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SOUND OFF: About that cause of death

Reader: Robert Price has always had the super talent of being capable of tap dancing around any subject without ever really addressing it. One of those friendly guys who talks all day and never says a darn thing type.

The stab in the back oil industry opinion column ("Time for Kern County to reassess its fight with the state over the future of oil," Oct. 24) was a great example of I'll be your best friend while I'm in front of you piece.

I had a knee-jerk reaction not to read the front page story on Sunday ("Delivered by a wagon train west, another of the Dust Bowl generation leaves us," Nov. 6) when I saw his picture attached to it. But, I saw the beautiful picture of Jane Dutton Maxwell and love Dust Bowl stories. My grandparents had their own.

Well, I made it to the sixth paragraph and know now that Mr. Price has indeed fallen off the port side of the bow. Including "COVID-19, from which she had recovered" as a cause of death for Mrs. Maxwell seems like a real stretch. What drama.

I recovered from West Nile virus in 2008. I don't think it would bear much weight on my death certificate hence the fact that I did indeed recover.

— Grace Morse

Peterson: I'm going straight to the source here, and letting Robert Price respond:

Obituary writers are supposed to ask the decedent's cause of death, and I did. Jane Dutton Maxwell’s daughter Katina Nelson told me: Her mother died Nov. 2 at the age of 91 from pneumonia likely associated with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Her chemotherapy treatments had battered her immune system, Nelson told me, and she had also recently recovered from COVID-19.

I did not ask Nelson why she mentioned COVID-19, since Mrs. Maxwell had bounced back, but my sense was that she included it as sort of an ironic tribute: Mrs. Maxwell was one tough, hearty lady for having survived this illness we hear about daily, only to succumb to other causes. I assume she also mentioned it to support the possibility that COVID-19 might have impacted her mother’s immune system in a consequential way. Both reasons are likely true.

But you, Grace, have suggested a third, rather cynical possibility: That I apparently added it in order to perpetuate an alarmist narrative. Well, it’s unfortunate you can’t let a remarkable woman pass in peace without making it political. (The fact that a virus can be political at all continues to baffle me. Some 73,000 Californians have died from this virus, and they come from all races, ages and political parties.)

As for the friendly stab-in-the-back to the oil industry: Telling locals we need to be prepared to move on from the oil-based economy that has defined us almost since the first white settlers arrived in Kern County is not some sort of a tap dance. I “really did address it,” and without the benefit of the “Happy Days” soundtrack you seem to think I favor. The vulnerability of Kern’s oil economy needs to be confronted: Just Wednesday, Erik Bartsch, president and CEO of Bakersfield-based oil producer Aera Energy LLC, speaking at the annual Kern County Energy Summit, noted that "The phase-out is happening today with no public debate.” Well, I’m here to debate, as are many concerned Californians.

If that column you reference had a shortcoming, it was that I failed to mention the public-private partnership known as B3K — that’s Better Bakersfield & Boundless Kern — which is looking for ways to solve some of the our transitional economic development issues and has a number of influential local contributors. I received supportive comments from several of them after that column was published.

I’m glad you recovered from West Nile, Grace. I agree it would not be considered a contributing factor in your non-Hodgkin’s death 13 years later. But it may prove to have contributed to your inability to make simple, medically grounded connections unencumbered by partisan considerations.


Reader: I have been in the county for 86 years. I would like to know why they quit publishing the House of Representatives How They Voted (box). The last one was March 12 of this year. Are they going to continue doing it, or are they just going to do away with it?

— via voicemail

Peterson: Good question. I addressed this months ago when that feature went away in April, but it's worth repeating for anyone who missed it: Richard G. Thomas, the longtime provider of the Thomas Voting Reports used by us and other newspapers, retired and ceased operations. We didn't want to cut that feature. It's simply not available to us anymore.

Executive Editor Christine Peterson answers your questions and takes your complaints about The Californian’s news coverage in this weekly feedback forum. Questions may be edited for space and clarity. To offer your input by phone, call 661-395-7649 and leave your comments in a voicemail message or email us at Please include your name and phone number; they won’t be published.