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Longtime D.C. activist Barrett Brick dies

Former GLAA president remembered for array of interests

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Barrett Brick, GLAA, gay news, Washington Blade
Barrett Brick, GLAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Barrett Brick (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

Barrett Brick, 59, a D.C. attorney who is credited with playing a lead role in advocating for LGBT equality on a local, national and international level for more than 30 years, died Sunday, Sept. 22, at a hospice care facility in Bethesda, Md. His death followed a 10-year battle with cancer.

Brick spent most of his professional career as an attorney in Washington working for the Federal Communications Commission.

But friends and colleagues said Brick devoted much of his free time beginning with his student days at Columbia University in New York as a key player and leader of a wide range of LGBT organizations.

He served as president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance from 2006 through 2009 after having served as the group’s treasurer, according to current GLAA President Rick Rosendall. He served on the board of the then Capital Area Log Cabin Republicans from 1995 to 1998.

Brick served as president of D.C.’s Congregation Bet Mispachah, which reaches out to the LGBT Jewish community, from 1984 to 1985 after serving on the congregation’s board from 1980 to 1984, a GLAA biography of Brick says.

The GLAA biography says Brick served as executive director of the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organizations from 1987 to 1993.

He served in the 1990s as co-chair of the Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity of the American Bar Association.

“In a town swarming with partisan hackery, Barrett consistently stood up for principle and put the greater good before self-interest,” said Rosendall. “His wide-ranging interests brought him multiple circles of friends,” he said, adding that Brick’s role as a longtime GLAA collaborator and adviser was “beyond price.”

Brick received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1976 and a law degree from Columbia University Law School 1979. During his undergraduate studies he served as treasurer and vice president of Gay People of Columbia and founded the Columbia Gay and Lesbian Law Students Association in 1979.

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project, which inducted Brick as a Community Pioneer credited with helping to strengthen Washington, D.C.’s LGBT community, said Brick was a leader in pushing for immigration rights for LGBT people beginning in the 1990s. In 2012, the national LGBT rights organization Immigration Equality selected Brick as a recipient of its Global Vision Award in recognition of his advocacy for LGBT immigrants and their families.

The Rainbow History Project also credits Brick with working with fellow GLAA member Craig Howell’s campaign in the early 1980s to persuade founders of the soon-to-be-opened U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to include homosexual victims of the Nazi death camps as part of its exhibits and stories of the Holocaust.

“With Howell, he met members of the Jewish Community Council in February 1983 to make the case for inclusion,” the Rainbow History Project states in its biography of Brick. A short time later, with the full support of Jewish leaders and holocaust expert Elie Wiesel, the Council agreed to include gay Holocaust victims as part of the museum’s commemoration of all victims of Nazi persecution, the biography says.

Brick spoke about the significance of including gay Holocaust victims as part of the museum during an event held one day after the Holocaust Memorial Museum was formally dedicated in April 1993. The dedication took place during the same week LGBT people from across the country came to Washington for a national march for LGBT equality.

“For the living and for the dead, for ourselves and for future generations, we and this museum bear witness to the truth of our heritage and our history – of community and survival, of terror and death, of love and resistance,” Brick said. “We preserve our stories, and we tell them.”

Howell, who worked closely with Brick on LGBT rights projects through GLAA, said he was “always witty, passionate and dedicated to our community’s welfare.” Added Howell, “Barrett made himself a truly indispensable man for so many years in so many ways.”

Barrett Brick, GLAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Barrett Brick (left) at a 1988 protest in the City Council chamber. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

In addition to his numerous LGBT political activities Brick was an avid soccer fan and reader of science fiction literature. His friends say that similar to his political involvements, Brick pushed for LGBT visibility in these two areas. He was an active member of the Screaming Eagles, an organization of soccer fans in the D.C. area that roots for the D.C. United professional soccer team.

He also served on the planning committee for Gaylaxicon 2008, the annual international science fiction, fantasy and horror convention for LGBT fans.

