ANNE DEBORAH ATAI-OMORUTO, A LEADER IN THE EBOLA FIGHT IN LIBERIA
Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto, a Ugandan doctor who went to Liberia at the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and helped turn the tide in the battle against the disease, died on May 5 in Kampala, Uganda. She was 59.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, her daughter Acom Victoria said.
Dr. Atai-Omoruto, at the request of the World Health Organization, arrived in Liberia in July 2014 with a team of 14 Ugandan health workers she had gathered.
At the time, the outbreak had reached the capital city, Monrovia; nongovernmental organizations were pulling their workers out of the country; and many governments were unwilling to send medics. Eventually, 4,810 people in Liberia died of the disease and 10,678 were infected, making the country the hardest hit in the region.
Dr. Atai-Omoruto and her team began training more than 1,000 Liberian health workers on how to manage Ebola patients and protect themselves from infection.
She also managed a large treatment unit known as the Island Clinic, a joint initiative of the Liberian government and the W.H.O.
“Everything was in disarray and everybody was running away — she came in and stepped up to the plate,” said Dorbor Jallah, who was the national coordinator for the Ebola task force in the early months of the response. “Nobody knew how to manage an Ebola treatment unit, so she had to step up and play all of these multiple roles.”
After the Island Clinic opened, hundreds of patients were transferred there from holding centers throughout the city. To accommodate the influx, Dr. Atai-Omoruto pushed beds closer together and put mattresses in the corridors, creating space to accommodate over 200 patients; the clinic’s original capacity was 120.
Just over a week after the clinic opened, in late September 2014, the West African Ebola outbreak sparked international panic. Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian, was the first person diagnosed with virus in the United States. He died in Dallas on Oct. 8, 2014.
Liberia registered the highest number of deaths in the region. Of the 28,616 reported cases of the virus, 10,678 were in Liberia.
Of the 1,023 patients the Island Clinic served, 612 tested positive for Ebola and 250 of them survived, a little below the average national survival rate of 45 percent.
“A lot of people arrived in a very critical condition and died within hours of their admission,’’ said Dikena G. Jackson, the Ebola Virus Data Coordinator at the Ministry of Health in Liberia. Testing in the early stages of the outbreak was lacking, he said.
When clinic workers threatened to protest over a lack of hazardous-duty pay, Dr. Atai-Omoruto persuaded them to stay on the job while pushing the government to respond.
“She said, ‘Work for your people, don’t let your people die,’ ” Jerry T. Williams, the clinic’s chief of security, said in an interview.
With the epidemic over, the clinic, which was open for only two months, is now empty. The white hospital beds and drip stands have been taken away, and the floors are covered with dust. Dr. Atai-Omoruto’s office is locked and vacant.
Dr. Atai-Omoruto was born on Nov. 22, 1956, in Kumi Town, in eastern Uganda, to Edisa Lusi Atai-Omoruto and David Livingstone Aisu, who were both primary school teachers.
She attended Dr. S.N. Medical College in Jodhpur, India. She completed her master’s degree in medicine at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in Kampala, and became a teacher and chairwoman of the department of family medicine.
Dr. Atai-Omoruto had helped treat patients during cholera and earlier Ebola epidemics, including one in Kibaale, Uganda, in 2012, before she went to Liberia.
In addition to her daughter Acom Victoria, she is survived by her father; four other children, Francis Nsubuga, Dorothy Kiyai, James Ariong and Elizabeth Mary Atai; and three siblings, Francis Omoruto, Rose Mary Imongot and Okurut Kaaka.
Dr. David Kaggwa, a Ugandan pediatrician who worked alongside Dr. Atai-Omoruto at the Island Clinic, said she was known for her no-nonsense style.
“She was fearless throughout the epidemic,” he said in a phone interview. “Her style of work was aggressive and unrelenting, and in the process she didn’t win favor with some people in the government and the W.H.O.”
The people she treated appreciated her care and her emotional support.
