By Miriam Raftery
December 29, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – These local leaders who passed on in 2019 left their indelible marks on our communities, gone but never forgotten.
GEORGE BAILEY -- Shortly after celebrating his 100th birthday, former La Mesa Mayor and San Diego County Supervisor died at his home on March 11th of congestive heart failure. He served on the San Diego Association of Regional Governments (SANDAG), chaired the California Councils of Government and was director of the National Association of Regional Councils.. The George Bailey Detention Center was named in his honor, due to his support for winning voter approval to fund construction. He was also instrumental in preserving the cross atop Mt. Helix and improving traffic in our region. He is remembered as a leader who left behind an indelible stamp on East County and the San Diego region, drawing respect from colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.
JIM BELL -- Jim Bell, ecological designer and internationally recognized expert on sustainable development who twice ran for mayor of San Diego, was a graduate of El Capitan High School in Lakeside. His vision was vast: to transform the San Diego/Tijuana Regional economy” from one that relied almost entirely on imported water and energy into an economy that would be prosperous and 100% renewable--energy, water and food self-sufficient--creating a model for others to emulate around the world. He died at age 77 of complications from a stroke.
HOWARD COOK – Howard Cook gave selflessly to the community, serving as Chair and later Secretary for the Jacumba Sponsor Group and as Board Member of the Jacumba-Boulevard Revitalization Committee. He died in June after a brief illness. He helped organize community festivals, was instrumental in finding a buyer for the Jacumba Spa to revitalize the town, and stood firmly against industrial-scale energy projects in the high desert community that he loved. “A man of integrity, confidence, compassion and action, Howard will be sorely missed by all,” his wife, Danielle, said.
WADIE DEDDEH - Wadie P. Deddeh, former state Senator from San Diego and the first Iraqi-American elected to public office in the United States, passed away on August 27, just days before his 99th birthday. An Iraqi immigrant and teacher, he became known as the heart of the California State Senate where he served for many years. Hailed as a statesman and an American success story by leaders on both sides of the political aisle, Deddeh;s legacy includes authoring the bill that established the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) and inspiring generations of immigrants to attain the American dream. His life was memorialized in a documentary film, “The Lions Journey” and in his own autobiography, “An Immigrant’s Success Story,” which he finished at age 99.
T. MYRTLE FALKNER - San Diego Myrtle Falkner was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She then immigrated to the U.S. with her family. Myrtle's first home in the U.S, was in Ballston Spa, NY. The cold winters drove them to San Diego. The Happy Couple met at the First Alliance Church where they were later married. Her future husband came to San Diego via the U.S. Navy. Upon marriage they made their first home in Orlando, Florida, where both Diane and Joseph Jr. were born. Myrtle is survived by her husband, Joseph; son, Joe Jr.; her sons-in-law, four grandkids, and four great-grandkids.
KIERAN SHAFRITZ DE ZOYSA - Killed at age 11 during an Easter Sunday terrorist bombing in Sri Lanka, Kieran Shafritz had dreamed of being a neurologist in hopes of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. A bench in Lakeside’s Oakoasis Park, where his father lives, commemorate’s Kieran. Though still a young boy, his achievements were substantial. He won a bronze medal in the prestigious Royal Commonwealth Prize in poetry in 2018, excelled in academics, traveled widely and had completed the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Physics of Engineering course in La Jolla in 2018.
His father wants everyone to remember his son’s goodness at heart – a heart pierced by shrapnel that ended Kieran’s hopes and dreams for the future.
CINDY GREEN - Cindy Green, a retired pediatric nurse for Kaiser Health Foundation and long-time Democratic Party activist, was found dead in her Santee home on July 27th. She worked for 30 years to help elect candidates to local offices and served as vice president of development for San Diego Democrats for Equality. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, Chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, said, “Cindy Green lived a life of service and advocacy. She cast a giant shadow as she played an instrumental role in elevating giants. She gave all for Women's Rights, for the right to universal healthcare, and for the equality of the LGBTQ+ community of which she was one of our staunchest allies.”
TOM HYDE – Revered Viejas tribal elder and former Tribal Chairman Tom Hyde was the last of the original Viejas Reservation members. At age 5, he witnessed the destruction of El Capitan Village to make way for the El Capitan Reservoir the ensuing eviction and trauma known as the Kumeyaay Trail of Tears. Thus he began life as a bridge between past and future for the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians. He later served in the U.S. Navy and became a cattle rancher and entrepreneur who started an RV park. He served for 50 years on the Viejas Tribal Council, struggling to overcome poverty at the reservation and inspire others as a mentor and adoptive parent to many. He founded the Indian Health Council and became a source of tribal cultural and historical lore remember by his nephew, former Chairman Anthony Pico, for inspiring the tribe’s entrepreneurial spirit.
LORI GILBERT KAYE – Lori Gilbert Kaye, a Poway mother and active supporter of the local Jewish community, lost her life in the synagogue that she helped establish. She was killed during the anti-Semitic shooting at the Chabad-Lubavitch of Poway on Shabbat morning,t he last day of Passover. Kaye and her husband donated the property for the synagogue to be built and was also active in local Jewish organizations. She is remembered by Chabad of Poway’s founding director Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was injured in the shooting, as “a true woman of valor” and “a great philanthropist, a kind-hearted person, always there for others.” A street in Poway has been renamed in her memory.