Antonio Ruffini, Brick’s husband, said the two met in September 1999 at a science fiction conference in Melbourne, Australia. As a native and resident of South Africa, Ruffini said he and Brick soon began a bi-continental relationship, with each traveling to one another’s country as often as possible.

Among Brick’s wide range of interests was astronomy and “eclipse chasing,” Ruffini said. Brick’s practice of traveling the world to witness an eclipse and on many occasions taking Ruffini with him gave the two a unique opportunity to spend time together in such places as Egypt, Mongolia and Pacific Islands.

“He saw 14 eclipses in different parts of the world and had been among the top 10 eclipse watchers,” said Ruffini, who points out that Brick was proud of the accomplishment of spending a total of 44 minutes and 57 seconds under the darkness of an eclipse.

“Barrett was very multi-dimensional,” Ruffini said. “The energy he had to get involved in all of these interests was quite something.”

In January 2009 the couple married in Johannesburg in a legally recognized ceremony under South Africa’s constitution, which includes a provision guaranteeing equal rights for gay people.

“Our plan was for him to move to South Africa,” said Ruffini, who noted that Brick had hoped to make the move in 2010 when he retired from the FCC after just over 30 years of government service.

But Brick’s bout with cancer, which had been mostly in remission since diagnosis and early treatment in 2003, resurfaced around the time of his retirement, requiring that he undergo aggressive medical treatment in Washington, Ruffini said.

He said Brick was scheduled to be buried Tuesday in his family’s cemetery plot at Beth Israel Memorial Park in Woodbridge, N.J.

Bet Mishpachah will hold a memorial service on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. in the party room of the Van Ness East condominium building at 2939 Van Ness St., N.W. Van Ness East is two blocks east of Connecticut Avenue and within walking distance of the Van Ness/UDC stop on the Red Line. There is limited valet parking available on site; street parking is available on Van Ness Street. All visitors must enter at the front desk, which will provide directions on accessing the party room.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Mindy Daniels

    September 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Barret Brick was a hero in our community, to GLAA, and a great friend to many.
    He died too young. I watched him heroically spit in the face of death for many years.
    You will always be in my heart and thoughts, Barrett.
    Mindy Daniels
    Former President, Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance

    • Kevin Ivers

      September 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

      Amen, Mindy. Barrett will be so sorely missed.

  2. Michael Beer

    September 23, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Barrett was a thoughtful, passionate, and witty friend. Well ahead of his peers, he actively encouraged a LGBTQ big tent in the 1980’s, including bisexual and transgender people. I so admire people like Barrett who are multi-dimensional and develop deep friendships in varied communities. His love and support will always be with me.
    Michael Beer

  3. Troy Petenbrink

    September 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    I am a better person for having known and worked with Barrett. Our community has lost a great thinker, advocate and friend.

  4. Judge Daniel Brenner

    September 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Barrett was a colleague and friend from our days at the FCC in 1979 onwards. His Hanukkah parties were always a highlight — no one ever had better decorations, and he made a point of adding to his collection for each year. Also, those who heard his addresses at Bet Mishpochah on High Holidays came away knowing his careful erudition, a sharp contrast to his often outspoken and colorful personality.

  5. Larry Levine

    September 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Barrett was not only a tireless advocate for many causes in and out of the LGBT community, but he was instrumental in bringing me one of the greatest joys of my life. Barrett was the person who introduced me to my partner at Bet Mishpachah. My partner was visiting Barrett from New York, and it was “Some Enchanted Evening” when I saw my partner for the first time across the crowded room before services. My partner and I have been together almost 33 years, and married in DC almost 3 1/2 years ago. Barrett, may you rest in a well-deserved peace.

  6. Sheryl Segal

    September 25, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Barrett was a colleague at the FCC, but we became friends because of our mutual interest in Jewish education. With Barrett’s and Bet Mishpachah’s help, the Jewish Study Center produced a thought provoking class series on Jewish Diversity that was, like many of his other efforts, way ahead of its time. May his memory be for a blessing.