“She came in to encourage the patients,” said Henrietta Johnson, a former patient who lost three of her children and her husband. “She said, ‘This fight is not an easy fight, but don’t lose hope, don’t even have it in the back of your mind that you might die.’ ”
A picture with an earlier version of this obituary was posted in error. The woman at the right in that picture, provided by Getty Images, was not Dr. Atai-Omoruto. (The woman’s identity has not been determined.)SOURCE
KWAME SOMBURU, PERENNIAL SOCIALIST CANDIDATE
Kwame Somburu, a 1960s radical who vainly sought elective office as a perennial candidate of the Socialist Workers Party in New York and California, died on May 3 in Albany. He was 81.
The cause was complications of kidney cancer, his son Daryl Boutelle said.
Mr. Somburu evolved from a high school dropout named Paul Boutelle, who sold the Great Books of the Western World series door to door and voted for the straight Republican ticket in 1956, into a public school teacher who adopted the name of a Kenyan tribe and embraced a Trotskyite scientific socialism forged in anti-imperialism and class-conscious black nationalism.
He renounced violence but echoed Malcolm X’s credo of gaining black power “by any means necessary”; organized blacks against the war in Vietnam; unambiguously declared that “if it weren’t for crime and lies and terrorism and massacres there’d be no United States”; and, while insisting that he was not anti-Semitic, vigorously opposed Zionism.
In his first of nine campaigns for public office, he ran for the State Senate in Harlem in 1964 as a candidate of the Freedom Now Party, a branch of a fledgling all-black organization formed in Michigan. But after his defeat, he acknowledged that a black political mass movement was probably premature.
Instead he joined the Socialist Workers Party, which, he explained in the party’s newspaper, The Militant, “has a consistent record of engagement in independent class politics, is the Marxist organization that has developed the best analysis of black nationalism, and has been from the start a firm supporter of efforts to build an independent black political party.”
Mr. Somburu was nominated by the party as its candidate for Manhattan borough president in 1965, for state attorney general in 1966, for vice president of the United States in 1968 and for mayor of New York in 1969.
He ran for Congress once in Manhattan and twice in California, where he also campaigned to be mayor of Oakland before abandoning the party in 1983 in a policy dispute. He later joined Socialist Action and the Socialist Workers Organization.
Paul Benjamin Boutelle was born in Harlem on Oct. 13, 1934, to Anton Boutelle, a self-taught electrician, and the former Anna May Benjamin, a seamstress.
He said he quit the High School of Commerce when he was 16 because he was bored after being indoctrinated in “Christianity, Capitalism and Caucasianism.” He was working as a taxi driver when he ran for vice president.
During that campaign, he jousted with William F. Buckley Jr. on his television program “Firing Line.” At one point Mr. Buckley suggested that if he, Mr. Buckley, were campaigning in the South, his philosophy would appeal to black voters more than Mr. Somburu’s would.Mr. Somburu responded, “I’m sure if you went down to Mississippi and told black people they were free, you would be running, and it wouldn’t be for office.”
Mr. Somburu left New York for California in 1973. He graduated from California State University, Hayward (now California State University, East Bay) and went on to teach in California schools. He changed his name to Kwame Montsho Ajamu Somburu in 1979. He later moved to Massachusetts and then to New York, near Albany.
His marriage to Myrna Mondesire ended in divorce. In addition to their son Daryl, he is survived by another son, Asi-Yahola Somburu, from his marriage to Zakiya Somburu, who died in 2010; a stepson, Khalid Sheffield; two sisters, Elvira Boutelle and Jean Waters; two brothers, Allen Boutelle and Dr. Ronald Boutelle; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
An earlier version of this obituary misidentified the university from which Mr. Somburu graduated. It was California State University, Hayward — not the University of California, San Francisco.SOURCE
SUSANNAH MUSHATT JONES, WORLD’S OLDEST LIVING PERSON AT 116 YEARS
William McKinley was president when Susannah Mushatt Jones was born in Alabama, just a few months before the turn of the 20th century. She lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, all before she retired in 1965, after decades of working in the homes of wealthy families.
