No infectious disease in a century has exacted as swift and merciless a toll on the United States as covid-19. With no vaccine and no cure, the pandemic has killed people in every state. The necessary isolation it imposes has robbed the bereaved of proper goodbyes and the comfort of mourning rituals. Those remembered in this continually updating series represent but some of the tens of thousands who have died. Some were well-known, and many were unsung. All added their stories, from all walks of life, to the diversity of the American experience.
“She lived a life as a mother, and then at midnight she would sit down and everything would disappear.”
Yu Lihua, 90, was one of the most important Chinese American writers of her day, publishing more than two dozen books across her career. The work guided her and her mostly Chinese-speaking readers through heartbreak, divorce, struggles over identity and belonging, and questions of sex, sexism, friendship and family. Her children recall her red diaries and late-night writing sessions at a speckled blue Formica desk in Schenectady, N.Y., where she smoked True menthol cigarettes with her feet resting on an old typewriter case.
Alyce Gullattee, 91, was a pioneering psychiatrist, civil rights activist and Howard University professor known for her compassionate touch with people battling substance abuse. During the height of Washington’s crack epidemic, she treated addicts, AIDS patients and sex workers like they were family, and once survived a mugging by offering to help her would-be attacker seek psychiatric treatment. One of the country’s leading experts on addiction, she served on several White House committees and helped train generations of African American physicians.
Valentina Blackhorse, 28, was an administrative assistant for the Navajo Nation who dreamed of someday leading the entire tribe. Known to her family as a “feisty” enforcer of Navajo customs, she pored over books about her culture, studied Navajo language, performed jingle-dress dances at community powwows, and won the prestigious Miss Western Navajo pageant. Her family wants to raise her 1-year-old daughter in the traditions she held dear.
“He gave his life for that hospital.”
James “Charlie” Mahoney, 62, was an ICU doctor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center for nearly four decades and a friend to all, from the gift-shop cashier to the taxi drivers waiting outside. Mahoney mentored colleagues and cared for patients through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, through 9/11 and through the swine flu. He was on the brink of retirement when covid-19 hit — and his family tried persuading him to bow out. But Mahoney chose to keep working.
Patricia Weissenborn, 100, attributed her longevity to white zinfandel, which she called “the pink stuff.” She had spunk enough at age 19 to go to a rural Montana courthouse and change her name to match a movie star’s. In her 20s, she ditched her job teaching in a one-room schoolhouse and headed solo to Oregon. She insisted on driving into her 92nd year, outfoxing her daughter — who had purposely locked the keys in the car — by calling AAA and then hiding her Oldsmobile. And after 10 days with covid-19, she seemed to have gotten the better of the disease. Then she climbed into bed and drew her last breath.
Annie Glenn, 100, reluctantly entered the public eye as the wife of astronaut and senator John Glenn, her childhood playmate and her high school and college sweetheart. She later overcame a severe stuttering problem and served as a leading advocate for people with communication disorders.
“Her number one motivation was because she cared about the health of women, especially black women and their babies.”
Judy Wilson-Griffin, 63, was a “gentle driving force for change” as a perinatal clinical nurse specialist in St. Louis, carrying on her family’s tradition of tenderly nursing black women as they gave life to future generations. The same month she contracted the novel coronavirus, Wilson-Griffin was finalizing her latest endeavor: creating a maternal triage acuity index for pregnant women. On the day she died, Wilson-Griffin was scheduled to get the green light for her project.
Horace and Violet Saunders, both 96, were born one week apart and married in wartime. Horace, a gregarious storyteller with a huge personality, and his quiet, gracious wife, Violet, were together for 75 years — and died within days of each other from the virus.
Peter Bainum, 82, was an aerospace engineer who taught graduate students at Howard University for more than 30 years, ushering generations of new scientists into careers at NASA and in private industry. He got his start in engineering just as the space race was heating up and became a star in his field, speaking at aerospace symposiums around the world and winning dozens of awards for professional achievements.
“If the Constitution was the Bible, the Supreme Court was the church, and democracy was her religion.”
Anna Levine, 91, was an intellectual firebrand who walked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington and protested at the Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage. She centered her life around service to others and an endless pursuit of knowledge that included graduating from law school at age 62. Her daughters remember her taking them to historically black churches, whipping a copy of the Constitution out of her pocket during debates and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle every day.