  7. MPetrelis

    September 25, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    A fond memory, among many, that I have of Barrett is from the early 1990s. The State Department had begun issuing human rights reports and the first or second year of them saw a gay-related citation. I called the author of the report, requested a meeting with him to improve the gay citations in future reporter and he agreed to a meeting. My ACT UP colleague Margaret Cantrell said she would attend and we invited Barrett to join us. I think he was head of the World Jewish Congress at the time. Without hesitation, Barrett agreed to participate in the meeting and he obtained his own copy of the annual report so he could be familiar with it. At the meeting, he was the older brother to Margaret and I as we lobbied State to expand mention of global gay people and HR abuses. Barrett will always be my older brother with a big and loving heart, and fierce mind. RIP my friend.

  8. G Auve

    September 29, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Barrett was also a great supporter and friend to the Federal Triangles Soccer Club. He was a member of the host committee when we hosted the 1997 IGLFA World Championships of GLBT soccer here. R.I.P. Barrett

  9. Richard Kaplowitz

    October 1, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Barrett was at my wedding to Pat and I have a picture of the three of us together. His gift to me that day was a set of soccer referee cuff links for my tux shirt – one yellow labeled yellow card and one red labeled red card! My 1st wife and I and my current wife Pat attended and loved his Hannukah celebrations. I knew how important he was to the GLBT and Jewish communities and the world is a little less bright without him in it. Rest in Peace my friend!

  10. Frances Irene Chapman

    October 1, 2013 at 3:25 am

    Sorry to hear this sad news!

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Obituary

Longtime D.C. AIDS activist William Arnold dies at 83

Northern Va. native helped secure funding for AIDS drugs

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William “Bill” Arnold (Photo by Jim Driscoll; used with permission)

William “Bill” Arnold, a founder and leader of several advocacy groups beginning in the mid-1990s that helped secure federal and state funding for life saving drugs for people with HIV/AIDS, died at his D.C. home on Sept. 29 of complications associated with lung cancer, according to his friend and fellow activist Jim Driscoll. He was 83.
 
Driscoll and others who knew Arnold said he emerged as a committed AIDS activist shortly after moving from Westchester County, N.Y., where he operated a small business, to D.C. in the mid-1980s.
 
He was a founding director and served since 1996 as president and CEO of the Community Access National Network (CANN), which advocates for affordable healthcare services and support for people with HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis.
 
Arnold was also the founder and since 1995 served as director of the National ADAP Working Group, which is credited with playing a lead role in persuading Congress to steadily increase funding for the joint federal-state AIDS Drug Assistance Program known as ADAP.
 
ADAP, which operates under the federal Ryan White CARE Act, has enabled low-income people who often did not have medical insurance to gain access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs that since the mid-1990s have saved the lives of countless numbers of people infected with HIV.
 
Arnold has also served as the board co-chair and longtime board member of the ADAP Advocacy Association, which advocates for sufficient funding and improved operation of the ADAP program, including improved access to the program for people living with HIV.
 
A native of Northern Virginia, Arnold grew up in a family that traveled extensively overseas to accompany his father who served as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. He received his high school diploma from the Deerfield Academy prep school in Deerfield, Mass. Arnold next received his bachelor’s degree in China Area Studies from Yale University before attending the U.S. Army Artillery and Missile School from which he emerged as a commissioned second lieutenant in the Army, according to Arnold’s LinkedIn page.
 
Driscoll, who worked with Arnold on AIDS related projects beginning in the middle 1990s, said Arnold played an important role leading the ADAP Working Group’s efforts to persuade conservative members of Congress to increase funding for what they initially viewed as a liberal entitlement.
 
Describing Arnold as a “peace maker and a deal maker,” Driscoll said Arnold, a lifelong Democrat, “neither demonized conservatives nor canonized progressives.” Instead, according to Driscoll, Arnold “kept the focus on the needs of the patients and the value of the treatment for both the patients and for long term public healthcare costs.”
 
