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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.

The Inquirer looks back at those we lost in 2021, knowing that friends and family left behind are better off for having known those that we've written about.
The Inquirer looks back at those we lost in 2021, knowing that friends and family left behind are better off for having known those that we've written about.Read more/ AP

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.

“He wanted to be known for the type of music he was composing. And before he died, he was sitting there at night listening to the music, and he was so happy with it.”
His wife, Stephanie Hubbard

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.

“She wanted to fight for the people who didn’t have the power. Not the CEO. The little guy.”
Her son, Lee Newberg

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.

“People don’t have only one identity. It’s a very outdated idea to think that you’re either white or you’re gay or you’re Black or you’re lesbian. It’s multiple identities, and so we say that everybody is welcome at all of the centers.”
Dr. Schoenberg

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.

“Everything she did was civic-oriented. She was always about furthering your education. She always said, ‘Get a skill, get a job.’ ”
Her daughter, Pamela Miller Dabney

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.

“He was just a great guy. I had to sit down when I heard the news.”
Former Phillie Larry Bowa

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.

“I remember my pastor calling me and saying, ‘I’m getting these calls at the church. People want your phone number. They want you to cook for them.’ I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I could do this.’ ”
Mr. Parker

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.

“She was such an inspiration. Despite literally having half of her body amputated, she would motor around in her wheelchair and just had the biggest smile on her face.”
Her lawyer, Andrew J. Stern

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.

“Her personality radiated love and positivity.”
Her father, Travis Commodore

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.

“He was a visionary businessperson who never lost sight of the community from which he came.”
David Cohen, former senior executive vice president of Comcast

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.

“She was an amazing woman. She was inspiration, and a great role model.”
Her daughter, Renee Allen

Our ‘Remembering’ video series

Click here for more video tributes
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