Joel Kupperman, 83, once a distinguished professor at the University of Connecticut, was perhaps the most famous child in America from 1942 to 1952. He appeared almost every week on “Quiz Kids,” a popular radio program that later moved to television, where he would put on a scholar’s cap and gown and answer academic and pop-culture questions. But he later hid from his childhood fame, avoiding the topic even with family.
“Hache was someone who held onto his work — he held onto a lot of things about himself — until I could find a way to get it from him.”
Hermán G. Carrillo, 59, was chairman of the literary PEN/Faulkner Foundation and a beloved storyteller, telling kaleidoscopic fiction that plumbed the meaning of the Cuban American experience he said he lived. It wasn’t until his death, a week before his 60th birthday, that Carrillo’s fans, friends and husband learned his true identity — a man from Michigan, born in Detroit, with no known Latino heritage.
“Once she had her mind made up about something, Aunt Edna’s was the only opinion that mattered.”
Edna Adams, 105, a woman of faith and conviction, spent her life defying expectations. She lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression and two world wars. After her husband died, she lived alone for more than 40 years, moving into a nursing home after her 100th birthday. She fell ill there in April and died days later, becoming the District of Columbia’s oldest coronavirus victim.
Freda Ocran, 51, was a nurse to her patients but a regal member of her household in the Bronx and in Ghana. After her hospital shifts, she would ring the doorbell to her own home so her children would carry in her bags. “Don’t you know I’m the queen,” she would tell her two boys and daughter. “The queen did her job.”
Philip Kahn, 100, was an avid storyteller who fought in Iwo Jima and later helped build the World Trade Center. When he told his life story to his grandchildren, it always began with his twin brother, Samuel, who died during the influenza pandemic weeks after he and Kahn were born in 1919 — a story Kahn told right up to his final days.
Nicky Leake, 45; John Leake Jr., 40; and Leslie Leake, 74, members of the same D.C.-area family, died within 20 days in the month of April. Nicky was preparing for her destination wedding in Hawaii. John was a cutup, the family clown. Leslie, their mother, was passing her golden days in contentment, doting on her grand- and great-grandchildren, assembling floral arrangements, singing softly to herself. They probably spread the virus to each other at Leslie and her husband’s immaculate old home in Congress Heights, the family’s heartbeat, the place they simply called “the house.”
“At a time when the nation was in crisis, and the world was unknown, Paul raised his hand.”
Paul Cary, 66, a lifelong paramedic and firefighter, voluntarily traveled to the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, driving 27 hours from Colorado to New York City. He spent three weeks helping others before falling ill himself. A procession of ambulances carried his casket home to Denver, where a colleague sent out a final call for Cary and wished him godspeed before promising, “We have the watch from here.”
Wogene Debele, 43, was a stay-at-home mother of three who never got to meet her fourth, a baby boy who was whisked to the NICU right after his birth because she had covid-19. In Debele’s native Amharic, her name meant “my people, my community.” Her dedication to both was why she quickly became a warm and familiar presence within the Washington area’s large Ethiopian community after her family emigrated from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, almost a decade ago.
Landon Spradlin, 66, was a Christian preacher and blues guitarist from rural Virginia who traveled to New Orleans annually to practice street ministry. A believer in miraculous healing, Spradlin criticized the media for creating “mass hysteria” over the virus, which he contracted during Mardi Gras. As his family mourned a man known for his tireless missionary work, they also had to contend with critics who attacked Spradlin for his comments about the virus that ultimately killed him.
“He had one of those arms that come once in a lifetime.”
Steve Dalkowski, 80, pitched nine years in the minor leagues in the 1950s and ’60s, mostly in the Baltimore Orioles organization, without reaching the major leagues. Yet he is remembered as perhaps the game’s greatest unharnessed talent, the hardest-throwing pitcher in history with a fastball as uncontrollable as it was unhittable.
Carlos DeLeon, 63, was the first incarcerated person in Connecticut to die of the virus. He had been approved for early release after a year in prison for illegal firearm possession and hoped to enter a halfway house. DeLeon was a joke-loving handyman with an artist’s eye — and chronic breathing difficulties that made him especially vulnerable.