Yet as recently as a few weeks ago, Ms. Jones was still sticking to her breakfast routine: four strips of bacon, eggs, grits. She had lost her eyesight and she could not hear as well as she used to. Ms. Jones was 116 years old, the world’s oldest living person.
Over the past two weeks, Ms. Jones’s health faded quickly, her relatives said. She stopped eating solid food, swapping the bacon, her favorite, for strained soups, and did not move from her bed. And on Thursday night, she died at the Vandalia Senior Center, a home operated by the New York City Housing Authority in East New York, Brooklyn, according to relatives and the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians, or people who have lived to 110 years old.
Ms. Jones was the last living American who was verified to have been born before 1900, said Robert D. Young of the Gerontology Research Group. Mr. Young said that she held the title of world’s oldest living person since last summer.
“They’re all gone but me,” Lois Judge, Ms. Jones’s niece, recalled her aunt telling her. “Why me?”
As her age climbed, the superlatives stacked up — oldest in New York, then oldest in the United States and then oldest in the world. But Ms. Judge said Ms. Jones found it all hard to believe.
“No, that’s not true,” she would tell her relatives of the titles, according to Ms. Judge. “With all the people in the world, how could I be the oldest?”
Ms. Jones was born on July 6, 1899, in Lowndes County, Alabama. She was the third of 11 children, and she graduated in 1922 from the Calhoun School, a boarding school her parents paid for by bartering vegetables raised on the family’s farm.
She headed north soon after, arriving in New York in 1920s, and made a living mostly as a nanny. The families for whom she worked would often take her on vacations, including to Hollywood and to a cabin in Vermont, her niece said.
In 1928, she married a man named Henry Jones, but their marriage did not last long. And she never had children.
But with so many siblings, and their children, and then grandchildren, Ms. Jones became a revered figure among the sprawling family, handing out pill bottles filled with change as gifts. She helped send nieces to college and let relatives live with her. “I am who I am because of her,” her oldest niece, Lavilla Mushatt Watson, said of Ms. Jones in 2013.
In recent years, Ms. Jones had lived at the Vandalia Senior Center. Her apartment was filled with portraits of members of her extended family, birthday cards and the framed proclamation from when she became the oldest resident of New York, when she was 112.
And every year around July 6, it became routine for family members, local officials and journalists to gather around her at the senior center to celebrate her birthday.
At the festivities last year, Ms. Jones had just become the oldest living person, after Jeralean Talley died at 116 the month before in Michigan. Organizers served bacon, of course, and cake, and she was given a Brooklyn Nets jersey personalized with her nickname, Miss Susie. (The number: 116.)
In previous years, she had been a more active participant. But last year Ms. Jones, who wore a dark blue dress with a floral print and a white hat, quietly told the gathered guests thank you after they sang “Happy Birthday.”
Mr. Young said Ms. Jones’s presumed successor is a 116-year-old woman from Italy named Emma Morano. Ms. Morano, who was born in November 1899, is the last person alive who is verified to have been born in the 19th century. The next-oldest American, Mr. Young said, is “only 113.”
Ms. Judge said her aunt’s remains would be returned to Alabama.
“‘When are you coming to get me?’” Ms. Judge remembered her aunt saying. “She couldn’t have been talking to us. We’re already here.”
“She was waiting to join the others,” Ms. Judge said, referring to her aunt’s siblings, all of whom had already died. “She’s the last one. I’m sure she was ready.”
KATHERINE DUNN, AUTHOR OF ‘GEEK LOVE’
Katherine Dunn began writing the comic novel “Geek Love” in the late 1970s after her young son refused to join her on a stroll through the famous hybrid rose garden in Portland, Ore. Inspired by the diverse blooms there, Ms. Dunn wondered, What if she could have bred a more obedient boy?
She wound up dismissing the thought, however, deciding that flaws were more fascinating than perfection.
“I thought that was actually kind of boring, that search for perfection,” she told Caitlin Roper of Wired magazine in 2014. “It would be more interesting to go in another direction entirely, to search for something other than the perceived symmetrical, common notion of perfection. Which got me thinking about freaks and mutations that were not considered desirable. That’s basically how it began.”
