No infectious disease in a century has exacted as swift and merciless a toll on the United States as covid-19. With no vaccine and no cure, the pandemic has killed people in every state. The necessary isolation it imposes has robbed the bereaved of proper goodbyes and the comfort of mourning rituals. Those remembered in this continually updating series represent but some of the tens of thousands who have died. Some were well-known, and many were unsung. All added their stories, from all walks of life, to the diversity of the American experience.
Nicky Leake, 45; John Leake Jr., 40; and Leslie Leake, 74, members of the same D.C.-area family, died within 20 days in the month of April. Nicky was preparing for her destination wedding in Hawaii. John was a cutup, the family clown. Leslie, their mother, was passing her golden days in contentment, doting on her grand- and great-grandchildren, assembling floral arrangements, singing softly to herself. They probably spread the virus to each other at Leslie and her husband’s immaculate old home in Congress Heights, the family’s heartbeat, the place they simply called “the house.”
“Once she had her mind made up about something, Aunt Edna’s was the only opinion that mattered.”
Edna Adams, 105, a woman of faith and conviction, spent her life defying expectations. She lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression and two world wars. After her husband died, she lived alone for more than 40 years, moving into a nursing home after her 100th birthday. She fell ill there in April and died days later, becoming the District of Columbia’s oldest coronavirus victim.
Freda Ocran, 51, was a nurse to her patients but a regal member of her household in the Bronx and in Ghana. After her hospital shifts, she would ring the doorbell to her own home so her children would carry in her bags. “Don’t you know I’m the queen,” she would tell her two boys and daughter. “The queen did her job.”
Philip Kahn, 100, was an avid storyteller who fought in Iwo Jima and later helped build the World Trade Center. When he told his life story to his grandchildren, it always began with his twin brother, Samuel, who died during the influenza pandemic weeks after he and Kahn were born in 1919 — a story Kahn told right up to his final days.
“At a time when the nation was in crisis, and the world was unknown, Paul raised his hand.”
Paul Cary, 66, a lifelong paramedic and firefighter, voluntarily traveled to the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, driving 27 hours from Colorado to New York City. He spent three weeks helping others before falling ill himself. A procession of ambulances carried his casket home to Denver, where a colleague sent out a final call for Cary and wished him godspeed before promising, “We have the watch from here.”
Wogene Debele, 43, was a stay-at-home mother of three who never got to meet her fourth, a baby boy who was whisked to the NICU right after his birth because she had covid-19. In Debele’s native Amharic, her name meant “my people, my community.” Her dedication to both was why she quickly became a warm and familiar presence within the Washington area’s large Ethiopian community after her family emigrated from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, almost a decade ago.
Landon Spradlin, 66, was a Christian preacher and blues guitarist from rural Virginia who traveled to New Orleans annually to practice street ministry. A believer in miraculous healing, Spradlin criticized the media for creating “mass hysteria” over the virus, which he contracted during Mardi Gras. As his family mourned a man known for his tireless missionary work, they also had to contend with critics who attacked Spradlin for his comments about the virus that ultimately killed him.
“He had one of those arms that come once in a lifetime.”
Steve Dalkowski, 80, pitched nine years in the minor leagues in the 1950s and ’60s, mostly in the Baltimore Orioles organization, without reaching the major leagues. Yet he is remembered as perhaps the game’s greatest unharnessed talent, the hardest-throwing pitcher in history with a fastball as uncontrollable as it was unhittable.
Carlos DeLeon, 63, was the first incarcerated person in Connecticut to die of the virus. He had been approved for early release after a year in prison for illegal firearm possession and hoped to enter a halfway house. DeLeon was a joke-loving handyman with an artist’s eye — and chronic breathing difficulties that made him especially vulnerable.
Chianti “Tiki” Jackson Harpool, 51, moved easily from the streets of her native Baltimore, where she once worked as a social worker helping the homeless and drug-addicted, to a political fundraiser in the city with her husband of 12 years. She worked for her neighbor, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and completed a six-month program at the International Culinary Center in New York before starting a home business called Chianti’s Chocolates.
“Fenno was hands down the most significant student of Congress of the last half of the 20th century.”
Richard F. Fenno Jr., 93, was a prominent political scientist and congressional scholar who was best known for identifying the tendency — dubbed Fenno’s Paradox — of voters to dislike Congress as a whole but to trust and reelect their local representatives. A longtime professor at the University of Rochester in western New York, he was considered one of the most original and influential political scientists of his generation.
Theodore Gaffney, 92, was a photographer who risked his life to document the 1961 Freedom Riders in one of the most tumultuous 48 hours in U.S. civil rights history. The descendant of enslaved people on a South Carolina plantation, Gaffney grew up in the nation’s capital and became one of the first African Americans to take photos inside the White House and for The Washington Post.
Source: Washington Post