Two groundbreaking mayors, a prominent political consultant, a beloved pediatrician and children's advocate, and a respected police chief were among the notable residents of Bakersfield who passed away in 2018. Some lived well into their 80s and 90s, and some were taken much too soon.
Two of the most noteworthy were the city's only two living former mayors.
Bakersfield's longest-serving mayor was enjoying an active post-mayoral semi-retirement when, at age 77, he suddenly took ill and, within weeks, was dead from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a very rare affliction. He died May 19 and thousands packed Rabobank Arena for a celebration of his life several days later.
Hall, known for his gregarious demeanor and sartorial splendor, had been in relatively good health prior to an episode of confusion on April 24, which led to his diagnosis.
Hall's death came just a few weeks after he had stepped down as president of Hall Ambulance, the company he founded in 1971. His wife, Lavonne, was named president.
Hall served as the 25th mayor of Bakersfield from 2001 through 2016. He decided not to seek a fifth term. Karen Goh succeeded him in January 2017.
"I know he loved being mayor," City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan said on first news of Hall's death. "He looked the part, acted the part, felt the part. He loved the city of Bakersfield and took his role very seriously. He always set a good example and was an excellent role model."
MARY K. SHELL
Bakersfield's first woman mayor went on to serve two terms at Kern County's 5th District supervisor. She died June 14 at the age of 91.
Shell, a Bakersfield native who lived in her hometown most of her life, served as the city's mayor from 1981 to 1985 — making her the first woman to hold the post — and a Kern County Supervisor 1985-98. She also had two stints with The Bakersfield Californian, as a 17-year-old "cub" reporter helping the war-depleted newsroom in the 1940s, and as a Sacramento-based columnist who focused on state capital politics in the 1980s.
She was married to Joe Shell, the former assemblyman and gubernatorial candidate, for 38 years. Joe Shell died in 2008.
Here is a brief, collective tribute to some of the others we lost in 2018.
Paired with her TV host husband, Jimmy Thomason, she was Bakersfield's first lady of television, co-hosting "The Jimmy and Louise Thomason Show" on KAFY (later KBAK) starting in 1953. The Thomasons were chief rivals of Cousin Herb Henson, whose "Trading Post" show on KERO debuted about a month later. Both shows featured many of the major country music stars of the day.
Thomason died Jan. 15 in Long Beach at age 96. Thomason and her fiddle-playing husband were on Bakersfield airwaves until the mid-1960s, with two-year break in the middle.
With her fresh appearance and down-home style she was sought after by advertisers for live commercials on syndicated programs such "The Betty White Show" and many others. She declined major network offers in Los Angeles, preferring to remain in Bakersfield to raise her boys and stay close to her extended family. Jimmy Thomason, her husband 58 years, died in 1994.
Chief of police of the Bakersfield Police Department at a challenging period in the city's history, Patterson started as a motorcycle cop and worked his way to the top. He died Jan. 18 from complications of Parkinson's disease at age 81.
Patterson was hired by the BPD in September 1963. He was promoted to chief in February 1988, and retired in late 1992.
Previous chiefs of police Jack Towle and Horace Grayson "ruled by fear," said longtime family friend Richard Russell. But when Bob Price, later to become the city's mayor, took over as chief in the early 1970s, a new style of BPD leadership had emerged — and Patterson, who took over after Price retired in 1988 after 15 years, followed in that philosophy, built on honesty, professionalism and integrity.
Mark Abernathy, Kern County's most prominent and controversial campaign consultant for a 30 years, died on Jan. 27 at the age of 75.
Abernarthy was the force behind Western Pacific Research, a political consultancy that over the years helped elected House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, Congressman Devin Nunes of Tulare County and McCarthy's predecessor, former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas. WPR also ran the campaigns of dozens of conservative state and local candidates, including Shannon Grove, the former Assemblywoman just elected to the state Senate.
“Much has been said about my father, the great political strategist, but my father, the man, was a great and admittedly slow storyteller, a straight-shooter farm boy, an accomplished musician, a voracious reader and a devout Christian,” said daughter Margaret Abernathy.
Abernathy's wife Cathy, a political strategist and pundit, remains active on the local political scene.
THE REV. BERT MELLO
He spoke openly about his once-decadent lifestyle before changing his ways and becoming a priest later in life — most recently at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. He died March 21 at 64.
