Life is like a highway — with a precipitous cliff at the end that we all must drive off. For the following Arizonans, the road ended in 2019. Those listed here represent just some of the people who died last year (well, one isn’t even a person), but they all had an impact on this state and beyond.
Died January 18, 2019
In the rap game, self-obsession and self-aggrandizement are the norm. Tikey Patterson, who performed as Trap House, played things differently. He was more selfless than selfish, and anything but ego-driven.
When friends speak of Patterson, who died in January 2019 at the age of 35 from pancreatic cancer, no one mentions achievements like opening for 50 Cent or getting name-checked by Billboard and The Fader. Instead, they remember his generosity, positivity, and influence. And the late rapper, who stood 6-foot-5, loomed large over Phoenix hip-hop.
Justus Samuel, founder of local label Respect The Underground, said Patterson used his music and status in the scene to benefit others.
“He was a leader, a mentor, and, most importantly, someone who carried himself with tremendous integrity,” Samuel said. “He helped out so many people, but never bragged about it. He just did it.”
And Patterson did a lot. In 2014, Patterson founded The Black Family, a collective aimed at uniting the local hip-hop under the banner of positivity. The next year, he began organizing backpack drives for underprivileged kids. And in 2016, Patterson launched “Put the Guns Down,” an initiative to curb gun-related violence in the south Phoenix neighborhood where he grew up and started rapping as a teen.
Meanwhile, he was producing and recording music with newbie rappers, including local teen Isaiah Acosta, who is mute from being born without a jaw. They collaborated on the 2017 track “Oxygen to Fly,” with Patterson voicing lyrics written by Acosta. The song went viral, became Patterson’s best-known project, and serves as a fitting legacy to his magnanimous nature.
“Everything he did had a profound effect on our community,” Samuel said. Benjamin Leatherman
Died January 22, 2019
On a Tuesday night in late January, John Bouma stepped into a northbound lane of North Seventh Street, near Glendale Avenue. Nobody knows why; police believed that perhaps he was trying to retrieve something.
A Toyota Tacoma smashed into him, flipping him into the southbound lanes, where he was struck by a Jeep Patriot. He was pronounced dead at a hospital, at the age of 82.
The esteemed attorney had spent three decades as the chair of the law firm Snell & Wilmer and was known for his philanthropic involvement.
The year before, 245 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, the Arizona Department of Transportation’s most recent data show. Those numbers comprise nearly a fourth of the more than 1,000 people killed in car crashes, and they are still rising: In 2014, just 155 pedestrians died in such accidents.
The wide boulevard of Seventh Street can feel like a veritable highway, where speed limit signs say 35 miles per hour but many drivers travel much faster. Yet investigators determined that the drivers who struck Bouma were not speeding, nor were they impaired.
After he died, former Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, former Governor Jan Brewer, and Governor Doug Ducey offered tributes. Bouma had served as Brewer’s attorney, defending her and the state in litigation over the fiercely controversial SB 1070. The law aimed at empowering Arizona to handle illegal immigration, but civil-rights advocates decried it as enabling racial profiling.
Bouma also led Snell & Wilmer for decades, growing the powerful firm from one lone office in Phoenix to 12 offices and hundreds of attorneys across the West and in Mexico. Elizabeth Whitman
Died February 12, 2019
Did you know that the woman who launched a division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People responsible for choosing legal targets lived and died in Phoenix? Did you know that, after a storied career in civil rights, the same woman dedicated her remaining years to philanthropy, propping up social-equity nonprofits in the Valley?
Jean Fairfax might not be a household name, but she left an indelible mark on this city and the country. One of her most formative moments, as she told it, happened in Mississippi in 1964. The Supreme Court had recently ruled on Brown v. Board of Education, desegregating schools. Along with that came a wave of domestic terrorism. White Southerners threatened black families who dared to enroll their children in white schools. The bodies of two civil rights activists were found outside the office where Fairfax worked as an organizer. Undeterred, Fairfax woke up on the first day of school and headed to the cotton fields to assure black students of their rights.
