In memoriam: Deaths in 2016

GEORGE CURRY 

The civil rights and political journalist, who wrote a weekly commentary in Black newspapers across the country, died of heart failure on Aug. 20. He was 69. Curry was former editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and Emerge Magazine. When he died, he was raising money to fund Emerge News Online, a digital version of the publication. Curry also worked as a reporter for Sports Illustrated, the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune.

CONSTABLE RUBEN DAVIS

Longtime Fort Bend County Constable Ruben Davis died Oct. 18 after a battle with cancer. He was 61. Davis had served as a constable since 1996 in a precinct that mainly covers Missouri City. He began his law enforcement career with the Houston Police Department and retired as a sergeant with 21 years of service. He was a founding board member of the Afro-American Police Officers League and former president, Houston Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

SKIPPER LEE FRAZIER

The man who brought “a mountain of soul” to Houston died Oct. 14 at age 89. Frazier was a well-known radio personality, entrepreneur, emcee, promoter and manager. He was a fixture on Houston radio, most recently on KWWJ Gospel 1360, where he broadcast from his office at Skipper Lee & Sons Eternal Rest Funeral Home. He spent 22 years at KCOH Radio, and was a familiar face inside the glass on Almeda. As a businessman, Frazier was part owner of KCOH.

RON GLASS

The actor best known as a detective on the long-running police comedy “Barney Miller” died of respiratory failure on Nov. 25 at age 71. Glass appeared in dozens of other TV shows and in films. He portrayed a spiritual shepherd in the 2002 science-fiction series “Firefly.” He starred as Felix Unger opposite Desmond Wilson’s Oscar Madison in a 1980s remake titled “The New Odd Couple.” Glass was also the voice of Randy Carmichael in the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series “Rugrats.”

ALVIN “AL” HENRY

The former president and CEO of Houston’s Neighborhood Centers and a dedicated Texas Southern University alumnus died on April 6 at age 82. Henry helped Neighborhood Centers grow from an $8 million annual budget when he arrived to $48 million when he left. He served as president of the TSU National Alumni Association and Maroon and Gray Athletic Booster Club and served on the TSU Foundation Board. Henry attended TSU’s law school and after graduation and joined the Houston City Attorney’s Office.

HOLLY HOGROBROOKS

The local civil rights pioneer died on Jan. 22 at age 75 after a lengthy illness. As a TSU student, Hogrobrooks helped organize Houston’s first sit-in at Weingarten Supermarket lunch counter in1960. She was a founding member of the Progressive Youth Association, which was started by students on campus in the ‘60s. Hogrobrooks’ parents owned a popular diner on Dowling Street and allowed the students to organize their sit-ins at their home. Hogrobrooks later became a journalism professor at TSU.

DENNIS GREEN

The former NFL coach died July 21 from complications of cardiac arrest. He was 67. Green was one of the first African-American head coaches in collegiate and professional football. He coached the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals over 13 NFL seasons. Under his leadership, the Vikings made eight playoff appearances in 10 seasons from 1992 to 2001, reaching the NFC Championship Game in 1998 and 2000. Green also served as a head coach of Northwestern and Stanford universities.

GWEN IFILL

The prominent journalist died on Nov. 14 after a battle with cancer. She was 61. Ifill was co-host of the “PBS News Hour” and host of PBS’ “Washington Week.” She covered seven presidential campaigns and moderated the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. She wrote the best-seller “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.” She began her career with the Baltimore Evening Sun and went on to become a reporter with the Washington Post and New York Times.

DWIGHT JONES 

The former Wheatley High School, University of Houston and NBA star died of cardiac arrest on July 25 at age 64. Jones competed for UH from 1971-73 and helped lead the Cougars to a 43-11 record with back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Jones, a 6-foot-10 forward/center, was taken in the first round of the 1973 NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Over the next 10 seasons, he played for the Hawks, Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls and L.A. Lakers.

DENISE MATTHEWS

The singer formerly known as Vanity died Feb. 15 from kidney failure. She was 57. Matthews was lead singer of the girl group Vanity 6 in the early 1980s. They recorded the hit single “Nasty Girl,” which was produced by Prince. Matthews recorded two solo albums for Motown and co-starred in the movies “The Last Dragon” and “Action Jackson. She became a born-again Christian after a near-fatal drug overdose in 1994 and received a kidney transplant in 1997.