"I had a severed relationship with God and I had committed mortal sins, so I needed to make a true, full confession," Mello once explained. He said he attended confession, began going over church teachings and, at age 54, attended seminary. He was ordained June 1, 2013.
DAVID A. LEWIS
The World War II veteran was a father, a husband twice, an insurance man, a competitive runner, a U.S. Navy machinist's mate in the Pacific Theater during World War II — and friend and shipmate to a 23-year-old who never came home from the war. He died June 28 at 96.
Lewis, who survived what some have called the greatest sea battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was "wicked-smart" and "had a very good memory of the war years and the Battle of Leyte Gulf," said Dick Taylor, a Kern County veterans' advocate.
The estranged wife of Korn frontman Jonathan Davis was only 39 when she passed away Aug. 17 from the effects of five drugs, including cocaine and heroin. She has reportedly gone missing from a sober living home.
Jonathan, lead singer of the platinum-selling rock band from Bakersfeld, filed for divorce from Deven in 2016, citing irreconcilable differences. They were married in Hawaii in 2004 and had their first child together, Pirate, in 2005. Son Zeppelin was born in 2007.
Jonathan had often considered her his "muse," reports heavy.com. They had been active in the Los Angeles community during the fires and mudslides, helping rebuild homes and donating to various causes.
The longtime Latino historian, activist and politician served a term in the state Assembly and was later a college professor.
Ray Gonzales died Sept. 5 after battling kidney failure for several years, according to family members. He was 80.
"He was a coalition builder," said Oliver Rosales, a Bakersfield College history professor. "He was involved in so many facets of civil rights — from school segregation, to women's rights, to running for political office. He really laid the groundwork for a lot of the social justice activism that you see today."
The feisty former chairwoman of the Kern County Democratic Central Committee was a passionate advocate for liberal causes and politicians. She died Oct. 25 at 71 after a short illness.
Easter, known by the local Democratic faithful as "the queen," served as the county's Democratic Party chairwoman from November 2004 until July 2014, when she stepped down to care for her ailing elderly father. She remained on the party's executive committee.
"That was an elected position," she said at the time. "My position as 'queen' goes for life."
DR. JESS DIAMOND
He was born in the Bronx and served in the European Theater during World War II, but he made his mark in Kern County in 20 years as a doctor and child advocate.
Diamond, for decades Kern County's foremost authority on child abuse, died Nov. 15 at the age of 100. Known for his matching suit and bow tie combinations — frequently in his favorite color, yellow — as well as his New York accent, Diamond was one of the preeminent child abuse experts in California, serving as a witness for the Kern County District Attorney's Office on hundreds of cases.
Diamond, who initially came to Bakersfield in 1980 to chair Kern Medical Center's Department of Pediatrics, served as an Army captain assigned to the Medical Corps during World War II.
The Kern County District Attorney's office used Diamond as an expert witness in many child sexual abuse cases in the 1980s and 1990s. "He was a great man, and a great witness, and he really had a passion for kids," DA Lisa Green said.
NANCY WICKERSHAM HALL
The daughter and wife of two of Bakersfield's best-known jewelers — Charlie Wickersham, who opened Wickersham Jewelers in 1900, and Don Hall, who split from his father-in-law's business to open Don Hall Jewelers in then-new Valley Plaza in 1966 — was also the gracious owner-hostess of an upscale antique store on H Street for nearly two decades.
Nancy Hall died Dec. 23 at age 86. She and husband Don Hall were married in 1951, the year after he went to work for her father. She had Alzheimer's.
Mrs. Hall's store, Fond Memories, was one of a dozen antique and decorating shops in the area just east of the city's Oleander district.
Marvin Dean, a longtime community organizer and three-time city council candidate, died Dec. 30 at 66, less than two months after running a third time for a seat on the Bakersfield City Council.
Many Bakersfield residents may recognize Dean for his three ultimately unsuccessful campaigns for the Ward 1 seat, but he was well known at city hall and among the city’s African-American community as an advocate for minority representation in business, particularly in the construction industry.
Dean worked as a Pacific Gas & Electric journeyman lineman for 20 years, and he was a self-employed contractor. He founded the Kern Minority Contractors Association as well as the A. Philip Randolph Community Development Corporation.