EPIPHANY “EPPIE” LOPEZ - Epiphany “Epie” Lopez of Potrero, best known for his portrayal of bandito Cruz Lopez in the Gaskill Brothers Gunfighters, passed away on August 22 at age 71. He was related to the Machados, one of the first families in Old Town, San Diego. The historical reenactor joined the Campo Gunfighters, which later became the Gaskill Brothers Gunfighters, helping to keep alive the history of the famous 1985 Campo gunfight. He and his wife, Lolie Lopez, worked together to reenact events from our region’s past. .The couple also opened their home as a soup kitchen during the 2007 Harris wildfire, preparing food to serve their community.
GEORGE MITROVICH – City Club founder and president George Mitrovich was a powerhouse in the local political and civic scene.A graduate of Helix High School in La Mesa, where he played baseball and basketball, he maintained a lifelong love of sports as well as principals of democracy, fostering civil dialogue and discussion. He served as a press aide to Robert Kennedy during the Senator’s presidential campaign and later as press secretary to both Democratic and Republican Congressional members. He founded City Club in 1975 as a nonpartisan forum to discuss issues, encouraging kindness and civility. He chaired numerous entities including the Better Government Association, Ecumenical Council of San Diego County, and San Diego Stadium Authority. A lay minister with United Methodist Church, he preached in the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and cofounded the San Diego Coalition for Equality. He was named “Peacemaker of the Year” by San Diego Mediation Center. Also a sports writer for major newspapers, he led efforts to enact a bill to posthumously honor Jackie Robinson with a Congressional Gold Medal. Mitrovich died in July at age 83.
FRANK READ – The former proprietor of Read Pharmacy in La Mesa, Frank Read passed away at his home on Windsor Hill on Dec. 26. He was 108 years old. Born before La Mesa became a city, he had fond memories of our area that he shared with ECM in 2012 during the city’s centennial. He recalled visiting family friends as a child along Lookout Avenue, now know as La Mesa Blvd. His carefree youth including riding his bike to the bay, riding the rails, swimming at local watering holes and watch helium dirigibles aloft in the sky. Later he recalled hardships during World War I , Prohibition, and the Great Depression. He worked as a soda jerk at a drugstore while going to school, graduating from San Diego State College and earning a pharmacy degree at the University of Southern California. He worked long hours for a drugstore chain and became a manager, later getting a job at La Mesa Drug. After World War II, he became a pharmaceutical salesman and eventually bought a lot at La Mesa Blvd.and Randlett, where he opened Read Prescription Pharmacy that he ran until selling the business and going to work at Grossmont Hospital, where he remained until 1977. After retiring, he and his wife enjoyed traveling around the world until her death in 2002.
ROGER ROBERTS - A long-time leader in numerous civic and business organizations, retired Naval officer and realtor Roger Roberts passed away on June 26th after a battle with leukemia. “He served as Chairman of both the East County Economic Development Council and the East County Chamber of Commerce, where he was also named Ambassador of the Year in 2003. “Roger will be remembered as a fierce patriot and advocate for East County,” the ECEDC posted on Facebook.A retired U.S. Navy commander with 25 years of military service, Roberts worked as a professional realtor for decades with Coldwell Banker West and served as Director of the San Diego Association of Realtors. He was also President of the board at St Madeleine Sophie’s Center helping developmentally disabled adults. In addition, he served as President, Vice President and treasurer of the La Mesa Chapter of Business Network International.
RABBI LEONARD ROSENTHAL – Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal served the Congregation of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego’s San Carlos community for more than 30 years. He served as a counselor there and years later, in 1988, became associate rabbi and later, rabbi in 1990. He retired in 2016 but continued on as emeritus rabbi until he became ill. He died in February at home, shortly after being hospitalized for a blood clot and stroke. He is remembered by many for his sense of humor and dedication to the Jewish people. At his memorial service, Rabbi Ralph Dalin praised Rosenthal for being “deeply cairing of congregants individually and collectively.” Rabbi Devorah Marcus remembered Rosenthal speaking “truth to power” after an Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel created a blacklist of rabbis around the world whose conversions they would not accept. Marcus recalled that Rabbi Rosenthal wrote them an indignant protest letter, demanding that he, too, be put on the list.
DENNIS RUTH - Iconic "Mountain Man" Dennis Ruth passed away May 23rd after a battle with cancer. He spent his early years in Santee, and the rest of his life in the high desert community of In Ko Pah, near Jacumba. His stone cabin became a hidden local treasure which took him 30 years to build; he lived there without electricity with his dogs and a mule named Big John. Ruth built over 200 houses over his career as a mason and construction worker, and several adobe houses. He was also a leader in the Jacumba Hikers and Walkers group, leading residents and visitors along local trails to discover rugged canyons and scenic mountain vistas in the high desert terrain. His legacy includes not only his own large family, but also many local children who considered him a father figure.
BILL WRIGHT – A champion for his adopted town of Borrego Springs, Bill Wright died in October at age 88. Atracted by the area’s natural beauty, Wright and his wife, Jenny, bought an RV park and built the Springs at Borrego which they ran as a high-end RV retreat for many years. The couple gave back generously to the community, starting the town’s iconic Circle of Art celebration of desert art and the environment. They donated land that became the new County Library in Borrego Springs, Wright also designed, funded and built a community dog park, held a thank you concert at party for the community at the local performing arts center, and commissioned a feasibility study on building a senior center and housing for aging residents. Known for introducing himself to campers at his properties as “The Sunday Gardener,” Wright voiced gratitude to all upon sale of the properties in 2017, quoting Bob Hope in this farewell message posted in the Springs at Borrego newsletter: “Thanks for the memories.”