GLORIA NAYLOR

The award-winning author whose stories chronicled the experiences of Black women in the 1980s and ‘90s died Sept. 28 at age 66 of a heart attack. Her 1982 debut novel “The Women of Brewster Place” followed seven Black women in a housing project. The novel won the 1983 National Book Award for First Fiction. It was adapted into a 1989 TV miniseries and starred Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson and Robin Givens. Her other novels included “Mama Day” and “Bailey’s Café.”

ALMA NEWSOM

The Houston TV news pioneer died Nov. 4 of natural causes. She was 70. Newsom was one of the first local Black female news anchors and TV executives. She became the first full-time community affairs director at KHOU-TV Channel 11 in 1973, and became a reporter and weekend anchor in 1975. She resumed her community affairs director role in 1978, serving as a talk show host and human resources advisor. She became KHOU’s assistant program manager in 1981 and program manager in 1982.

BILL NUNN 

The actor known as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” died of leukemia on Sept. 24 at age 62. Nunn attended Morehouse College with Lee and said the Radio Raheem role was “huge.” Nunn also acted in Lee’s movies “School Daze,” “Mo’ Better Blues” and “He Got Game.” He appeared in other films such as “New Jack City,” “Sister Act,” the “Spider-Man” trilogy and “Kiss the Girls.” In 2014-15 he played a paramedic on the USA Network sitcom “Sirens.”

CARROLL OLIVER

The owner of three McDonald’s in Houston was shot to death on Jan. 11 during an attempted robbery. He was 69. Oliver was gunned down at his restaurant in the 5300 block of East Freeway during his morning run to the bank. According to the Houston Police Department, an assailant was waiting for Oliver and appeared to know his routine. HPD and Crime Stoppers asked for the public’s help in identifying two suspects, and a $50,000 reward was offered.

ALICE RAINS

The mother of the late Congressman Mickey Leland died on April 2 at age 92. She served 35 years in HISD as a teacher, curriculum coordinator supervisor and principal. She was a Cub Scouts den mother, and a member of the PTA, NAACP and Democratic National Committee. She was married to George Thomas Leland II. After his death she was married to the late Dr. David Rains. Mickey Leland died in a 1989 plane crash while on a relief mission in Ethiopia.

JOHN SAUNDERS

The ESPN sportscaster died of unknown causes on Aug. 10 at age 61. His family said Saunders hadn’t been feeling well in the days leading up to his death. Saunders joined ESPN in 1986 as a “SportsCenter” anchor. He hosted “The Sports Reporters,” “NFL Primetime,”  “Baseball Night in America,” “NBA Shootaround” and other programs for the network. He came to ESPN from a Baltimore TV station. Saunders was a native of Canada and played hockey at Western Michigan University.

NATE THURMOND

The 6-foot-11 Hall of Fame center, one of the top NBA players of the ‘60s and ‘70s, died July 16 of leukemia at age 74. Thurmond played 11 of his 14 seasons with the Golden State Warriors and retired after the 1976-1977 season, one year after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a trip to the NBA Finals before losing to Boston. His No. 42 was retired by the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Thurmond was voted one of the best 50 players in NBA history.

TRAY WALKER

The Baltimore Ravens and former Texas Southern University cornerback died on March 18 from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car while riding a dirt bike in Liberty City, Fla. He was 23. Walker grew up in Miami. He was an All-SWAC defensive back as a senior and a TSU graduate. He was chosen in the fourth round by the Ravens in the 2015 NFL draft. Walker made the Ravens roster, playing in eight games, mostly as a special team standout.

MAURICE WHITE

The Earth, Wind & Fire founder died Feb. 3 at age 74. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

Earth, Wind & Fire has sold more than 90 million albums and recorded such hits as “September,” “Let’s Groove,” “Shining Star” and “Reasons.” White was born in Memphis. He later attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He joined the Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1967 and formed Earth Wind & Fire in 1969. He wanted his music to convey “messages of universal love and harmony.”