Recent Passings of Note

When giants and legends pass away, there is a noise like thunder, the sound of glaciers falling into a foaming sea, the uplifting-to-the-sky sound of symphonic music, memory bulging almost uncontainably.

When America’s pastor, Billy Graham, died last week at the demarcation point of 99 years, that’s what happened. Everyone knew right away. There were pictures of Graham gesturing to God, Graham in his prophetic moments, Graham preaching to thousand-fold crowds all over the world, Graham in whispered conversation with presidents.

The passing of the more mortal among us is more muted and contains different things in terms of volume and content. The size and sighs of the reaction, for instance, of neighbors become smaller, but such events are often felt more intently and more intensely, involving the act, one way or another, of condolences, and the intake of a rush of memories personal and otherwise.

Different, too, are the passing of lesser legends — those who have achieved and had their brushes with fame, leaving behind a book, a meeting, a distance, paintings on gallery or museum walls, stories told late at night on a flickering screen, with accompanying morning talk and memory, so that we can move on.

But first …

Joan Burgess Shorey, Chicago-raised, 91 years old, lived in Georgetown since 1984. She was the widow of Ev Shorey, with whom she had shared her life in marriage for 63 years. An artist, she attended Vassar and the Harvard School of Design. She was known for volunteer and charity work, for her unforgettable presence as a community citizen, as well as a member of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, which her husband served as president.

She was a mother, a grandmother, a warm and keenly intelligent member of the community. Georgetown was and remains known for its history, for an atmosphere of class. Exemplifying that reputation, Ev and Joan Shorey were its standbearers, in a way that was without affectation but full of affection. It was always a pleasure to see one or the other or both for this writer, who rues the thought that this will not happen again.

Joan Shorey died Feb. 20. A memorial service will be held in early May.

Now on to the singers, dancers, actors, writers and such.

Nanette Fabray, 97, sang, tapped, acted, laughed and danced on television — on “Your Show of Shows” with the incomparable Sid Caesar, with Mary Tyler Moore and with kindred spirit Carol Burnett. I had the pleasure of having lunch with her in San Francisco many years ago for a show in which she performed, finding her to be one of those warm, entertaining persons for whom dessert came way too soon. She also starred in the second-best Hollywood musical ever (behind “Singing in the Rain”).

Vic Damone, who died at 87, was one of those very characteristic Hollywood and 1950s crooners — Italian, dark-haired handsome, swoony for the girls and a terrific singer (“On the Street Where You Live.”)

Hugh Masekela introduced us to the trumpet and brass and native sounds of South Africa, to which we could not help but move, one way or another.

Writer of novels categorized as science fiction, Ursula Le Guin, 88, was in truth a philosopher of the future, a feminist in the present and a woman with a soaring, pointed imagination.

Hollywood’s John Gavin wasn’t much of an actor, but he was the definition of leading-man handsome. He managed to be in memorable movies like “Imitation of Life” (he played Lana Turner’s swain), “Spartacus” (a young and ambitious Caesar) and “Psycho.” Plus President Ronald Reagan appointed him ambassador to Mexico.

The deviser of wonderful, lyrical, sharp essays — often mean to politicians and worldly about the world — Nicholas von Hoffman by way of the Washington Post was a writer’s writer and a thinker’s thinker.

John Mahoney was a jack-of-all-trades, always dead-on film and television actor, most remembered as Dr. Frasier Crane’s father, retired cop and also dad to Eddie the terrier.

And, just because it is what it is, Seán O’Connor, a professional hurler — to all the hurlers of the world in the wake of the just completed 2018 Olympics, where everyone was a hurler for a brief moment.


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