In memoriam: Deaths in 2019

This year, we said goodbye to men and women who had an impact on the local, state and national levels. They ranged from doctors to authors to rappers, and all were achievers in their respective fields.

BUSHWICK BILL

The diminutive, one-eyed rapper and member of Houston’s Geto Boys, who found success with hits like “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” and “Six Feet Deep,” died June 9 at age 52. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.Born Richard Shaw in Kingston, Jamaica, he moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick as a child and adopted the name before relocating to Houston. He joined Rap-A-Lot Records in the 1980s,teaming with Scarface (Brad Jordan) and Willie D (William Dennis). He released six solo albums from 1992 to 2010.

DIAHANN CARROLL

The singer and actress who won a Tony Award, received an Oscar nomination for the 1974 movie “Claudine” and made TV history on “Julia” and “Dynasty,” died Oct. 4 at age 84. She played Julia Baker, a widowed nurse raising a son, on the NBC comedy that debuted in 1968. She won a Golden Globe for her work. She played Dominique Deveraux – the first prominently featured Black character on a primetime soap opera – on ABC’s Dynasty and its spinoff “The Colbys.” Her recent roles included TV’s “White Collar” and the film “We the Peeples” 

JOHN CHASE JR.

Theadministration manager for Security and Emergency Preparedness at Hobby Airport and adjunct professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law died Jan. 2 at age 66. He was the son of the late John Chase Sr., the first African American licensed to practice architecture in Texas.John Chase Jr. began his professional career in banking. He worked with the mayoral campaigns of Fred Hofheinz and Kathy Whitmire and served in both administrations. He operated a private law practice and was a City of Houston municipal judge. 

LEAH CHASE

The New Orleans chef known for her Creole cuisine died June 1 at age 96. She was co-owner of Dooky Chase’s restaurant, a hub for the Black community and a meeting place for Civil Rights Movement organizers. Chase married into the restaurant in 1946 and transformed it into a refined dining establishment. At the time, New Orleans restaurants were segregated. Famous customers included Duke Ellington, Justice Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

JOHN CONYERS

FILE – In this April 2, 2019, file photo, House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Cummings says the White House is now in “open defiance” of his panel after lawyers advised a former official to resist a subpoena related to the committee’s investigation of White House security clearances. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The longtime congressman who fought for civil rights died Oct. 27 at age 90. Known as the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, Conyers became one of only six Black House members when he first won election by 108 votes in 1964. He regularly won elections in Detroit with more than 80% of the vote. After a 15-year fight, he won passage of legislation declaring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. He resigned in 2017 amid allegations that he sexually harassed staffers and used taxpayer money to settle a claim.

GIFFORD “MAX” EDISON JR.

The Defender’s award-winning pro and college sports editor died on June 21 at age 63. Edison wrote about football, basketball, baseball, track, tennis, soccer, golf, boxing, auto racing and the Olympics. When the Defender started the weekly sports program “Gimme A Minute,” Edison created the segment, “Go Sit Down.” Edison, also a broadcast journalist, often appeared on local sports shows. He taught school full-time at Elsik High School in Alief ISD. Prior to that he taught at Hightower High School in Fort Bend ISD.

FREEDA FOREMAN

The daughter of boxing legend George Foreman died March 9 at age 42. Her death was ruled a suicide and listed as asphyxia by hanging. She was found unresponsive by a family member at her Atascocita home. Freeda followed Foreman in his footsteps, beginning to box professionally as a middleweight beginning in 2000. She won her first five fights before losing her sixth fight in 2001. She promptly retired after the loss, settling for a pro record of 5-1 with three KOs to focus on her family. 

ERNEST GAINES

The acclaimed author of novels about the struggles of African Americans in rural Louisiana died Nov. 5 at the age of 86. His book “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”was adapted for a TV movie in 1974 starring Cicely Tyson and won nine Emmy Awards. His other novels included “A Gathering of Old Men,” a tale of aging Black men sharing stories about their lives in segregated Louisiana and “A Lesson Before Dying,” a story about a young Black man waiting to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. 

