Notable passings of 2012

Some stories are harder to write than others. Obituaries are among the hardest, as the represent an obligation to do justice to the folks who have passed and hopefully to bring solace to their loved ones.

Some of Laguna's best and brightest died in 2012, but memories of them linger.

Among them, in chronological order:

Cartoonist John Lara


John Lara, whose irreverent cartoons appeared in Laguna Beach, Orange County and national newspapers, died Jan. 15 of complications from lupus. He was 57.

Friends and admirers packed the Little Church by the Sea for the memorial service — which like John's life, was filled with laughter and tears.

John's political and social commentaries in cartoon form appeared in the Chicago Sun Times, Copley News Service, the Orange County Register, the Laguna News Post and the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. His first job was with the Newport Ensign.

"We worked together at the Ensign," said best-selling author T. Jefferson Parker. "It was our first jobs and we became friends.

"He was so talented, so full of life and energy, he was a pleasure to be around.

"John saw other people's foibles without seeing himself as better than they were."


World War II Veteran Dan Huston


Long-time Laguna Beach resident and member of the Orange County Freedom Committee of veterans Dan Huston died March 15, just hours before he was scheduled to speak about his war experiences to high school students.

Dan earned 10 battle stars and two air medals as a pilot in the Naval Air Corps.

He knew the cost of victory and he tried to communicate that in his talks to students and community groups, according to Sarah Peters, who wrote about Huston's life and death in the March 30 edition of the Coastline Pilot.

Dan was also active as a Little League coach, a member of the Laguna Optimist Club, a supporter of the Pageant of the Masters, and a community watchdog who made his observances known to the public via commentaries in local papers.

"As a self-appointed city curmudgeon, I feel it is my duty to keep our community aware of what those rascals at City Hall are doing or not doing," Dan wrote in one letter to the editor of the Coastline Pilot.

Dan ran for City Council as a write-in candidate in 2004 on a platform that included the construction of a downtown parking structure.


Emmy Award-Winner Bob Henry


Bob Henry died March 18 at his Laguna Beach home after a long illness. He was 92.

He will be remembered outside of Laguna as the innovative producer and director of variety shows and series.

Present at the birth of the television variety show, Bob put his stamp on the genre for the next half century.

Bob was the associate producer in New York of the Colgate Comedy Hour starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1950. When Martin and Lewis decamped from the East Coast, Henry also moved to Los Angeles as a staff employee of NBC.

He broke new ground in television, helping African-American performers reach a broader audience.

In 1957 Bob produced, directed and wrote "The Nat King Cole Show," the first network show ever to star a black male performer. The show was so controversial that it ran without national commercials and several NBC affiliates refused to air it.

Flip Wilson was a standup comic when Bob directed a special starring him, a year before the series that made Wilson a household name.

Bob received both an Emmy and a Peabody Award for the "Flip Wilson Show."

During his 50-plus years in television, Bob produced and/or directed more than 25 different variety series and specials including "The Andy Williams Show" "The Emmy Awards," "The Grammy Awards," "The Captain and Tennille" series, "The Perry Como Show," "200 years of Comedy with Jonathan Winters," and a Bob Hope special. He also produced and directed "The American Black Achievement Awards" numerous times.

However, in town, the long-time resident was highly regarded for his involvement in community activities.

Bob served as Festival of Arts President in 2004. He was a member of the board for six years.

He was an ardent gardener and served as president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club for two years. He and his wife, Annette Henry, were honored as Gardeners of the Year by the Orange County District of the California Garden Clubs Inc.

Bob was also actively involved in promoting the building of a new senior citizen center in Laguna Beach.

He also appeared with the Laguna Beach Concert Band in its infancy, gave talks at the Assistance League and for the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, of which he and his wife were members.

"He loved Laguna," said Annette Henry, Bob's wife of 30 years. "For years his license plate was, 'I (heart) Lguna.'"


Laguna Terrace Park owner Steven Esslinger


Former Laguna Beach resident Steven Esslinger was in the process of trying to subdivide Laguna Terrace Park into individual parcels so the residents could buy the land under their mobile homes when he died of cancer March 23.

While a resident in Laguna, Steven was active in local politics.

"He was very important to the conservative cause, to which he was devoted," said Martha Lydick, president of the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn.

Steven was the third generation of his family to live in Laguna Beach. The family owned Duke's Burgers, which was located on the site now occupied by Ruby's Diner. Steven reportedly bought the mobile home park from the family trust to preserve it, rather than see the land sold for development.


Renaissance man Harry James Lawrence


Laguna Beach lost an icon when Harry James Lawrence died March 25. He was 98 and had been in ill health for several years.

Dubbed "Mr. Laguna," Harry was one of the city's most successful businessmen, a patriot, travel guide and Asian culture expert who was honored for his myriad community activities.

The Patriots Day Parade Committee named him Grand Marshal in 2008, 27 years after he had been named as the Citizen of the Year.

In 2001, the Chamber of Commerce presented Harry with a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Person of the Year Award, which was subsequently named for him and presented annually at the chamber's "Spirit of Laguna" Awards ceremonies. He was also the recipient of the chamber's Mermaid Beautification Award in the days when women were only auxiliary members.

"Business in Laguna Beach stands on the broad shoulders of Harry Lawrence," said Michael Kinsman, chamber president. "His contributions to the community are legion. He will be missed."

Harry's fingerprints are on some of Laguna's most cherished institutions, including the acquisition of Main Beach by the city. He was a founder of the Beautification Committee and the Holiday Bureau of the chamber that brought tourists to Laguna in the winter and raised revenue by an innovation called bed taxes.

He also founded the Civic League, dedicated to preserving the "Village Atmosphere," including a reduction in sign clutter that resulted in one of California's toughest sign ordinances.