A 6-year-old girl named Deborah Lewis cried out, “What’s everybody waiting for? I’m ready to go.” So Fairfax held her hand and walked her into school.
In the decades to come, Fairfax worked with for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, helping protect Brown, integrating higher education, fighting for a national school lunch program, and more. The current president of the LDF called Fairfax a “master strategist.”
After settling down in Phoenix in 1986, Fairfax and her sister Betty established a foundation dedicated to philanthropy. She died on February 12 at the age of 98. Steven Hsieh
Died April 14, 2019
When John MacLeod took the job as head coach of the Phoenix Suns in 1973, the NBA team had never made the playoffs. By the time he finished his first stint with the franchise, a stint that lasted 14 seasons, MacLeod had led the Suns through nine playoffs, including an unlikely run to the NBA Finals in 1975-1976.
The Sundarella Suns, as they were known that season, did not bring home a championship, but did bring basketball fans one of the most memorable games in the sport’s history. Some called it the greatest ever. As the Suns headed into Game 5 of the Finals, they were tied 2-2 in a series with the Boston Celtics. What followed was a dramatic, triple-overtime nail-biter that ended with rioting fans, an injured referee, and a heartbreaking loss for MacLeod’s team. Despite the setback, MacLeod was gracious in his post-game interview, telling a reporter: “It was an outstanding ball game. I don’t know how a game can be more exciting than that. There are some things that happened on the court that I couldn’t believe. There were so many things you could talk about; just take your pick.”
MacLeod remains the Suns’ most winningest coach in the team’s history, notching 579 victories in his 15-year career as head coach. After leaving Phoenix for the first time in 1987, he served stints coaching the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, and Notre Dame Fighting Irish before returning to the Valley as an assistant coach for a season in 1999. MacLeod died on April 14, 2019, at the age of 81, after battling Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade. Steven Hsieh
Fleming Begaye Sr.
Died May 10, 2019
When Fleming Begaye was in high school, during World War II, the U.S. Marines were looking for Navajo speakers. Begaye enlisted and became part of a top-secret mission: to create an uncrackable code in the Native American language. Thanks to him and around 400 other Navajo code talkers who devised hundreds of messages in Navajo, the Allied Forces communicated quickly and securely in battle. The code talkers helped the Allies win the war, and their native tongue saved lives.
Begaye was born in Red Valley, Arizona, in 1921. He deployed to the Pacific, where he was wounded in battle, then returned to Arizona and married his girlfriend, Helen. They had three children. Begaye eventually became a businessman, running his own trading post in Chinle called Begaye’s Corner. Later, when the business closed, he farmed.
Begaye was honored for his service at a White House ceremony in 2017, though President Donald Trump used the opportunity to speak in his own kind of code. He referred to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” during his speech at an event meant to honor three Navajo war heroes.
Begaye’s granddaughter, Theodosia Ott, has said he scarcely talked about his service. The code talker program was classified until 1968, and Begaye suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. When he did start opening up later in life, Ott told the New York Times, it was clear “he was proud to serve our country.”
Begaye died in May at 97. An estimated five code talkers remain. Ali Swenson
Frances Smith Cohen
Died May 14, 2019
Frances Smith Cohen, who died in May at age 87, devoted her life to what she called “the dance.” A teacher, choreographer, and administrator, Fran (as she was known to friends, family, and students) was born in 1932 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Before becoming the Valley’s premier doyenne of dance, she co-founded the Arizona Dance Arts Alliance in 1963; a decade later, she helped create the first dance program at University of Arizona. Still later, Fran launched the Arizona chapter of Wolf Trap and acted as regional director of the program for more than three decades.
As artistic director of the local professional dance troupe Center Dance Ensemble, she formed Dance Theater West with her longtime collaborator and friend Susan Sealove Silverman. She wrote books about dancing; taught ballet to girls, boys, and young women; and managed to work the word “dance” into every conversation.
“I had no choice but to dance,” Cohen confided earlier this year. Her father, a professional gambler, said if he ever had a girl, she was going to be a dancer.
