The Remembrance Project
Lives of those among us.
People read obituaries avidly. Alongside the famous deaths in the newspapers, there are the small print columns about the equally loved but lesser-known. Ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. Elissa Ely reads between the lines, finding men and women around New England whose stories should not go untold – the lives of those among us.
Is there someone you know, who has died within the last year or so, you would like to suggest for The Remembrance Project? If you’d like to speak with Elissa Ely about a loved one who has passed, send a note or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer Elissa Ely remembers Gunther Hoos, a film professor who wanted to make film-making accessible and affordable for all.
Writer Elissa Ely remembers Pamela Sampson — a children’s book author with a big imagination and a small protagonist.
Harold Dondis practiced law in Boston for 70 years, but he played the game of chess for 80. His fellow club members will never forget when Harold defeated Bobby Fischer, nor will they forget his last match.
Louise “Lulu” Finocchio defied the odds in everything she did — from her trailblazing career as one of the only female buyers for Filene’s, to becoming “Miraculous Patient #11” after a remarkably positive response to electroconvulsive therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. She died last September in Marblehead at the age of 79.
Yves Francois Dalvet began his adventurous, and rather mysterious, life in the town of Laval, France. He joined the Resistance against the Nazis, became a priest, and, eventually, a language professor in Maine, where he died last November at the age of 92.
Listening closely was a life philosophy for Diane “Bibi” Weinstein, who spent 34 years counseling students at Harvard’s Bureau of Study Council. She always took care of others first, even as she battled cancer. She died last April in Cambridge at the age of 67.
Writer Elissa Ely remembers David Gross, an expert of computer code who contributed to the creation of compact discs and MP3s — all with a clever sense of humor. He died last December in Sudbury at the age of 76.
“I got this. God had a plan for me. We’re going to figure this out,” Catherine Malatesta told her parents after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer as a high school student. She died last August in Boston at the age of 16.
“It was like he brought Africa to America and he brought America to Africa,” Damon Weinstein recalls of his teacher, the Senegalese drum master Ibrahima Camara. Ibrahima wove the cultures together in classes he taught around Boston. He died last October at the age of 72.
Jirina Schweizerova and Reinhold Schumann made for an unlikely couple when they met in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, in the summer of 1945. Jirina spoke no English; Reinhold spoke no Czech. Jirina was an hour late to their first date; Reinhold was an extremely punctual man. But three years later, they married in Cambridge, Massachusetts — more than 3,000 miles from where they first found each other.
Tich Don Truong was only 14 when he left China on a cargo ship. From there, he went from Vietnam, to Malaysia, to Texas — and finally, to Massachusetts, where he lived the rest of his 93 years surrounded by his children and grandchildren.
Kate Guillette was a photographer who specialized in the happiness of others. “It doesn’t have to be a perfect photo, it just has to bring a memory to mind or a smile to your face,” she once wrote to a friend. Kate died last June, driving on a slippery stretch of road in an afternoon rainstorm. She was 34 years old.
“You know, just be a mensch!,” Jake Jampel recalls his father, Jeffrey, saying. Jeffrey Jampel reveled in excess, whether it was his love of Klezmer music, or Freud, or bing cherries. He died last August at the age of 73.
Dohrn Zachai created textural tapestries, 10 to 15 feet across. Museums sought her work, art schools sought her teaching. But success became too commercial, too compromising. And so, she moved to New England and lived alone, painting landscapes. She died in Vermont last January at the age of 82.
When Peter Walsh’s daughters were young, he would visit their Sunday school class in his firefighter’s uniform, crawling around on the floor to let the kids practice getting his attention in the event of an emergency. He was the retired captain of the Weston Fire Department when he died last April at the age of 70.
“His idea was to help others,” remembers a friend of Michael Jovanovic. “And his specialty was to help others that no one else wanted to help.” Michael Jovanovic died last February at the age of 94.
When Bryan Bernfeld’s cancer was discovered, the actor challenged it the same way he challenged everything — as an intelligent contrarian. When auditions in New York were cut short by treatment in Boston, he responded by enrolling as a student at the American Repertory Theatre Institute. He died last August at the age of 26.
Charisma is the first word that comes to mind when describing the late rower, performer, and philanthropy specialist, Frank Soldo. He died last August of a cancer so rare that it affects only 20-30 people each year.