CASSANDRA HOLLEMON 

The Houstonjudge who was part of the historic wave of Black women candidates who swept into office in 2018, died Feb. 11 at age 57. One colleague said she died after a struggle with “health issues.” Hollemon was one of 17 women in a group of candidates who won seats in Harris County courtrooms. Holleman, who practiced criminal law for more than two decades, was assigned to Harris County Criminal Court of Law 12. She came to the bench focused on doing her part to reform the criminal justice system in Texas’ largest county.

NIPSEY HUSSLE

The Grammy-nominated rapper whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom died from gunshot wounds on March 31 in Los Angeles. He was 33. News of Hussle’s death went viral and led to an online outpouring of grief. Hussle was an entrepreneur, community activist and father of two. He had a violent past and spoke publicly about his long affiliation with the Rollin’ 60s, an L.A.-area gang. More recently, it seemed as though Hussle had distanced himself from the gang. The suspect in his murder, Eric Holder, was arrested.

JAMES INGRAM

The soulful, smooth voice behind R&B hits like “Just Once,” died Jan. 29 at age 66. He had brain cancer. Ingram got his start as a musician and played keyboards for Ray Charles. He was nominated for 14 Grammy Awards, winning for Best Male R&B Performance for “One Hundred Ways” and Best R&B Performance for a Duo or Group for “Yah Mo B There.” His duet with Patti Austin, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. He co-wrote Michael Jackson’s hit “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” 

DR. EDITH IRBY JONES

The nationally known medical pioneer who established a practice in Houston’s Third Ward died July 15 at age 91. She was remembered as a dedicated physician who cared about her community. Dr. Jones was the first Black student to attend the University of Arkansas School of Medicine, the first Black woman resident at Baylor College of Medicine and the first woman president of the National Medical Association. Her enrollment in a white Southern medical school made headlines yet she still encountered segregation. 

JOHNNY “LAM” JONES

The speedy two-sport star at the University of Texas and a 1976 Olympic gold medalist died March 15 at age 60 after a long battle with cancer. He was a member of the U.S. 400-meter relay team and a world-class sprinter who once won four events at a Southwest Conference meet.Jones, a football standout at UT, was the second pick in the 1980 draft by the New York Jets and played wide receiver for five years. He was given the nickname “Lam” because of his hometown, Lampasas. Jones’ track exploits at Lampasas High School were legendary. 

TONI MORRISON

The acclaimed novelist whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” ”Song of Solomon,” “Tar Baby,” “Paradise,” “Sula” and other works dramatized the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race died Aug. 5 at age 88. She was nearly 40 when her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” was published. By her early 60s, after just six novels, she had become the first Black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize, praised in 1993 by the Swedish academy for her “visionary force.” Morrison won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved.” 

JESSYE NORMAN

The international opera star died Sept. 30 age at 74. The New York Metropolitan Opera described Norman as “one of the great sopranos of the past half-century.” Norman won four Grammy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy. She won a scholarship to Howard University where she studied voice. She made her operatic debut in 1969 in Berlin and sang the title role in “Aïda.”By the mid-1980s she was one of the most popular sopranos in the world and many of her performances were televised.

FRANK ROBINSON

The first African-American manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win MVP in both leagues died Feb. 7 at age 83. An outfielder and first baseman, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 in his first year of eligibility. He ranked 10th on the career home runs list with 586. He won the Triple Crown with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 and became the first Black manager in MLB history in 1975 with the Cleveland Indians. He served as MLB’s executive vice president of baseball development. 

JOHN SINGLETON  

The director, screenwriter and producer known for the 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood” died April 29 at age 51 after suffering a stroke. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for “Boyz n the Hood.” His other films included “Higher Learning,” “Shaft,” “Baby Boy,” “Four Brothers” and “Hustle & Flow.” Singleton directed action films such as “2 Fast 2 Furious” and TV shows such as “Empire.” He co-created the FX series “Snowfall” and executive-produced the documentary “L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later.” 