“Every Saturday at 8:30, he and I would take a bus from New Jersey to Newark for lessons in ballet, tap, character, and vocal … I choreographed my first show at age 12. I was on full scholarship at Miss Schwab’s school of dance, which required that I teach children. No one wanted the 4-year-olds, so I got stuck with them. I loved it.”
Cohen continued teaching children of all ages for the rest of her life, always insisting it was more than just a job. “I so wish everyone could dance through life,” she said shortly before her death. “What a beautiful world it would be.” Robrt L. Pela
Tardar Sauce (a.k.a. Grumpy Cat)
Died May 14, 2019
Never has an animal so sullen brought so much happiness to the world. And Tardar Sauce, known to millions as Grumpy Cat, did it with her famous frown.
Born in 2012 to Morristown, Arizona, resident Tabatha Bundesen, the female mixed-breed feline (her mother was a calico while the father was a gray-and-white tabby) became Arizona’s most famous cat and an internet phenom a few months into her short life.
Tardar, so named because her speckled coloring as a kitten reminded Bundesen’s daughter of actual tartar sauce, was afflicted with a form of feline dwarfism that caused her front legs to grow shorter than normal, as well as her signature scowl.
She wobbled into super-stardom when Bundesen’s brother uploaded a photo of Tardar Sauce to Reddit in September 2012; she was dubbed Grumpy Cat. The pic went viral and the rest, as they say, is history.
The perfect mascot for the internet’s unquenchable penchant for snark, cynicism, and cats, her lovable glower graced countless memes, tributes, and more than few bad tattoos. She became a pop-culture phenomenon and a cottage industry worth millions, including landing her own book, a deal with Friskies cat food (she was their official “spokescat”), and upward of 900 officially licensed items.
In early 2019, Tardar Sauce developed a urinary tract infection that caused her death at the age of 7. True to form, it inspired even more memes, including one where she was clutched in the bosom of Jesus Christ. We’re sure she would’ve hated it. Benjamin Leatherman
Died July 4, 2019
Elijah Al-Amin, 17, was killed for listening to rap music on the Fourth of July.
Al-Amin was stabbed to death, his throat slit, as he left a Peoria Circle K.
His suspected killer, a 27-year-old white man named Michael Paul Adams, allegedly told police he attacked the black teen because he “felt threatened by the music” Al-Amin was playing in his car. He also said “people who listen to rap music,” who he identified as black, Latino, and Native American, according to the police report, are a threat to him and the community.
The boy’s death sparked national outrage, with posts under the hashtag #JusticeForElijah trending on Twitter as users called for the case to be investigated as a hate crime by the Department of Justice. Prominent activists and advocates called on law enforcement to avoid using mental illness as a shield for white supremacy. Early media coverage of the murder of Al-Amin primarily featured Adams’ lawyer, who blamed a lack of available mental health services for his client’s actions.
Arizona doesn’t have a separate charge for hate crimes, but racial situations can be considered as aggravating factors in sentencing decisions. It’s too early to tell if it will be counted as such, as Adam’s trial was still ongoing as of December 2019.
To date, nothing additional has been announced about the FBI investigation. Hannah Critchfield
Tom the Street Musician
Died July 16, 2019
If you’ve ever made the First or Third Friday rounds along Grand Avenue, you’ve likely spotted a musician named Tom. He often sat atop a stool in front of a simple mic stand, strumming his guitar, dressed in dark clothing and boots. Plenty of regulars at the event miss his presence.
Tom often played in front of Abe Zucca Gallery, one of several creative spaces located inside the historic Bragg’s Pie Factory building. He’d sit just outside the door, performing under trees where local creatives have devised a hanging garden with dolls and toys suspended from branches. To his left, Tom kept an open guitar case on the ground, where people could set tip money, and his little Chihuahua, Pearl, would curl up and watch the world go by.
“To me, he was what Jim Morrison was referencing when he said ‘lizard king,’ the Southwest troubadour that traded songs of content for songs of loss,” Zucca told New Times in August.
