert at American University in Washington, said: “He made peace possible because he got people to talk to each other. The Constitution doesn’t envision members of Congress doing this. He was stepping out of a role. He was stepping into a role the president was unwilling to assume.”

Even Roger W. Fontaine, a National Security Council staff member in the Reagan administration, said of Mr. Wright, “He deserves a lot of credit.”

“I think the Congress,” he added, “by putting pressure on the administration as well as putting pressure on the guys down there, served us well.”

Perhaps an even more important factor in the willingness of House Republicans to line up with Mr. Gingrich to challenge Mr. Wright personally was the blunt power he used as speaker. His main weapon was his control of the Rules Committee as it sent bills to the House floor under procedures that were intended to minimize or eliminate the Republicans’ chances to amend or defeat them.

Republicans were outraged. Speaking of Mr. Wright, Representative Dick Cheney of Wyoming, then the third-ranking House Republican, told an interviewer: “He’s a heavy-handed son of a bitch, and he doesn’t know any other way of operating, and he will do anything he can to win at any price, including ignoring the rules, bending the rules, writing rules, denying the House the opportunity to work its will. It brings disrespect to the House itself. There’s no sense of comity left.”

Mr. Wright, left, and President Bush at the White House in 1989. Credit Barry Thumma/Associated Press

Republicans remembered Mr. Wright’s tactics and employed similar ones after they won the House in 1994 and Mr. Gingrich became speaker. In an interview, Mr. Wright conceded that he might have served as their model. “I hope not,” he said.

Norman J. Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, called Mr. Wright “one of the most capable speakers of our time.” But he said Mr. Wright’s methods were harmful to the House. They “inflamed an already edgy Republican minority and helped contribute to some of the partisan turmoil after his departure,” he said.

James Claude Wright Jr. was born in Fort Worth on Dec. 22, 1922, and grew up in Weatherford, Tex. He studied at Weatherford College and the University of Texas and enlisted in the Army Air Corps the day after Pearl Harbor. He flew 30 missions over Japan as a bombardier and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mr. Wright was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1946 but proved too liberal for his district on civil rights issues and was defeated in 1948 by a more conservative Democrat, who called him soft on Communism.

He made a comeback, however, winning two two-year terms as mayor of Weatherford, where he persuaded the City Council to bus black students to high school in Fort Worth, a trip few had been able to make on their own. Weatherford’s own schools for blacks went through only the eighth grade.

In 1954, he ran for the House of Representatives, challenging a four-term incumbent Democrat, Wingate Lewis, and defeating him comfortably. Mr. Wright went on to be re-elected 17 times.

Two fellow Texans were influential in Mr. Wright’s career: the House speaker Sam Rayburn and Lyndon B. Johnson, who served in the Senate during Mr. Wright’s first years in Congress before becoming vice president in 1961. Mr. Wright lost a special election to fill Johnson’s Senate seat that year. On Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Wright was in the presidential motorcade in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, putting Johnson in the White House.

Mr. Wright worked hard on the House Public Works Committee to bring benefits to his district, including Trinity River flood control and the revival of the Fort Worth stockyards area. He also traveled to campaign for other Democrats and won a close four-way contest to become House majority leader in 1976, defeating Phillip Burton, Richard Bolling and John McFall by winning support from Texans, Southerners and conservatives. From that position he advanced almost automatically to become speaker after Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. retired in 1987.

Mr. Wright married his college sweetheart, Mary Ethelyn Lemons, in 1942, and they had five children. The marriage ended in divorce. Mr. Wright married Betty Hay, a congressional staff member, in 1972.

She survives him, as do four children from his first marriage: a son, James, and three daughters, Virginia McGuire, Kay Nelson and Alicia Carnes; a sister, Betty Lee Wright; 15 grandchildren; and 24 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Wright returned to Fort Worth after he left the House, lectured widely and traveled to Central America.

He also wrote a weekly column for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than 10 years and several books, among them “Worth It All: My War for Peace” (1993), which examined the Nicaraguan peace effort; “Balance of Power: Presidents and Congress from the Era of McCarthy to the Age of Gingrich” (1994), and “The Flying Circus: Pacific War — 1943 — as Seen Through a Bombsight” (2005).

Despite mouth cancer that cost him part of his tongue and the right half of his jaw and that shrank his voice, he continued to teach a popular course on Congress and the presidency at Texas Christian University. He said he covered “times when a popular president got almost anything he wanted,” and times when “an assertive Congress” dominated events.

Correction: May 9, 2015
An obituary on Thursday about the longtime Democratic congressman Jim Wright referred incorrectly to the 1976 election for House majority leader. It was a four-way contest in which Mr. Wright defeated Phillip Burton, Richard Bolling and John McFall — not a three-way contest in which he defeated Mr. Burton and Mr. Bolling.

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