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Obituaries in the News

January 2, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Mohammed al-Fassi, the Saudi Arabian sheik who stirred controversy for redecorating his mansions in Beverly Hills and Miami Beach with gaudy statues and religious signs, died Dec. 24 in Cairo, Egypt, of an infected hernia. He was 50.

Al-Fassi also provoked the Saudi royal family with his unorthodox political stances that included calling for democracy in the kingdom. He was eventually banished from the country.

He became linked to the royal family in the mid-1970s when his sister married a Saudi prince. The tradition of the royal family is to financially support its immediate and extended family, and the marriage made al-Fassi’s extravagant lifestyle possible.

He first gained notoriety in 1978 when he paid $2.4 million in cash for his 38-room Beverly Hills mansion and repainted it a shade of green that one critic likened to the color of rotting limes.

He also antagonized his neighbors by painting classic statues surrounding the home to make them appear more lifelike.

Al-Fassi also provoked his Miami Beach neighbors in the late 1980s by installing a blue neon Arabic sign on the wall of his nine-room home facing Biscayne Bay. It read, ``In the name of God most gracious, most merciful.″

Born in Morocco, Mohammed al-Fassi moved to Saudi Arabia when he was about 10. His father, a wealthy merchant, supplied goods to the royal family.

Don Baker

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Don Baker, a Democratic political strategist who help managed campaigns of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt and Senate candidate Harvey Gantt, died Wednesday in New York. He was 52 and had been diagnosed with abdominal cancer three weeks ago.

Baker ran Watt’s 12th Congressional district office and was known as an expert in organizing political operatives and precinct captains statewide. He worked for Senate candidate Erskine Bowles in the fall.

A native of Carlisle, Ark., Baker became the first black student at Carlisle High School in 1964. He went on to study social work at Henderson State University, then worked in Rhode Island and Illinois before coming to Charlotte in the early 1970s.

In 1975, he volunteered for Gantt’s first Charlotte City Council campaign. He helped manage Gantt’s two unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaigns against Jesse Helms and Watt’s six congressional races.

A marathon runner, Baker felt unusual pain in his legs and feet during a run one day last month. The diagnosis came Dec. 10.

B. Meredith Burke

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) _ B. Meredith Burke, a demographer and writer who fought for immigration reform died Dec. 11. She was 55.

Burke left a suicide note and apparently took her own life, a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department said.

Burke had a master’s degree and a doctorate in demographics from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in economics from the University of Southern California.

She was a senior writing fellow for Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization, where she campaigned to limit immigration through commentaries published in major newspapers.

Burke often argued that U.S. immigration policy was the main factor in sharp rises in California’s population and a root cause of environmental degradation.

She was also interested in women’s rights and public health issues. She co-authored a book on prenatal testing and founded Lariam Action USA, an information service for users of the anti-malaria drug mefloquine.

Patricia Brooks Carey

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) _ Patricia Brooks Carey, who founded the planetarium that grew into a space museum housing the Apollo 13 and Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft, died Wednesday. She was 81.

Carey launched the space museum in 1962 as a small planetarium in the poultry house on the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

After moving to the science building at Hutchinson Community College in the mid-1960s, the planetarium grew from a two-person operation into a space museum attracting about 285,000 visitors each year and employing about 70 people.

The museum features the multistory IMAX Dome Theater, the Hall of Space Museum and such educational programs as the Future Astronaut Training Program. The museum also is home to one of the most significant collections of American and Russian space artifacts in the world.

Carey and the Cosmosphere’s achievements were honored in June with the unveiling of 7-by-14 foot mural in the lobby of the museum’s IMAX Dome Theater.

Kazimierz Dejmek

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Kazimierz Dejmek, a stage director whose work sparked a student-led revolt against the communist government, died Tuesday. He was 78.

Born May 17, 1924 in the then-Polish city of Kovle, now part of Ukraine, Dejmek was known for his political productions, most notably the 1968 production of ``Dziady,″ or ``Forefathers.″

Authorities said the production criticized Poland’s allegiance to Moscow and banned it, provoking a student revolt that grew into broad criticism of the government and calls for greater freedoms.

Following the events of March 1968, Dejmek quit the communist party. He served as Polish culture minister in 1993 and from 1995-96.

Before his death, he was working on a production of Shakespeare’s ``Hamlet″ that was to open Jan. 30 at the New Theater in the central city of Lodz, some 90 miles southwest of Warsaw. The theater plans to go ahead with the performances.

Joe Foss

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ Joe Foss, a World War II hero who shot down 26 enemy planes as a Marine pilot and later became governor of South Dakota, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Foss, who also served as president of the National Rifle Association, commissioner of the American Football League and a TV outdoorsman, had not regained consciousness after suffering an apparent aneurysm last fall. He died at a hospital in Arizona, said South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow.

Foss led a Marine air unit known as Joe’s Flying Circus that shot down 72 Japanese planes. He downed 26 planes himself, tying the U.S. aerial record Eddie Rickenbacker set in World War I.

Foss became a well-known war hero; a 1943 Life magazine cover proclaimed him ``America’s No. 1 Ace.″

He also served as a colonel in the Air Force in the Korean War and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, Silver Star and Purple Heart. In 1984, he was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.

Foss was featured prominently in Tom Brokaw’s book ``The Greatest Generation.″

After the war, Foss, a Republican, served in the state Legislature for five years before becoming governor from 1955 to 1959.

He then became the first commissioner of the American Football League, which began play in 1960 to challenge the established National Football League. Foss held the post until 1966, and the leagues merged in 1970.

He also hosted two television sportsmen’s shows, ``The American Sportsman″ and ``The Outdoorsman: Joe Foss″ and was president of the National Rifle Association from 1988 to 1990.

Hector McGeachy Jr.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ Hector McGeachy Jr., a president pro tempore and majority leader in the state Senate during the late 1960s, died Wednesday at age 85.

The son of a longtime Cumberland County sheriff, McGeachy served in the Legislature from 1961-63 and 1965-73. He was the majority leader during the 1967 session and majority leader and president pro tem in 1969.

McGeachy promoted clean water, supported law enforcement and worked for a court reform bill that became law in 1965. He also created the District Court system.

He lost congressional bids to Charlie Rose in 1970 and 1972.

An infantry division officer, McGeachy fought in France and Luxembourg during World War II.

Later, he became a senior partner with the McGeachy, Hudson & Zuravel law firm, where he continued to work until his death.

Although a lifelong Democrat, he supported the presidential campaigns of Republicans Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush. McGeachy was also a member of three presidential commissions on economic development and drug abuse.

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