 KRISTOFF ST. JOHN

The star of the long-running CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless” was found dead in his Los Angeles home on Feb. 3. He was 52. The cause of death washypertrophicheart disease and alcohol was a factor. St. John played Neil Winters on “The Young and the Restless” and was a two-time Daytime Emmy winner and 10-time NAACP Image Award-winner. He made his TV debut at age 8 on the sitcom “That’s My Mama.” He also starred in the series “Charlie and Company” with Flip Wilson and Gladys Knight and “The Bad News Bears.”

BESSIE SWINDLE

The Sunnyside community leader died March 28 at age 79. She was a longtime activist and volunteer and joined the staff of Congressman Al Green in 2005. Her involvement included serving as president of the Southeast Coalition of Civic Clubs, president of the Cloverland Civic Club, vice president of St. Francis 55 Plus Seniors and precinct judge for Precinct 271. She lobbied against a concrete plant because of health concerns and fought for park renovations. A street and community center were named in her honor. 

GEORGE THOMAS

The general manager of KTSU 90.9 FM for 18 years died April 13 at age 80. Under Thomas’ leadership, the station based on the campus of Texas Southern University experienced a major increase in funding and programming, and grew to have the largest African-American audience of any U.S. public radio station. Thomas was instrumental in helping establish the African-American Public Radio Consortium. He was a musician and jazz enthusiast who performed locally for 40 years with his group, George Thomas & Friends. 

WILLIAM “BILL” THOMAS

The former TSU football coach and athletic director died Jan. 18 at age 70. Thomas was the second all-time winningest coach in TSU football history. He coached the Tigers for 10 seasons, taking charge in 1994. His best season was in 2000, when he guided the Tigers to an 8-3 record, capping a string of five consecutive winning seasons for TSU. He later became dean of Student Services. Thomas played middle linebacker at Tennessee State University. He was head coach there for five seasons and athletic director.

DETRIA WARD

The award-winning Houston actress died Nov. 17 at age 57. In addition to her work with the Ensemble Theatre and other local theater groups, she was a radio talent with KTSU and announcer for half-time performances at TSU football games. She later served as general manager of Music World Entertainment and was most recently theater arts coordinator at Energized for STEM Academy High School. She began performing with the Ensemble in the mid-1980s with the play “It’s Showdown Time” directed by founder George Hawkins. 

JEAN WILKINS-DEMBER

The Third Ward activist known affectionately as “Mother Dember” died Feb. 10 at age 89. She was often seen at local rallies and protests wearing her signature hat covered with buttons that championed various causes. Mrs. Wilkins-Dember stood side-by-side with other activists, whether she was protesting police brutality, calling for the abolishment of the death penalty or seeking answers in the death of Sandra Bland. She was actively involved with the National Black United Front and SHAPE Community Center.

DARRYAL WILLIAMS

The noted Houston substance specialist died Jan. 15 at age 65. He was CEO of Williams Resources and established the Cocaine Deliverance Ministry at Windsor Village. He worked with the Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston, coordinated the substance abuse program at Covenant Glen UMC and assisted with programs at Lily Grove and Pentecostal Baptist Church. He founded Men Making a Difference Support Group, facilitated groups for the NBA Rookie Transition Program and volunteered with the Steve Harvey Mentoring Program. 

JOHN WITHERSPOON

Theactor and comedian who played Ice Cube’s father in the “Friday” films died Oct. 27 at age 77. He co-starred in the original “Friday” and the sequels “Next Friday” and “Friday After Next.” He was expected to reprise his role in the final franchise installment, “Last Friday.” Witherspoon appeared on “The Wayans Bros.” TV series and voiced the grandfather on “The Boondocks” animated series. He did stints on “The Tracy Morgan Show” and “The First Family.” His other film roles included “Boomerang” and “Little Man.”