Harry was a founder and board member of Lyric Opera, which morphed into Opera Pacific; a board member of the Festival of Arts; and twice president of the Chamber of Commerce, which he had helped resuscitate from its near-moribund state after World War II.

He served as Area District Governor of Laguna's Rotary and on Laguna's 1980 Committee, which forged the city's General Plan. He was very involved in fundraising for the construction of South Coast Hospital, the first one in South Orange County, and the Laguna Playhouse.

Harry served on the Laguna Art Museum board, twice as vice president. He chaired the Confidential Committee that worked to resolve rampant drug-related activities in town.

In 1980, the Rotary Club voted him the Paul Perris Award, its highest honor, and he was named to the advisory board of Woodbury University, his alma mater.

Throughout the years, Harry supported local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5868.

A World War II veteran, Harry rose from Ensign to Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy and by war's end, he captained his own ship.

The city recognized his accomplishments in 2009, declaring Oct. 1 "Harry Lawrence Day," celebrated each year thereafter on Main Beach, his most enduring legacy to the city.


Town volunteer Ed Drollinger


Ed Drollinger, whose unfailing smile and willingness to help others warmed hearts, died April 20. He was 86.

Ed picked debris around the library, attended public meetings, and was the voice that reminded Laguna Canyon Conservancy members of upcoming meetings.

He volunteered on the Beautification Council and at the Susi Q, the Veterans Memorial Building and the Laguna Beach Democratic Club.

Ed was an early male member of the League of Women Voters, signing up when the league first allowed men to join.

"He always said he joined as soon as they stopped discriminating," said Jean Raun, a long-time league member.

Ed had lived in Laguna since 1976 with his late wife, Kit, a ranking member of the league. Their home was a casualty of the 1995 firestorm, but they rebuilt.

A memorial service and reception were held at the Neighborhood Congregational Church, although Ed was not a parishioner.

"We are holding it there because the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship wouldn't hold all the people we expect will attend," said Sande St. John.


Writing coach, film maker Andy Heddon


Andy Heddon, who played a big role behind the scenes in Laguna Beach High School theater, died May 5 of a heart attack, just one day after his 55th birthday.

He had lunched with his mother and brother to celebrate his birthday. He talked about the novel he was planning to write and invited them to join him at the bench in Heisler Park dedicated to his father in 1985.

"That helped all of us tremendously that we got that last beautiful day together," Rob Heddon said.

The brothers were close, collaborating on movies, including the 2007 film, "Boxboarders," which was featured at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Andy grew up in Laguna, worked in downtown shops and at Tivoli Terrace in his youth and appeared in Laguna Playhouse productions directed by Doug Rowe, who later hired him as box office manager.

"Hiring Andy was one of the best things I ever did," Rowe said.


Coastline Pilot City Editor Cynthia "Cindy" Frazier


"Cindy," as she preferred to be known, battled pancreatic cancer for a year before succumbing June 15. She was 60.

She shared the story of her battle with readers of the Coastline Pilot and they were touched, as were her coworkers.

"Cindy was fiercely loyal to Laguna Beach," said her boss, John Canalis, Times Community News South Editor. "She championed her staff; freelancers and columnists took great pride in serving a community editor. Our entire staff is grieving."

She was convinced that community reporting was the backbone of journalism, but she also wrote plays and fiction. She loved cats and she loved her wife, Sharon.

Cindy was a little brown wren of a woman, but in her soul, she was a bird of colorful plumage who lived her too-short life with conviction and gallantry.


Patriot and community volunteer Harold Werthe


Harold "Hal" Werthe died Aug. 21 after a long illness. He was 82.

The Exchange Club, of which he was a past president, honored him for his many contributions to the city.

"People in town wonder how good deeds get done," said retired U. S. Marine Col. Charles Quilter. "They look around, see a small number of people involved in multiple activities. Hal was one of those people."

Hal was a Citizens on Patrol volunteer for 12 years with the Laguna Beach Police Department, an adviser to Fire Explorer Post 717 and a Neighborhood Watch captain.

He was one of the city's cadre of Santa Clauses that greeted children in the little cottage on Forest Avenue at Christmas time.

A veteran of the Korean conflict, Hal was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5868 and a past Commander of Laguna's American Legion Post 222.

Hal was a valued member of the all-volunteer Patriots Day Parade Association, which he first joined in 1975. He chaired the parade in 1979 and 1985. His wife, Sandi, joined the association in 1977 after they were married.

The Werthes were honored by the association in 1993 as Patriots Day Parade Citizens of the Year.


Dr. Eugene Benjamin Levin


Eugene "Gene" Levin practiced medicine in Laguna Beach for 41 years, right up to the day before he died unexpectedly, Sept. 15. He was 85.

He spent his last day with his wife of 60 years, Vivian, collapsing shortly after they had sipped wine and snacked on cheese and crackers in their garden.

"When I go, I want to go like Gene Levin," said Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger, who announced the demise of the highly regarded doctor at the Sept. 18 City Council meeting.

Gene's was a familiar face in Laguna. He had lived with his family and practiced in Laguna since 1972.

He was passionate about medicine and believed that every patient deserved quality care, his family said.

Gene served as the South Coast Community Hospital, now Mission Hospital Laguna Beach, as director of education in the 1970s, and on the Laguna Beach High School scholarship selection committee for students interested in pursuing a medical career, according to family records.

But his activities were not confined to medicine. He was a member of Laguna Beach Rotary Club for more than 30 years and a supporter of the arts.

He served on the boards of the Laguna Art Museum, the Laguna Playhouse and, most recently, the Laguna Dance Festival.

Always a sports fan, Gene rooted for the Lakers, the Dodgers and the Angels, but hockey captured his heart about 15 years ago.

Twitter: @coastlinepilot

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World