Carl Schmid, founder and executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, called Arnold an important figure for many years in the ongoing effort to secure support for people with HIV.
 
“Thousands of people living with HIV are staying healthy and alive today due to Bill Arnold’s work over the years,” Schmid said. “He was there at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and stayed active until his death fighting for access to antiretroviral medications and healthcare, particularly for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program,” Schmid said. “We owe so much to Bill, and he will certainly be missed.”

Brandon Macsata, an official with the ADAP Advocacy Association, said in a statement released by the group that Arnold “brought out the best in everyone who surrounded him, doing so with minimal effort because he embodied fairness and goodness.”
 
Macsata added that Arnold’s “ability to maintain a balanced perspective on even the most controversial, complex issues was a trait unique only to him. And Bill’s institutional knowledge about the 44-year fight to end the HIV epidemic is unmatched, and his passing has left a giant hole in the hearts of the lives he personally touched.”
 
In its statement, released on Oct. 1, the ADAP Advocacy Association said Arnold “left this Earth as gracefully as he lived his life on it for 83 years. Bill passed away peacefully in his home surrounded by Michael Pickering (his partner), Sally (his sister), Sue (his niece) and Leiden (his dog). It is truly a great loss for us and our community.”
 
Pickering couldn’t immediately be reached to obtain information about funeral or memorial service arrangements.

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D.C. singer turned Broadway star Julia Nixon dies at 66

Beloved cabaret performer brought diverse communities together

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Julia Nixon (Photo by Cade Martin; courtesy Craig Henson)

Julia Nixon, a singer, songwriter, and actress who got her start singing at D.C. bars and nightclubs in the 1970s before becoming an internationally recognized vocalist who played the lead role in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” in 1983, died Sept. 29 at a hospital in Raleigh, N.C. of complications associated with COVID-19, according to her longtime D.C. friend Craig Henson. She was 66.
 
Henson said that when New York choreographer-director Michael Bennett selected Nixon to replace “Dreamgirls”’ original lead actress Jennifer Holliday, Nixon assured her loyal D.C. fans that she would return to D.C. after completing her run with “Dreamgirls.”
 
Sure enough, Henson said, Nixon did return to perform at Mr. Henry’s in Adams Morgan, where she got her start, as well as other D.C. nightspots, including Blues Alley in Georgetown and Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill.
 
But during those years in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s and beyond, Nixon also performed as the opening act in shows headlined by some of the nation’s most famous singers and performers; including Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner. She also accepted an invitation by the late comedian Richard Pryor to join him on a world tour as his opening act, which brought her to Tokyo, Paris, London, Russia and other international destinations.
 
Among the places she performed in the U.S. included New York’s Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and Carnegie Hall. In D.C. she had also performed at the Kennedy Center and the White House and performed several times on the main stage at D.C.’s annual Capital Pride celebration on Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol before throngs of her loyal LGBTQ fans.
 
Henson said he and countless other fans of Nixon faithfully turned out to the D.C. nightspots, where Nixon performed when she returned to D.C. in the mid-80s and early 90s.
 
“Washington was still a somewhat racially divided city back then and it was Julia who brought together both black and white, gay and straight at Mr. Henry’s throughout the 80s and early 90s and where Julia won over her life-long devoted fans,” Henson told the Washington Blade.
 
He said she did this while appearing weekly at the Mr. Henry’s in Adams Morgan before sold-out shows, which included two back-to-back shows each weekend evening.
 
“Her racially and sexually diverse audiences came from communities all over D.C., with the mayor and a City Council member in attendance, always ending in a thunderous standing ovation demanding an encore—and sometimes going two or three more,” Henson said.
 
In a June 2006 interview with the Washington Post, Nixon told of her decision to put her performing career on hold around 1995 to raise her then-8-year-old son in her home state of North Carolina. Henson said this took place at the time Nixon and her husband separated and later divorced.
 