“Geek Love,” published nearly a decade later, went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and become a National Book Award finalist in 1989. It was her third novel, after “Attic” in 1970 and “Truck” in 1971, and the last she would publish. She died on Wednesday in Portland at 70, leaving another novel unfinished.
“Geek Love” was curiously original and imaginative, though some called it bizarre. It revolves around a married couple who own a traveling carnival and breed mutant children as sideshow freaks, both to attract paying customers and to endow their offspring with “the inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves.”
The offspring include a boy who has flippers instead of arms and legs and a pair of piano-playing conjoined twins. An albino hunchback dwarf narrates the story. Brutality, murderous sibling rivalry and sibling protectiveness are among the story’s themes.
The novel, which was Sonny Mehta’s first acquisition as president and editor at Knopf, was an immediate sensation, finding fans everywhere. Harlan Ellison, the science fiction author and screenwriter, hailed it as “transformative.” The musician known as Flea, of the band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, pronounced it “life-changing.”
Some critics had reservations. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, the poet and novelist Stephen Dobyns, calling it “a comic novel about love, betrayal and power,” said “Geek Love” overindulged in sheer spectacle for its own sake.
“Without the spectacle, the novel is undistinguished,” Mr. Dobyns wrote, “but that spectacle becomes part of the novel’s reason for being.”
Ms. Dunn also wrote prolifically as a journalist about boxing and other subjects for various publications, including her hometown Willamette Week in Oregon, The Oregonian newspaper in Portland and The New York Times. She also reviewed books, recorded voice-overs for local commercials and hosted a radio program.
In 1993, professors at the University at Buffalo included “Geek Love” — along with Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Cat’s Cradle” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” — on a reading list to entice students to literature.
Katherine Karen Dunn was born on Oct. 24, 1945, in Garden City, a farm town in western Kansas. Her father, Jack, left home when she was a toddler; her mother, the former Velma Golly, an artist from North Dakota, married a mechanic. The family moved frequently, working as tenant farmers, before settling in Tigard, Ore., when she was 12. Her stepfather ran gas stations.
She entered Reed College in Portland as a philosophy major.
“I enjoyed it until I ran aground in an aesthetics class,” Ms. Dunn told Wired magazine. “I went in thinking, yeah, art, beauty — my meat, drink and air. But on the first day, I didn’t understand a word that was said in class, so I marched out and changed my major to psychology.”
During a winter break, she found a boyfriend in San Francisco. She traveled with him and took odd jobs (including wrapping Sugar Daddy candy bars on a factory assembly line in Massachusetts); discovered she was pregnant and gave birth in Ireland; returned to Portland when their son was 7; left her boyfriend; and, as a single mother, made a living as a waitress in a diner in the morning, and a bartender at night.
In 2012 she married a former Reed College classmate, Paul Pomerantz, who survives her and confirmed her death, saying the cause was complications of lung cancer. She is also survived by her son, Eli Dapolonia, and a brother, Eugene Dunn.
Ms. Dunn’s affinity for boxing started when she watched matches on television with her stepfather and brothers.
Her book “School of Hard Knocks: The Struggle for Survival in America’s Toughest Boxing Gyms” won the 2004 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Award, given by the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies. An essay collection, “One Ring Circus: Dispatches From the World of Boxing,” was published in 2009.
Ms. Dunn’s next novel, “Cut Man,” a fictionalized account of boxing, was scheduled to be published in 2008 but was never finished. In 2010, an excerpt appeared in The Paris Review, where Ms. Roper was managing editor. It carried echoes of “Geek Love.”
“It operates in marginal subcultures, and it stars determined though hapless dreamers,” Ms. Dunn said of the work-in-progress in an interview with The New York Times. “It pits the art of violence against the violence of art.”
Did the excerpt portend the publication of the novel itself soon?
“Soon?” Ms. Dunn said. “Sure, that would be good.”
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the title of one of Ms. Dunn’s books. It is “Truck,” not “Tuck.”SOURCE