Sarah Dixon had been battling metastatic breast cancer for 14 years when she died in June, but it never stopped her from walking with the ones she loved.
Ron Wallace immersed himself in the genius of Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1984, he created a guided walk — a kind of performance art — through Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. “Many people think, how could it be a work of art if you’re just taking a walk?” Ron explained in an archived interview. “What it is that makes it a work of art is that experience.” Ron died in August at the age of 60.
“My dad used to say she could have a conversation with a telephone pole,” remembers Constance Collins’ daughter, Madeline. Collins grew up without a mother, but she became “Nana Connie” to 21 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren during her 98 years.
Eugene Myerov of Charlestown couldn’t help but start sunny days by singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” He painted, gardened, carried a solo dentistry practice, and he left an artistic mark on the most mundane details of life.
“He seemed to be continuously researching violence,” Anne Zasloff remembers of her father, Professor Joseph Zasloff, “but still believed in the good in everybody. It was incredible.”
“My husband John was the only true Renaissance man I’ve ever met,” Jill Silos-Rooney recalls of her late husband, John Rooney, who died in February of 2014. He was creative and accomplished, but hovering between illumination and a growing lightlessness.
George Lewis was a symbol of freedom to those who knew him — from his hippie days protesting war, to his homesteading days in Maine. The social conscience that enlarged throughout his life never left him.
“The nickname we had for her was The General ’cause she’d have to keep everything in order,” Lew Lee’s granddaughter, Bonnie, remembers. The Chinese-American mother of 10 was known for work ethic she instilled and tough love she administered while running The China Star restaurant in Quincy.
For Joseph Zalewski, or “Dziadek,” life began amidst the traumatic sounds of World War II in Warsaw, but it ended in Peabody in sheer wonder of his work, his daughters and outer space.
No one who loved Stephanie Eranio thought her death was intentional. She overdosed on heroin during a period last fall when deaths in Massachusetts spiked from heroin mixed lethally with fentanyl. She was 27 years old.
Jack Greico was hit by a drunk driver when he was 14, leaving him a quadriplegic. But Jack went on to live 41 more independent years, and he dedicated his life to helping others do the same.
Wayne Kennen was known to be a quiet, but unwavering leader in his family — a protective brother, a creative father, and a dedicated engineer and designer.
Anthony Mirakian—the first Westerner ever to have earned a black belt in Goju Ryu karate—often reminded his students at The Okinawan Karate Academy of Watertown that the lessons he taught were far less rigorous than the ones he had taken.
Doctors had warned Max Nelson he would be unlikely to live to 50, but he was 96 years old when he died last September. Once polio struck, his leg never worked again—yet his heart became all the stronger.
“We’re two little old people here at the flat edge of the earth,” John Fahy said of his home with wife of 41 years, Emily. They traveled, they cooked, and they wanted for nothing, because they had one another.
“I’m just a humble carpenter,” Charles Donnelly, Jr. used to say. Actually, he was a master craftsman, restoring hundreds of wooden doors and windows in Beacon Hill and Back Bay.
Some men have a public charisma that electrifies crowds. John Harvey, Jr., was loved for his lower-wattage but unfailing devotion to family. Every decision he made in life pointed at all times in their direction. They were his center of gravity.
Balanced on a scaffold, usually with a cigarillo dangling from his mouth, Mike Heffernan painstakingly restored slate roofs around the world — in Hong Kong, Cuba, and Russia, as well as in Colorado and his own rural Vermont.
As a father of young twins, Peik Larsen was fearless. He took them while his wife worked — and joyous, meandering adventures ensued. He and the four year olds would spend hours buying a cooking pan, researching a recipe, and making beef bourguignon.
The world gazes warily on psychiatrists, worried that they possess preternatural secrets about human nature. In offices painted neutral shades, these mythic psychics — these omniscient beings — listen hard, sit silently, and don’t move much. Dr. Shervert Frazier lived in constant colorful motion.
Chris Jones started asking his mother about infinity when he was three. She can’t recall the details of what she said, but its non-specificity didn’t satisfy him. It was a question he asked for years.
No one writes about the life of a poet and musician as well as they write about themselves. Marcia Deihl was born in North Carolina, daughter of a pastor. “My father preached while I drew dancing harem girls,” one poem begins.