Still, the people who passed by as Tom performed had no way of knowing he was struggling. To many, he might have seemed like just another musician out to make a few extra bucks entertaining the art walk crowd. Yet Tom, who occasionally told people he had heart problems, was homeless. His age was unknown.
One of the locals who knew him, Azul Peralta, co-owner of El Charro Hipster Bar & Café, put a message out on Facebook after Tom’s death, asking if anyone had seen Pearl. Beatrice Moore, a Grand Avenue artist, knew where to look, and helped Peralta find Pearl, who now has a new home. Jason Keil and Lynn Trimble
William 'Wonderful' Jenkins
Died August 27, 2019
If you want to know how many lives a piece of art touched, you can attach a dollar amount to quantify its reach. It’s a little more difficult to determine all the souls affected by William Jenkins, better known as William Wonderful.
The street poet died on August 27 after battling a short-term aggressive cancer. He was 71 years old.
If you were to speak to someone in the Maple-Ash Neighborhood in Tempe or the Mill Avenue Zia Records location down the street, or caught one of his performances at The Nash in Phoenix, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn’t changed for the better after meeting him.
“It was a treat watching him hustling his poems and interact with people,” JJ Horner told Phoenix New Times. “He had a really nice way of getting people to come out of their shells, off their phones, and actually engage with someone face to face.”
In an online video from years ago that chronicled the life of Jenkins, whose nickname was inspired by the predicted Savior in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, (“his name shall be called Wonderful...”), would often be seen carrying collections of his self-published collections.
“Everything I write has a purpose,” he says, “and generally the purpose is to inspire someone who, for whatever reason, is missing the mark.” Jason Keil
Died October 2, 2019
Bill Bidwill owned a habitually losing team, but he wasn’t a loser. Far from it. He was a wealthy family man who did what he wanted to do with his life, and that was own an NFL team and pass that legacy on to his kids. Bidwill, along with Circle K mogul Karl Eller (who also died last year), made Arizona a pro-football state. Bidwill eschewed investment in his team, but Arizonans would tolerate a mediocre team versus having no team. Still, the Cards did make it to the Super Bowl in 2009 and nearly won against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bidwill, whose full name was William Vogel Bidwill, became part of his parents’ sports venture starting as a young child. He wasn’t born into his sports-oriented family. He and his brother Charles were adopted by their parents, Charles and Violet, who had owned the Cardinals since the 1930s. The siblings didn’t know they were adopted until after Violet’s death.
Living his way meant enhancing his Catholic faith with what Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix called a “considerable” impact on Catholic education. He was a believer in hiring minorities, winning a prestigious award in 2010 for an “extraordinary” commitment to diversity in the team’s office and coaching staff.
“We will remember him as a man devoted to the three central pillars of his life — his immense faith, his love for his family and his life-long passion for the Cardinals and the sport of football,” Michael Bidwill, his son and the team’s current president, said in a statement. Bill Jr. is the vice president. The 88-year-old left behind three other kids, 10 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Ray Stern
Died October 17, 2019
Stephanie Serrano held many positions in her 65 years, including co-owner of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants. Serrano is survived by her seven siblings, and they, including her, had just celebrated 100 years as a family-owned business in Chandler.
The Mesa-born Serrano was a major player in the east Valley, attending Seton Catholic Preparatory, working at Serrano’s Department Stores, and eventually becoming a well-known restaurateur. Serrano also co-owned Brunchies in downtown Chandler for 35 years, co-founded Salina’s Mexican Restaurant in Chesterfield, Missouri, and oversaw payroll and accounting for all Serrano’s locations.
Serrano was community-driven, getting elected to the Chandler City Council in 1988 for one four-year term of office, and serving on the Chandler Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She was also a devout Catholic, and her “faith and family were the greatest treasures of her life.” After a six-year battle with breast cancer, Serrano died on October 17, surrounded by her family. Lauren Cusimano
Charles Robert Balogh Jr.
Died November 21, 2019
Organ Stop Pizza is known for two things — pizza and the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. One of three organists to operate the iconic organ was Charlie Balogh, who died from stroke complications on November 21 at age 68. The Trenton, New Jersey-born Balogh studied the organ at Trenton State College, later winning the American Theatre Organ Society’s Organist of the Year award in 2000.
