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Tom Hall: A remembrance of some of the friends who passed in 2021

(Photo by Rolf Schweizer_WikimediaCommons)

It is my custom on this program to take some time near the end of the year to remember, briefly, some of the people in our local area who have passed away during the year. As always, this is not an exhaustive list. I simply want to mention a few of the people in the area who I was blessed to know, and who our community was blessed to have.

Leslie Starr died in February. She was a wonderful musician, friend and colleague; one of the first people I met in 1982 when I arrived in Baltimore to lead the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. Leslie and I did countless concerts together. I will always remember her quiet countenance, her consummate skill, and her warm way. Leslie was 70 years old.

George Wills also died in February at the age of 84. George was a charmer; gregarious, preternaturally positive, and a person who lifted the spirits of all. George was also a terrific water colorist, and a great lover of music and the arts.

And when it comes to music and the arts, there are few people in the history of our town who matched the dedication, commitment and accomplishments of Buddy Zamoiski, who passed away in February at the age of 93. A passionate philanthropist for Johns Hopkins and many other organizations, Buddy was a singular, driving force behind the growth of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The BSO as we know it today is simply unimaginable without his leadership and his tenacity.

The wonderful painters, Ruth Pettus and Raoul Middleman passed away as well. Ruth was just 63 years old when she died in March, but she produced an acclaimed body of work that fascinated, provoked and delighted legions of fans. Raoul was 86 when he passed away in October. His work is acknowledged in museums and galleries around the world as distinctive and brilliant. Raoul and Ruth both loved music too, and a good laugh.

In my years as a musician, I had the pleasure of working with many wonderful singers. Jason Ryan’s powerful bass voice was deep, rich and resonant, and he could always be counted on to anchor the choral chord. Jason passed away in March.

Our friend and former colleague, Fraser Smith died in April. Fraser was WYPR’s resident sage and Senior News Analyst. He was our mentor, our guide, and our north star. His keen insight into politics and people was honed from years of skilled listening and superb reporting. He was a gentleman, and a model of gentility. Fraser Smith was 83 years old.

Bishop Douglas Miles was an extraordinary man, an erudite religious scholar, and a persuasive, compelling and imaginative social justice activist whose work as an organizer and as a mentor to other activists form an important and indelible legacy. One of the founders and longtime leaders of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, Doug was one of our city’s most eloquent and effective crusaders for racial equity and fairness. He was 72 years old when he passed away in August.

Earlier this month, Ernie Imhoff, described as the “heart and soul” of the Baltimore Evening Sun died at the age of 84. Ernie was my wife’s boss at the paper when we met in the mid-1980s. He became our wise and wonderful friend, an inspiration for us as journalists, and a model for us as people.

For the blessing of knowing all of these bright lights of Baltimore, I am grateful, for what they’ve meant to me, and for how they enlivened and enhanced our city.

—Tom Hall

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