“Julia retreated to her home base of Raleigh to raise her son near family,” Henson said. He said that around the early 2000s, her son Nicholas, who goes by the name Nikko, who was around 18 at that time, secretly contacted Dr. Phil McGraw, the popular TV psychologist whose “Dr. Phil” shows highlighted the lives of people in all walks of life.
 
Henson said Nikko urged “Dr. Phil” to consider doing a show about his mother and her talented career that was at the time on hold, and he agreed to do so. In early 2002 “Dr. Phil” had both Nixon and her son on an episode called, “How Do I Get My Career Back.”
 
“Following ‘Dr. Phil’, Julia had a comeback show recorded live at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria to a sellout crowd of 500, ending with encore after encore,” Hanson said. “Her magic was back, and in the city where she launched her storied career.”
 
According to Henson, a short time later Black Entertainment Television arranged for Nixon to perform in a series of overseas concerts “representing American jazz music, winning over Russians, Europeans and South Americans with her amazing classically trained five octave voice.”
 
He was referring to Nixon’s studies in voice at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where she learned to sing opera. Henson also points out that Nixon’s father was a gospel singer at the family’s church in North Carolina, providing her with a strong background in yet another genre of music.
 
In 2006, Nixon won a Helen Hayes Award for her leading role as the character Caroline Thibodeaux in the Broadway musical “Caroline, or Change.”
 
Henson said recordings, including CDs, were made of some of Nixon’s popular songs, including a 1985 dance record “Breakin’ Down,” which became a hit in the U.K.; and a 2007 album called “Keeping on Track.”
 
A promotional announcement of Nixon’s return appearance at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill for a Jan. 17, 2016, performance with her longtime piano accompanist Dave Ylvisaker and her son Nikki, who also accompanied her as a drummer, appeared to capture the sentiment of Nixon’s longtime fans as well as those who reviewed her performances.
 
“Upon first hearing Julia Nixon, you notice people sit up a little taller and smiles begin showing up all over the room,” the promotional announcement says. “Julia Nixon’s classically trained voice is as enchanting with a 120-piece orchestra, a jazz trio or singing on a stool unplugged in the crook of a grand piano. You can’t help falling in love with this singer.”
 
Nixon’s last performance in the D.C. area took place July 3 of this year at the Birchmere. Henson said she had plans to return once again to perform at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill this fall.
 
“As fate would have it, or perhaps even Providence, her beginnings were with Mr. Henry’s as was her end—amongst those who loved her most,” Henson wrote in a statement to the Blade. “Julia was due to start back at Mr. Henry’s when COVID took her life,” he wrote.
 
“She once told me: ‘God gave me a voice to sing, and I’m going to use it until the day I die.’ Julia indeed fulfilled God’s intentions,” Henson wrote. “She will forever live in our hearts and souls. Thank you, Dear Julia, for the music, the love, the joy.”
 
Nixon is survived by her former husband, Chuck Nixon of Hyattsville Md.; her son Nicholas ‘Nikko’ Nixon of Raleigh, N.C.; and six siblings: James E. McGirt of Florence, S.C.; E. Albertina McGirt of Greensboro, N.C.; John E. McGirt of Rowland, N.C.; Gregory A. McGirt of Issaguah, Wash.; Cynthia O. McGirt of Raleigh, N.C.; and Lee E. McGirt also of Raleigh.
 
She is predeceased by her parents, John Neally McGirt and Julia Smith McGirt.
 
Information about funeral or memorial services have not been publicly announced by the family.

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Obituary

Remembering deaf lesbian pioneer Barbara Kannapell

‘A fierce leader decades ahead of her time’

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Barbara Kannapell died at 83 on Aug. 11. (Photo courtesy Mary Eileen Paul)

Even as a child Barbara Kannapell, who was deaf, experienced audism — overt and subtle discrimination against deaf people.

