Passings of 2007

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Going back to revisit stories from the past year is a funny ritual in the news business. Often it's just a way to fill space at the holidays, or to recycle old material at little cost.

But these year-end Top 10 lists can also serve a real purpose. They can help foster a community of readers or listeners with shared experiences.

Reminding people of the stories that made news gives a little punctuation to the year. It helps us fill in gaps in our knowledge and prepares us to move on.

At LA, one of our most popular compilations is the all blog entries about people whose deaths caught our eye during the year.

Sometimes the obituary is big news everywhere. Luciano Pavarotti and Norman Mailer are good examples from 2007. Ike Turner. Ingmar Bergman.

But most of the passings we mention are of people who just deserve some attention for making an appreciable impact in Southern California. They can be in media or politics or some less obvious field.

They can be prominent – or their contribution more hidden.

This year in local media, the most newsworthy death was that of longtime KTLA anchor Hal Fishman. For half of 2007 he was going strong, a fixture on Channel 5 at 10 pm despite his age – 76.

Then he began to look ill, and quickly -- it seemed -- lost a battle with colon cancer.

His death on August 7 set off a mourning period in which the station wallowed a bit too much.

But to its credit, reporter Eric Spillman was allowed to post a blog entry suggesting that if Fishman had seen a doctor earlier, he might still be alive.

Sportscaster Stu Nahan, reporter David Garcia and former late-night host – and ex-Channel 4 anchor – Tom Snyder also represent television on the obit list for 2007.

The honor roll of Los Angeles media figures who died includes Cathy Seipp, a magazine writer and blogger who succumbed to lung cancer at 49.

Gary Franklin did film reviews on several TV stations, and before that roamed the streets in Car 98 for AM station KFWB.

Tony Day had been the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times and a very influential voice in local affairs.

Howard Larman was no less influential in his own way. He began hosting the Folkscene show on Pacifica Radio's KPFK in 1970 and was still on the air every week when he died.

A sitting congresswoman from the L.A. area – Juanita Millender-McDonald - was among those lost last year. I did a commentary earlier on KCRW about Augustus F. Hawkins, the retired South L.A. congressman who died at age 100.

For me, it's the lesser-known figures whose stories add depth and texture to the shared culture of Los Angeles and Southern California.

People like Paul MacCready, an engineer who was called the father of human-powered flight. His Gossamer Condor and Gossamer Albatross showed the world how we could fly.

Wen Roberts had been the official team photographer for the Lakers from the time they moved to L.A. in 1960. One of his claims to fame is the photo of a Jerry West jump-shot that became the stylized logo for the NBA.

Al Langer was the patriarch of Langer's Deli, the mecca for pastrami lovers next to MacArthur Park since the 1940's.

Sherman Torgan had been the film programmer at the New Beverly Cinema. Lilly Rodriguez was a pioneer of female boxing. Ariel Hanrath-Clark had a growing reputation as a young jazz musician, but he was renowned in the small world of parkour acrobats.

It's probably not right to call these my favorite posts of the blogging year. But it feels appropriate to make sure, each year, that these deaths are duly noted.

You can find an entry for each of them – and many more -- at LA I just wish I had been able to do more.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.

Banner Image: Howard Larman, Mitchell Harding, Lilly Rodriguez