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Obituaries in the News

March 11, 2004

Chaim Berger

BUTNER, N.C. (AP) _ Chaim Berger, one of the founders of the Hasidic village of New Square and a mastermind of the theft of millions of dollars in government subsidies, has died in a prison hospital, friends said. He was 79.

Berger died Tuesday morning at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, where he was serving a six-year sentence.

Rabbi Meyer Schiller, a friend of 40 years, told The Journal News that Berger had cancer.

Berger was one of five men accused of embezzling $11.6 million from federal anti-poverty programs. He fled prosecution in 1997 but was arrested in Israel in 1998 and returned to the United States in 2001 to stand trial.

He acknowledged in federal court in 2002 that he and several other New Square residents defrauded state and federal agencies to benefit themselves and others in the village.


Ruth Ellington Boatwright

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ruth Ellington Boatwright, the younger sister of big band musician Duke Ellington, died Saturday. She was 88.

She died after a lengthy illness, said her son, Michael James.

Beginning in 1941, when Ellington formed Tempo Music, a company that owns most of Ellington’s compositions, he made Boatwright president. She also maintained a room in a home on Riverside Drive that contained many of his medals and honors.

During the 1950s, Boatwright hosted a radio program on New York station WLIB. She was also founder of the jazz ministry of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan.

When Ellington died in 1974, Boatwright oversaw his copyrights, contracts and business matters for years to come.

She sold a number of his musical scores and manuscripts to the Smithsonian Institution in 1991 and four years later, she sold 51 percent of Tempo Music to a New York publisher.


Eugene Theodore Booth

ATLANTA (AP) _ Eugene Theodore Booth, a physicist who was recognized for scientific and engineering contributions to the U.S. nuclear programs in the early days of atomic energy, died Saturday, according to Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel. He was 92.

Booth constructed the Columbia University cyclotron and worked on the Manhattan Project. The Atomic Energy Commission cited him for his achievements in nuclear physics.


Valerie Landon

CHICAGO (AP) _ Valerie Landon, a former WGCI radio morning show host, died Saturday after suffering a heart attack and stroke, her family said. She was 39.

She most recently had been working as press secretary for Chicago City Clerk James Laski, her brother Tracy Landon said.

Valerie Landon was born in Pontiac, Mich., and her family moved to Chicago in the early 1970s. She majored in communications at Columbia College, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1987.


Zaki Nassif

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Zaki Nassif, one of Lebanon’s most renowned singers and composers, died Thursday of a heart attack, his niece said. He was 88.

Nassif was found dead early in the morning in his apartment in Beirut’s southeastern neighborhood of Ein Rummaneh, Dalal Nassif said.

Nassif was among a small group of prominent musicians in the 1950s whose songs and compositions were accepted by Radio Liban and Radio Orient. He composed for top singers such as the Lebanese diva, Fayrouz, and Lebanon’s most famous singer, Wadih Safi.

During Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, Nassif wrote his famous anthem, ``Rajeh Yittammar Libnan,″ or Lebanon will be rebuilt.

The moving lyrics resonated at a time when Lebanon was plagued by violence and destruction.


Robert D. Orr

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Robert D. Orr, who as governor oversaw Indiana’s economic recovery following recession, died Wednesday, according to his former press secretary and longtime aide, Mark Lubbers. He was 86.

Orr was the last Republican elected governor in Indiana. He served 16 years in the state’s top two offices. Before being elected governor in 1980, Orr served two terms as Otis Bowen’s lieutenant governor beginning in 1973.

As governor, Orr presided over the strengthening of the state’s economy following the recession of the early 1980s. Orr’s major achievement was passage of a sweeping educational reform package in 1987.

The ``A-Plus″ package required student achievement exams, a new school accreditation system based on performance and rewards for schools that showed improvement. The program also added days to the school year.

After leaving office in 1989, he was named U.S. ambassador to Singapore.


Ayyub Thakur

LONDON (AP) _ Ayyub Thakur, president of the World Kashmir Freedom Movement, died Wednesday, a British Muslim leader said. He was 55.

Thakur died in London, said Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain. He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.

In 2000, Thakur founded Mercy Universal, a British-based charity to assist people in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between India and Pakistan.

Despite his illness, he continued to lobby foreign leaders to push for a solution in Kashmir. Last month, he attended a London meeting of leaders from both sides of the cease-fire line maintained between Indian and Pakistani troops.

Born in Shopian in southern Kashmir, Thakur held a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Kashmir and taught both there and at the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

After being imprisoned by the Indian authorities for his stance on Kashmir, he went into exile in 1981 and moved with his family to London.

India later unsuccessfully sought his extradition on charges of plotting Kashmir’s secession.


Miahi Ursachi

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Mihai Ursachi, a Romanian poet who was imprisoned in the 1960s for trying to flee his then-communist homeland, died late Wednesday. He was 63.

Ursachi died following complications arising from heart problems, said Lucian Vasiliu, the head of the Iasi Literature Museum, also a poet and a friend of Ursachi. He died in the northeastern city of Iasi where he lived.

Ursachi was arrested in 1961 as he illegally tried to flee then-communist Romania by swimming across the Danube River. He was caught before he could reach the former Yugoslavia, Vasiliu said.

After being released from prison in 1964, Ursachi found it hard to get employment because of his past, so he took temporary jobs, including working as a lifeguard.

Despite having fallen foul of the communist authorities, Ursachi won a scholarship abroad in 1981, a rare privilege.

He left Europe, and traveled to the U.S. where he worked as a university assistant in California and in Texas. He stayed in the U.S. until 1990, when he returned to the country, a year after the 1989 anti-communist revolt.

``He was poet of enigmatic clarity,″ said George Arion, a fellow poet. ``There is a mystery in his verse. He wrote about love, death and birth.″

After returning to Romania, Ursachi headed the national theater in Iasi for two years. He also was an associate professor with the university in Iasi and headed the local cultural center for the past four years.


Marilyn Yarbrough

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ Marilyn Virginia Yarbrough, a law professor who served on the Pulitzer Prize board, died Wednesday. She was 58.

Police, who were called to her home, said she died of natural causes.

Yarbrough served on the Pulitzer Prize board from 1990 to 1999 and the NCAA Committee on Infractions from 1986 to 1988, according to her resume.

She also was a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was associate provost from 1994 to 1996, and at the Duke University School of Law. She also taught in the Netherlands through UNC’s faculty exchange.

Yarbrough served as dean of the University of Tennessee College of Law from 1987 to 1991.