Born in 1937, she was nurtured by her parents and other members of her family who were deaf. They taught her American Sign Language, her native language.

Yet, “my experiences with audism started at age 4,” Kannapell wrote in a 2011 open letter to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

A principal at a school for deaf children tried “to make me say ‘United States,’” Kannapell said in the open letter.

“I struggled to say it right but I couldn’t,” Kannapell added, “She was so frustrated with me that she slapped my face.”

Kannapell, an internationally renowned linguist, educator and lifelong advocate for the rights of deaf people, died at 83 in a Washington hospital on Aug. 11.

Mary Eileen Paul, her spouse of 50 years, said the cause was complications from hip surgery.

Kannapell, known as “Kanny” to her many friends, championed American Sign Language (ASL), deaf culture and deaf identity.

Kannapell worked tirelessly to challenge the misperceptions of audism. The prejudices of audism include: the belief that ASL isn’t a language (just as English is a language); that deaf people should strive to “overcome” being deaf – and that deaf people achieve success “in spite of” their deafness.

Kannapell received a bachelor’s degree in deaf education from Gallaudet University in 1961, a master’s degree in educational technology from Catholic University in 1970 and a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics from Georgetown University in 1985.

She believed in social justice causes – from the Black civil rights movement to the LGBTQ rights movement.

Paul, who is hearing, met Kannapell at the Washington, D.C. gay bar Pier 9. She told the Blade this story in a telephone interview:

Kannapell and Paul, both white, with Ann Wilson, a Black mother of a deaf child, founded the Washington, D.C. group Deafpride. The now defunct group advocated for the rights of deaf people of all races.

“We brought hearing parents together with deaf adults,” Paul said, “so they could meet and learn from deaf people.”

At one meeting, Paul recalled, a deaf man spoke.

“His parents didn’t know ASL. They didn’t know what to do,” she said, “because they couldn’t communicate with him.”

“One day, as a child, he was outside. His dog was roaming freely,” Paul said, “but he was tied to a tree. Because his parents didn’t know what else to do with him.”

Kannapell worked with Gallaudet for four decades, beginning as a research assistant in 1962. From 1987 to 2003, she was an adjunct professor there. She taught at the Community College of Baltimore County as an adjunct professor, and later, as an associate professor, from 1987 until she retired in 2014.

Kannapell advocated for deaf people who struggled with addiction. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous, she had been sober for 50 years at the time of her death.

Often, the words “innovator” or “iconic” are overused, but Kannapell truly was a pioneer.

She “was years, if not decades, ahead of her time in every way,” Gallaudet University President Roberta J. Cordano said in a statement to the Washington Post.

“She was a fierce leader,” she added, “who saw and valued the essence of our community and who sought to ensure that it is inclusive of everyone.”

Cordano said Kannapell was “a strong advocate to the LGBTQIA+ Deaf community.”

“Kanny” was out at a time when it was unpopular to be so and lived her life authentically, Drago Renteria, executive director of the Deaf Queer Resource Center, emailed the Blade.

“She was one of our Deaf Lesbian pioneers and role models,” he said.

Kannapell and Paul were married in 2013 when same-sex marriage was legalized.

Jennifer Furlano, who is deaf and nonbinary, remembers the commitment ceremony Kannapell and Paul had in 1996.

“It was amazing,” Furlano said in a telephone interview with the Blade conducted with an interpreter, “My ex-partner officiated the ceremony. I was an usher. It was small – intimate.”

Furlano still recalls the moment in the ceremony when the couple kissed. Then, it was still often, difficult for LGBTQ people to be themselves, Furlano said.

“So they only kissed on the cheek,” Furlano added.

Kannapell loved dogs and football, Furlano said, adding, “you didn’t dare interrupt her during a game.”
R.I.P., Kanny! Thank you for your life and work!

Barbara Kannapell (Photo courtesy Mary Eileen Paul)
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