other notable deaths


March 17, 2006

Ken Brewer, the Utah poet laureate whose diagnosis of pancreatic cancer led him to write poems almost daily about the ravages of disease and his mortality, died Wednesday in Salt Lake City, said a Utah State University spokesman. He was 64.

Brewer published several books including The Place In Between and Lake's Edge. He also published more than 300 individual poems and delivered more than 200 readings of poetry and essays throughout the West. Brewer was retired from Utah State University, where he had been an English professor.

In 2003, two years after retiring, he was named the state's poet laureate by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt.

John Reynolds Gardiner, who progressed from remedial college English to become author of the best-selling children's book Stone Fox, died March 4 of pancreatitis complications in Anaheim, Calif., his wife said. He was 61.

Few would have predicted Gardiner's literary success. He didn't enjoy books when he was young - he never read an entire novel until he was 19 - and he ended up in what he called "dumbbell English" at UCLA.

When he was in his late 20s and working as an aerospace engineer, his brother convinced him to take a television writing class taught by an instructor who cared about imagination rather than spelling and grammar. Gardiner wrote Stone Fox as a screenplay about a boy named Willy and his dog, Searchlight, who enter a dogsled race hoping to beat an undefeated opponent. A producer suggested Gardiner turn it into a book, which he did, in 1980.

The book sold 3 million copies and, seven years later, was made into an NBC-TV movie starring Buddy Ebsen as Willy's grandfather.

Gardiner also wrote Top Secret in 1985 and the next year published General Butterfingers.

K. Leroy Irvis, a civil rights pioneer and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' only black speaker, died yesterday after a battle with cancer, according to state parliamentarian Clancy Myer. State House records indicate Irvis, who died at a Pittsburgh hospice, was 86, although his biographer said birth and school records show he was 89.

Irvis served as a Democratic member of the House from 1959 to 1988 and was elected speaker four times.

He led groundbreaking demonstrations against discriminatory hiring and sales practices by downtown Pittsburgh department stores in 1947, and gained national notoriety when he sued a white-males-only Harrisburg Moose lodge for refusing to serve him a meal.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in 1972 that the "private social club in a private building" was within its rights to discriminate against him. Hill said Irvis was the first black speaker of a state House in the U.S. since shortly after the Civil War.

John J. McFall, a conservative California Democrat who served 11 terms in the U.S. House before being implicated in a bribery scandal, died March 7, according to the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress. He was 88.

McFall, who suffered from Parkinson's disease and complications from a broken hip, was elected to Congress in 1956 and served on the powerful House defense appropriations subcommittee, where he was an advocate for the Vietnam War policies of Presidents Johnson and Nixon.

In 1973, McFall was appointed House whip, but his career went into decline after he lost a bid for majority leader three years later. He was one of three California congressmen reprimanded in 1978 by the House for their financial dealings with Tong Sun Park, a South Korean businessman who was charged with bribing politicians.

Park was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. McFall was cited for failing to report a $3,000 campaign contribution from Park, but he viewed the relatively light congressional action as a vindication. One month later, he lost re-election.

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