Fiat family member Susanna Agnelli had held several Italian political posts, including that of foreign minister. She was also involved in humanitarian and charitable causes.
(Carl Duyck / Associated Press)

Susanna Agnelli

Member of Fiat dynasty

Susanna Agnelli, 87, a member of Italy’s powerful Fiat auto dynasty and a former foreign minister, died May 15 in a Rome hospital. She had been at Gemelli Polyclinic since April 3 after breaking a leg in a fall.

Agnelli served as foreign minister for Lamberto Dini’s government in the mid-1990s and held political positions including mayor of a Tuscan seacoast resort, Monte Argentario, and senator in parliament.

Agnelli was the younger sister of Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli, the stylish business baron whose rule over Italy’s auto empire made him and his family a symbol of the nation’s postwar climb to prosperity.

Gianni Agnelli, grandson of the auto company’s founder, died in 2003. His eldest grandson, John Elkann, is vice chairman of Fiat.

“We Wore Sailor Suits,” Susanna Agnelli’s memoirs about growing up in Italy’s most powerful family, became a bestseller in 1976.

She was born April 24, 1922, in Turin, Italy, the third of seven children.

A Red Cross volunteer on a hospital ship during World War II, Agnelli devoted much of her life to charitable and humanitarian causes. She had been the head of Italy’s Telethon, a major TV fundraiser, since 1992. Agnelli started a foundation, Faro (Lighthouse), through which troubled Italian and foreign youths could learn a trade.

In the 1980s, she was a member of the United Nations international human rights commission.

The mother of six was divorced from Urbano Rattazzi, her husband of 30 years, in 1975.

In an interview with the Washington Post some years ago, she described the most difficult part of politics: “Sitting for days listening to people talk, talk, talk. Male politicians can stand up and talk to an empty house, where there are six people reading newspapers. I could never do that. It’s such a waste of time.”

Elsie B. Washington

Pioneering black romance novelist

Elsie B. Washington, 66, a pioneering romance novelist whose 1980 book “Entwined Destinies” was the first novel in the genre to feature African American characters by a black author, died May 5 in New York City of complications from cancer and multiple sclerosis, the New York Times reported.

“Entwined Destinies,” written under the pen name Rosalind Welles, was the only novel by Washington, a former business reporter for Newsweek magazine.

She also worked as a writer and editor for the New York Post and for Life and Essence magazines.

Washington was born in the Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 28, 1942. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the City College of New York.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel some years ago, Washington said she prepared herself to write her novel by reading scores of romances.

“I treated it seriously,” she said. “It was the very first ethnic romance. For all I knew, maybe it was going to be the only one. So I wanted to get a whole spectrum of black folks in the book.”

According to the New York Times account, the black romance novel genre is thriving today and its authors include Sandra Kitt, Beverly Jenkins and Rochelle Alers.

Jay Bennett

Former member of band Wilco

Jay Bennett, 45, a guitarist and songwriter and former member of the alternative band Wilco, died in his sleep Sunday in his Urbana, Ill., home. The cause of death was not immediately known. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, an autopsy was being performed.

Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy said in a statement Monday that he was “deeply saddened” by Bennett’s death.

Tweedy said Bennett made significant contributions to Wilco’s songs and the band’s evolution. He said Bennett would be remembered “as a truly unique and gifted human being.”

Bennett joined the band as a lead guitarist in 1994 but had creative differences with Tweedy during the recording of the album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” He left the band in 2001.

Earlier this month, Bennett sued Tweedy, claiming he was owed royalties for songs during his seven years and five albums with the group.

In the breach-of-contract lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Bennett also claimed that he deserved money from the band’s 2002 documentary, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” The film documents the making of the “Foxtrot” album.

A native of Rolling Meadows, Ill., Bennett was a founding member of Titanic Love Affair, a band that recorded three albums in the 1990s. After leaving Wilco, Bennett produced albums and released several on his own.

Oleg Yankovsky

Beloved Russian stage, screen star

Oleg Yankovsky, 65, a charismatic and versatile actor who was one of Russia’s most beloved stage and screen stars, died Wednesday in a Moscow hospital after a battle with cancer, said a spokeswoman for Lenkom, the Moscow theater where the actor worked for decades.

Yankovsky’s film career spanned five decades and included leading roles in many movies that endure as icons for millions across the former Soviet Union.

He was little-known in the West, but one of his last movie roles was as a religious leader and foe of Ivan the Terrible in Russian director Pavel Lungin’s film “Tsar,” screened this month at the Cannes Film Festival.

He also played leading roles in films of the brooding Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, including “Mirror” and “Nostalgia.”

Yankovsky was born in 1944 to an aristocratic family exiled to Kazakhstan under dictator Josef Stalin in the 1930s.

He was honored as a People’s Artist of the Soviet Union and had been decorated with three Russian Order of Service to the Fatherland medals since the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Msgr. William A. Kerr

Human rights leader, educator

Msgr. William A. Kerr, 68, a leading human rights figure whom serial killer Ted Bundy sought out to be his spiritual counselor on death row, died May 13 in Tallahassee, Fla. Kerr was hospitalized May 3 after having a stroke as he concluded celebrating a Mass.

In 1978, Kerr administered the last rites to a woman Bundy bludgeoned to death in her sorority house near the Florida State University campus. Kerr last spoke with Bundy two days before he was put to death in Florida’s electric chair in January 1989.

A native of St. Louis, Kerr attended the seminary at Cardinal Glennon College in his hometown and was ordained a priest in 1966. He later earned master’s and doctoral degrees in history at Florida State.

Kerr’s career also took him to the presidency of La Roche College near Pittsburgh, vice president of Catholic University of America and executive director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

Kerr spent many years in Tallahassee after being assigned to the Catholic Student Center at Florida State in 1971. He returned in 2006 as executive director of the Claude Pepper Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

-- times staff and wire reports

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