Dwight Radcliff, an Air Force veteran who overcame homelessness to lead a national organization providing services for former soldiers facing similar obstacles, has died. He was 55.
Radcliff died Saturday of a heart attack at Marina del Rey Hospital, near his home, said Nicole Ward, a family spokeswoman and longtime friend and associate.
As president and chief executive of United States Veterans Initiative, Radcliff led a nonprofit organization that provides job training and placement, counseling and housing to more than 2,000 veterans and their families daily in five states and the District of Columbia.
Last month, the group broke ground on a new $34.9-million affordable housing development near Los Angeles International Airport for low-income veterans.
“Dwight was the kind of guy who from where I sit on the government side gave us a good sense of what was going on at street level,” said Peter Dougherty, national director of homeless veterans programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who had known Radcliff for 20 years. “Dwight never looked to get into the spotlight, he always looked to get things done. He cared so much for his fellow veterans, and that led him to be an inspiration for so many of us. His death is a huge loss.”
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson, who served in the Marines and also had known Radcliff for about 20 years, called him a “shining light” who had “the fire in the belly to help other veterans; he worked tirelessly.”
“He was a leader in assisting homeless veterans not only in Los Angeles County but throughout the nation,” Pregerson said.
Radcliff was born Oct. 4, 1954, in Los Angeles. He was raised in South-Central Los Angeles and after high school served in the Air Force from 1971 to 1974.
Radcliff was also a musician and during the 1980s worked on world tours with Stevie Wonder. Reached at his Los Angeles home Sunday, Wonder said Radcliff mainly worked as a technical assistant and was known for his humor and warmth. They stayed in touch over the years, and Radcliff had recently contacted Wonder about staging a fundraising performance in Hawaii, where U.S. Vets operates a program.
“I’m really taken aback by the loss of him at a time when I really looked forward to getting together and talking, catching up on what was happening,” Wonder said. “My prayers go out to his family and to veterans. His friends will remember the happy and kind spirit of Dwight.”
Radcliff later struggled with homelessness and substance abuse. In a 2003 story in The Times, he addressed his experience and how he sought help at a residential facility in West Los Angeles.
“He suffered serious problems himself, and I first knew him when he was getting his life back together,” Dougherty said.
He earned a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling at UCLA. It was a path he said other homeless vets could follow.
Radcliff also maintained a connection to his musical roots, playing bass in a rhythm and blues band of fellow veterans called Living Proof.
Radcliff joined U.S. Vets in Inglewood in 1997. He developed Veterans in Progress, a job reentry and housing program. He was appointed president by the U.S. Vets Board of Directors in 2008.
“Dwight was an intimate part of building the services provided” by (U.S. Vets, said Tim Cantwell, president of a real estate and development firm who worked with Radcliff to establish facilities for homeless veterans. “In every which way you can imagine, he helped to raise awareness of issues facing veterans locally, statewide and nationally.”
Radcliff is survived by his wife, Paulette, three sons and two daughters; and by his mother, a sister and three grandchildren.
Services are pending.