Remembering those we lost in 2021: As family, friends, and colleagues, they inspired us, loved us, and made our communities better
They came from every corner of society: public figures, and plain folks behind the scenes. They all made a difference to others in the Philadelphia area, and their loss leaves a hole in our lives.
Some were famous and led public lives. They were politicians, doctors, entertainers, and athletes. Others were known mostly to their family and friends. They were grandmothers, caregivers, and beloved children.
In common, they affected our lives and communities through their words and deeds, and they died in 2021. In remembering them, we celebrate their achievements, and find comfort in our memories.
Here are some of their stories as we close out the year without them. We are all important to someone, and no one should be forgotten. Click here for more of our life stories.
Leonard Hubbard, Roots bassist
The virtuoso musician toured and recorded with the Philadelphia hip-hop band for 15 years. He first sat in with The Roots — including rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson — at a gig at Old City Coffee in 1992.
Babette Josephs, progressive state representative
The longest-serving woman in the state House of Representatives, 28 years, she was an outspoken advocate for people she considered oppressed, ignored, or in need. She was concerned about the minimum wage, crime and delinquency, health care, racism, and the arts.
Robert Schoenberg, LGBTQ rights activist
He was so instrumental in guiding Penn’s LGBT Center for 35 years that they named the building after him. He taught classes at Penn, Bryn Mawr College, and Rutgers University, and was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Social Workers, Pennsylvania Chapter.
Gloria Hunt Miller, volunteer and business owner
“She really was the mother of her [Camden] community,” said her granddaughter Alexis Combs. “She had this firm belief in service, and she served wherever she could.” She helped create the first library at Charles Sumner Elementary School.
Ruly Carpenter, former Phillies owner
He was just 32 when he took over for his father, making him baseball’s youngest club president. He helped build the Phillies’ farm system that won the team their first World Series title. He made Mike Schmidt the game’s highest-paid player in 1977, and signed Pete Rose before the 1979 season for $3.2 million.
KeVan Parker, soul food entrepreneur
He carried on his mother’s mission of feeding people deliciously with restaurants on South Street and in Reading Terminal Market, and a catering business. His restaurants hosted such people as Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith, Mo’Nique, and Patti LaBelle.
Mariya Plekan, survivor of Salvation Army building collapse
She survived the unthinkable: being pinned for 13 hours under the rubble of a Center City building in 2013, so thoroughly trapped that she could only gasp for air through a tiny hole and cry out for help. Doctors dubbed her the “Miracle on Market Street.” No one was sure how she managed to survive being buried alive for so long.
Elsie Commodore, indomitable girl who lived at CHOP
Born premature at 34 weeks, her daily routine included music; occupational, physical, and speech therapies; and just being a kid. She had a playlist on Spotify, and her nurses told her mother they found themselves humming some of Elsie’s favorite tunes when they were at home.
Will Daniels, cable TV pioneer
The founder of Wilco Electronics Systems Inc., he was an early pioneer in the cable TV industry and was involved in helping Philadelphia develop its cable franchising systems. He was a partner and minority owner with the Rollins Cablevision franchise, and later received equity when Rollins was sold to Comcast Cablevision.
Ruth Willis, hairdresser to the stars
She was a hairstylist who once styled wigs for singers Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle, and Cindy Birdsong, and who, with family members, opened a summer camp in Berks County for city children. She also worked as a model, seamstress, interior designer, and jewelry maker.