Balogh was an organist at Organ Stop Pizza’s first location, in Phoenix, from 1973 to 1976, then returned to the Valley to perform at the Mesa location in 1991. He remained on staff till his death. Words of remembrance were soon posted to the Organ Stop Pizza’s website: “Charlie is considered one of the pioneers in combining the sounds of the theater organ with electronic music to create a musical experience never heard before,” it reads. “His vision to combine the two has brought a whole new generation to the world of theater organ, his legacy will live on forever.” Lauren Cusimano
Victoria Gabaldon Chavez
Died November 24, 2019
In 1977, Springerville, Arizona, welcomed a New Mexican-style food joint to the fold called Los Dos Molinos, owned and operated by a husband-and-wife team. Eddie and Victoria Chavez opened a second site of “The Two Grinders” in Phoenix in 1984 (eventually closing the Springerville spot).
In 1990, the Valley’s flagship location of Los Dos Molinos opened in the now-iconic, adobe-constructed house-restaurant in south Phoenix, with two more following in Mesa. Born in Aragon, New Mexico, Victoria Gabaldon Chavez was the matriarch of the local restaurant chain, acting as chef and co-owner. She died on November 24 at 85.
Chavez seemed playful and honest, posting on the restaurant’s website a quick heat advisory — “I am sorry, we do not provide mild sauce. I do not know how to make ‘mild.’” Her obituary states how Chavez worked until she couldn’t work anymore and died at her own Lazy EA Ranch. The Los Dos Molinos restaurants continue to be operated by her children and grandchildren. Lauren Cusimano
Died November 26, 2019
Imagine a time when politics weren’t as polarized, when Republican and Democrat pols would sometimes reach across the aisle and help get done the business of the people. Beverly (Bev) Hermon came from that time.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Beverly Sears was a musician and art lover who met and married her husband, Robert Hermon, at Drake University. They moved to Tempe in 1962, where Bev Hermon’s interest in local policy and politics blossomed. She joined the Tempe Women’s Republican Club and got elected to the Tempe City Council, where she served for eight years. She continued her winning streak in the Arizona Legislature, serving alternately as Representative and State Senator for 12 years. She was instrumental in creating Arizona’s charter school law in 1994.
Hermon was pro-choice, unlike many Arizona GOP politicians in the past and today. A few years ago, she also encouraged vaccinations. Her son, Eric, developed an intellectual disability after catching the measles when he was 3. The experience turned into a lifelong calling to improve the lives of disabled people; she would go on to lead the Arizona Consortium for Children with Chronic Illness and the Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities. She was 86 when she died.
Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who was inspired by Hermon at an early age and attended her memorial service in November, said she was “one of the most caring people I’ve ever met. Although she was very firm, every decision she made was about the state of Arizona — it was never about political parties.” Ray Stern
Died December 2, 2019
Thanks to bad management and despicable practices, Stan Devereaux only released one single with his band The Trendsetters — the soulful and psychedelic “Sad Tomorrows.” But what a track it was, with a killer bass hook and stunning vocals by Devereaux.
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A recent New Times profile lists his age as 73, but many say he was 72 when he died of natural causes. Local music historian John “Johnny D” Dixon told us in June 2019 that he was “old enough to appreciate doo-wop but also a lot of that funk stuff.”
“Sad Tomorrows,” released in 1967, opened up the music world for the man who would become the 2015 Arizona Blues Hall of Fame Inductee.
Throughout his career, the Safford resident traveled across the globe, working for bands such as Sly and the Family Stone and the Doobie Brothers. He became a legend in Phoenix, performing at The Rhythm Room for decades. Dixon discovered some unreleased Devereaux gems in his archives, and with the help of President Gator Records, those songs saw the light of day on this year’s album Stars of the Southwest, but Devereaux never stopped entertaining.
“I don’t have any regrets,” he told New Times. “I’m a singer, and I’ve always been a singer. When I die, I’m gonna be a singer.” Jason Keil