Robert K. Soost was an internationally known expert on citrus breeding and a longtime professor of botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside.
(UC Riverside)

Robert K. Soost

Expert on citrus plants

Robert K. Soost, 88, an internationally known expert on citrus breeding and a longtime professor of botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside, died of a heart attack March 8 at Petaluma Valley Hospital in Petaluma, Calif., according to the university.

Soost spent his entire 37-year academic career at UC Riverside, where he worked with James Cameron to develop important citrus varieties, including the Oroblanco and Melo Gold grapefruits, which were patented by the university in 1981 and 1986, respectively, and the Pixie and Gold Nugget mandarins.

Soost was born in Sacramento on Nov. 13, 1920. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1942, he served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II.

In 1949, he earned a doctorate in plant genetics at UC Davis. That same year he joined the staff of what was then the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside as a junior geneticist. In 1961, seven years after the station was turned into a full university, Soost was named to a teaching post. He attained the rank of full professor three years later. In 1968, he was appointed chairman of the department of botany and plant sciences, a post he held for the next seven years.

After retiring in 1986, he and his wife, Jean, relocated to the Northern California community of Inverness.

Kalman Bloch

Clarinetist for Philharmonic

Kalman Bloch, 95, principal clarinetist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic for nearly 45 years, died March 12 at his home in Los Angeles, according to his daughter, Michele Zukovsky, who is now one of the orchestra’s co-principal clarinetists.

Bloch was born in New York on May 30, 1913, and attended Columbia College. He studied clarinet with Simeon Bellison, a legendary figure with the New York Philharmonic.

When Bloch was having trouble finding work during the Depression, Bellison encouraged him to send out resumes to 100 orchestras around the country. According to Zukovsky, the only one to respond was conductor Otto Klemperer, who was leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Bloch traveled to L.A. and auditioned privately for Klemperer before playing for the full orchestra hiring committee. He immediately got the job.

Bloch was principal first clarinetist from 1937 until his retirement in 1981. For many of those years, he played alongside his daughter.

Albert Goldberg, then the Times’ music critic, wrote that Bloch’s playing of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto on a program with the suite from Anton Berg’s “Lulu” and Schumann’s Fourth Symphony, with Georg Solti conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was one of the highlights of the 1960 musical season.

Bloch also performed with studio orchestras on several film soundtracks, including “Sunset Boulevard,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “North by Northwest.”

John Leech

Co-founder of L.A.'s Onyx Cafe

John Leech, 74, a co-founder of L.A.'s legendary Onyx Cafe, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Wednesday, the county coroner’s office confirmed.

A hangout for literary figures and bohemians in the city’s Los Feliz area, the Onyx opened its doors in 1982. It hosted monthly art exhibits and poetry slams and was a launching pad for local musicians, including Beck.

Patrons included artists Peter Shire, Gronk, Gary Panter and Cam Slocum. A 1988 Los Angeles Times story described it as a place “where a lot of books were written and lots of black was worn.”

Originally located next to the Vista Theater on Sunset Boulevard near Hillhurst Avenue, the Onyx moved to its final location at 1804 N. Vermont Ave. in 1988. It closed in 1998.

Born in Surrey, England, on Dec. 23, 1934, Leech moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco in 1982 and started the cafe with business partner Fumiko Robinson.

Cliff Otto, 80, a photographer for the Los Angeles Times for nearly 30 years who worked primarily in the paper’s Orange County edition, died of pneumonia March 1 at a nursing home in Sun City, Calif., according to his wife, Fran. He recently fell and broke a hip, and also was battling kidney cancer.

-- times staff and wire reports