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Area lost its share of giants in 2016
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It was a tough year for legends.

In 2016, the world lost a real space hero and a big-screen space princess. Willie Wonka and Ziggy Stardust. An Eagle and an Okie from Muskogee. “Purple Rain” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” An iron-willed first lady, a Supreme Court titan and a revolutionary dictator. Arnie and The Champ.

Closer to home, Hall County and Gainesville saw their own passages of several men and women who had a major impact in government, business, education, media and community service. The list of prominent local deaths in 2016 include the following from Times stories:

Former principal Ben Fouts led with ‘calm, humble spirit’

Ben Fouts wasn't known for being a talker, but he made an impact that has his former co-workers and students in Hall County remembering him fondly. Fouts, principal at North Hall High School from 1974-80 and Lanier Elementary from 1980-95, died Jan. 10. He was 79.

Kathy Lovett, who worked with Fouts at both schools, said Fouts “led with a fairness and a calm, kind manner that could well be a model for others to follow.”

Prominent Gainesville attorney Dan Summer dies at 55

Dan Summer, 55, died Jan. 14 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The prominent Gainesville attorney and former Main Street Gainesville advisory board chairman was remembered for his historic preservation efforts with a plaque on the downtown square that calls Summer “a true visionary and preservationist for Gainesville.”

“When I think about Dan, I think about all he did for downtown,” said Dale Jaeger, Main Street advisory board member and downtown business owner.

Summer and his wife, Chandelle, opened Summer and Summer, Attorneys at Law, in 1990. They would go on to create Summer Historic Acquisitions, developing historic preservation in Gainesville and other areas throughout the state.

Longtime WDUN radio reporter Jerry Gunn dies at 69

Jerry Gunn, a longtime radio news reporter in North Georgia and at Gainesville’s WDUN, died Feb. 19 at age 69. A native of Winder, Gunn worked at stations in Rome, Macon and Albany before joining WDUN in the late 1990s.

In his career, he earned several state awards for news coverage, including the Green Eyeshade Award, earning respect and admiration from fellow journalists.

“Jerry was a good guy who was committed to keeping his community informed. And he always got the story,” former Times reporter Ashley Fielding posted on Facebook.

Educator Happy Kirkpatrick remembered for her work with children with disabilities

Happy Garner Kirkpatrick was aptly named. That’s how friends and family are remembering the former director of North Georgia Children Center, which evolved into Challenged Child and Friends. She died March 21 at age 82.

Kirkpatrick was named the Civitans’ Citizen of the Year in 1970 and Rotary Club of Gainesville’s Woman of the Year in 1971 for her work with children with disabilities.

“She could light up a room when she walked in,” said Rosemary Dodd, Kirkpatrick’s best friend.

Noted judge, attorney W.L. Norton Jr. dies at 93

Noted local judge, attorney, author and community preservationist William L. Norton Jr. died May 8 at age 93.

Norton was son of the late W.L. Norton Sr., founder of the Gainesville insurance and real estate firm. In his early career, he served as a law clerk, trial attorney and worked with the U.S. Attorney General Tax Division in Washington and as chief counsel for the Georgia Department of Revenue in Atlanta. He began a private law practice in Gainesville in 1957, including work with the Georgia Poultry Federation.

“W.L. was such an amazing person, with so many accomplishments, that it is impossible to describe him in a few words,” said Abit Massey, longtime director and now president emeritus of the Poultry Federation.

Norton later served as a bankruptcy judge for North Georgia from 1971 to 1986. He conducted national seminars on the topic and taught bankruptcy law at Emory.

He also worked to preserve historic sites including houses on Green Street, the Longstreet Society Piedmont Hotel and Healan’s (Head’s) Mill in East Hall.

Funeral services set Saturday for Good News at Noon founder Gene Beckstein

Gene Beckstein, founder of the Good News at Noon food and homeless shelter, died May 11 at age 93.

Beckstein, affectionately referred to as “Mr. B,” founded the shelter in 1987. The site at 979 Davis St. provides meals for dozens of men, women and children daily and beds for 20 homeless men. Supported by dozens of local churches, it also operates a food pantry and offers summer school programs for children.

“He had a magnetic personality that made the difficult seem easy and gave you hope and it made you want to volunteer,” said Ben Parker, board chairman and a Good News volunteer.

A longtime teacher, Beckstein and his late wife, Margie, began serving meals to the needy out of their home in 1987. He later reached out to a larger group of the homeless of Gainesville when he began to serve lunch at Melrose Apartments on Davis Street.

Businessman Richard Pope remembered as ‘visionary’

Richard Jackson Pope, a local businessman, entrepreneur and “visionary,” died June 11 at age 79 following a brief illness. His friends and business colleagues saw him as much more than a business leader.

“He was the first person to encourage me to ‘think outside’ the box,” said Mike Bow, president of E’arrs Inc. and a business associate of Pope’s for 33 years. “He was a positive problem solver, a visionary.”

Gainesville Junior College founding president Hugh Mills remembered for dedication to education

Hugh M. Mills Jr. was remembered as a key pioneer in higher education following his death Aug. 4 at age 93. Mills helped found Gainesville Junior College and served as its first president from 1965 until his retirement in 1983. The college later became Gainesville State College, and now it is the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia. The physical education complex on UNG’s Gainesville campus was named in his honor in 1998.

“Dr. Mills was an inspiring educational leader who dedicated his career to serving the students of this region,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs wrote in an email to the campus community.

U.S. marshal from Flowery Branch dies while serving warrant

U.S. marshal Patrick Carothers was killed when executing a warrant in central Georgia.

Patrick Carothers, 53, was fatally shot Nov. 21 while working with a team in Long County. He was a 26-year veteran of the department from Flowery Branch and served as the Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force deputy commander. He left behind a wife and five children.

Hall County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Scott Ware said he had known Carothers for at least 20 years. “He was a very nice guy and always a pleasure to work with,” he said.


Here are other prominent local residents who passed last year:

Jimmy Bagwell, 80, president and member of founding family of Georgia Chair Co., March 28.

Bill Edmonds, registrar at what was then known as Gainesville Junior College, May 15.

Margaret Rider Bates, 73, hairdresser and owner of The Hair Place at Gainesville Towne Center, May 24.

L.G. Gilstrap, 81, Murrayville minister and former deputy clerk of the Georgia House of Representatives, served 33 years in prison after being convicted on three counts of child molestation in 1988, May 29.

Ben Mundy, 89, manager of Hall County Farm Bureau and served as county administrator, July 11.

James Gilmer, 70, Vietnam War veteran who led several veterans organizations and was commander at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Aug. 3.

Ed Parks, 85, longtime businessman who was a partner in the insurance firm of Day, Reynolds and Parks, Aug. 27.

Gene “Coffee King” Burch, 68, manager of Common Grounds Coffee Shoppe and Deli in Flowery Branch. Sept. 19

Phil Mathis, 63, local builder and volunteer contributor to the Northeast Georgia History Center, Sept. 24.

Gib Cronic, 66, law enforcement officer in Hall and Forsyth counties, Oct. 19.

Dr. Hamil Murray, 94, physician/pathologist who served as Hall County medical examiner, Oct. 24.

Bob Painter, 82, former plant manager of Chicopee active in a number of civic activities, Nov. 4.

Lauren Beebe, 30, physician’s assistant whose courageous battle with cancer generated a following on social media, Nov. 21.

Grace Nell Hewell, 83, matriarch of the the Gillsville pottery family, Dec. 1.