* Merritt M. Burnett, 109; Slave’s Grandson
Merritt M. Burnett, 109, the grandson of a slave. He attributed his longevity to doing all things in moderation and smoked cigars until he was 107. Born in Bloomingdale, Ind., in 1890, Burnett retired from the Export-Import Bank in Washington as head messenger in 1960 and later opened his home to Howard University students for room and board. In an interview with National Public Radio on the first Emancipation Day celebration in Washington several years ago, Burnett said he learned about slavery from his grandmother who, like Harriet Tubman, helped blacks escape through the Underground Railroad. Burnett said he met lots of former slaves when he moved to Oklahoma City in the early 1900s. He recalled encountering an elderly ex-slave who said his master used to lock him in a stall and force him to breed. "[They] kept him tied in the house, and they used him to get the children--young girls--pregnant, early as 12 years old, and made him a very sad man,” Burnett said. On Tuesday of prostate cancer at Howard University Hospital in Washington.
* Francis Gherini; Sued U.S. Over Ranch
Francis Gherini, 84, who fought and won a battle with the federal government after it seized his Santa Cruz Island ranchland for a park. Gherini, who was born in San Francisco and lived in Ventura, was the patriarch of a family that since 1880 had owned thousands of acres of land on Santa Cruz Island, one of the Channel Islands off the Ventura County coast. A lawyer who specialized in immigration issues, Gherini was for a decade the only attorney in the county to speak Spanish, family members told The Times. His battle with the National Park Service started in 1997 after the service condemned and seized his 6,200 acres on the island. The park service offered to pay him $4 million for the property, but Gherini considered that a paltry sum and decided to sue. This February, after a three-week trial, a jury awarded him $12.7 million. But his health had been in decline of late. Gherini had a quadruple bypass late last year and was also required to undergo dialysis three times a week. On Tuesday from a head injury he sustained after collapsing in the driveway of his daughter’s home.
* Vida Ratzlaff Hackman; Conceptual Artist
Vida Ratzlaff Hackman, 64, an artist in a variety of media who exhibited extensively in the Los Angeles area for nearly 20 years and was one of the founders of Triad Graphic Workshop. Born in Bakersfield, Hackman received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC Santa Barbara and a second master’s at Cal State Northridge. She began an on-and-off teaching career at several institutions, including West Los Angeles College, in 1969. Her art making was a succession of meditations upon ideas. Etymological analysis coupled with humor and a profound sense of the ironic were among her tools. She had at least seven solo exhibitions at the Orlando Gallery in Sherman Oaks. Of her last show at the Orlando in 1998, a Times critic said, “The conceptual art spirit is alive and well in her.” But as with many artists, Hackman’s success in her field did not always yield financial rewards. “The better she got, the less money she made as an artist,” her friend and printmaking colleague Henry F. Klein said. Her final show, “The Bridge and the Boat,” is on display at the the Todd Madigan Art Gallery at Cal State Bakersfield through May 6. Of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on April 15.
* Mark Weiser; Computer Expert, Visionary
Mark Weiser, 46, a computer expert and visionary in his field who was also the chief technologist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Known as the father of “ubiquitous computing,” Weiser believed that computers should be unobtrusive components of everyday life. That notion meant basically fitting computers to people rather than the opposite. In his view, small was better, and he looked for ways to put computers in common items like clothing, a radical departure from large mainframe computers or even the desktop models of today. Born in Chicago and raised in New York, Weiser excelled in computer science at the University of Michigan after dropping out of New College in Sarasota, Fla. He received a master’s degree from Michigan in 1976 and his doctorate in 1979. He went on to teach computer science at the University of Maryland and became associate chairman of the department. Weiser decided to leave his tenured position at Maryland for Xerox in 1987. On Tuesday in Palo Alto of complications from cancer. (For more on Weiser, please see Charles Piller’s Innovation column on C6.)