Chianti “Tiki” Jackson Harpool, 51, moved easily from the streets of her native Baltimore, where she once worked as a social worker helping the homeless and drug-addicted, to a political fundraiser in the city with her husband of 12 years. She worked for her neighbor, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and completed a six-month program at the International Culinary Center in New York before starting a home business called Chianti’s Chocolates.
“Fenno was hands down the most significant student of Congress of the last half of the 20th century.”
Richard F. Fenno Jr., 93, was a prominent political scientist and congressional scholar who was best known for identifying the tendency — dubbed Fenno’s Paradox — of voters to dislike Congress as a whole but to trust and reelect their local representatives. A longtime professor at the University of Rochester in western New York, he was considered one of the most original and influential political scientists of his generation.
Theodore Gaffney, 92, was a photographer who risked his life to document the 1961 Freedom Riders in one of the most tumultuous 48 hours in U.S. civil rights history. The descendant of enslaved people on a South Carolina plantation, Gaffney grew up in the nation’s capital and became one of the first African Americans to take photos inside the White House and for The Washington Post.
Sean Boynes, 46, was a loving father, Air Force veteran and pharmacy manager who helped launch a pharmacy in the Washington, D.C., area that specialized in treating people with chronic illnesses. When the outbreak reached the District, Boynes, who had asthma, kept going to work because he wanted to keep serving his patients. “I’m the only pharmacist,” he told his wife.
“It was like peanut butter and jelly, their complementary aspects. It was always the two of them.”
Tommie Brown, 82, and Doris Brown, 79, of Gary, Ind., were inseparable for nearly 62 years. Relatives say their union was marked by a solemn vow: They would always be with each other, no matter what. On April 9, they fulfilled that promise, dying on the same day despite battling coronavirus in separate hospitals.
Gil Bailey, 84, the “Godfather of Reggae Radio,” was a gregarious DJ who came from Jamaica to New York by way of England. With his deep, friendly voice, he began playing Caribbean music in 1969, bringing the genre to his fellow immigrants and helping popularize it in North America.
Donald Kennedy, 88, was a neurobiologist and champion of public service who led Stanford University to rising national influence in the 1980s. He was also commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and later the top editor of Science magazine.
Zoao Makumbi Sr., 75, was an elementary school psychologist in Washington, D.C., who made it his mission to help poor black children get a high-quality education. Born in what is now Congo to Angolan refugees, he was a “freedom fighter” who pushed for Angolan independence before earning a PhD in the United States and landing his dream job in the D.C. public school system.
“If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that his story can be shared.”
Nathel Burtley, 79, was the first black superintendent of Flint, Mich. Family and friends said Burtley was determined to improve the experience of minority students, using the lessons he learned while growing up in a segregated Illinois city to fuel his work in Michigan.
Marylou Armer, 43, a detective for the Santa Rosa Police Department’s sexual assault and domestic violence unit, was the first California police officer killed by covid-19. She fell ill after being on the job and was denied a test three times, her sister said, inspiring a movement to protect and screen first responders.
“Whoever you needed, Bob knew at least two of them.”
Bob Barnum, 64, was a descendant of circus founder P.T. Barnum, an early LGBTQ activist in Florida and a friend of one of the stars of the 1980s sitcom “The Golden Girls.” He pushed businesses in St. Petersburg, Fla., to broaden their nondiscrimination policies and ensured that the local domestic violence center was knowledgeable about LGBTQ couples.
Jerry Givens, 67, led the country’s second-busiest execution team for 17 years, presiding over 62 executions, before becoming a prominent opponent of the death penalty. He organized protests, testified before lawmakers and met with incarcerated people, corrections officers and the families of victims.
“To put it simply, she’s the most determined person I’ve ever met.”
April Dunn, 33, center, was an outspoken disability rights advocate in Louisiana state government. Denied a high school diploma and shut out of jobs because of her disabilities, she helped rewrite state law to make sure people like her had equal access to education and employment.
Bishop James N. Flowers Jr., 84, was a pastor in Maryland known to be unwavering in his faith. Decades before he experienced a religious epiphany, he was an up-and-coming rock-and-roll singer who enjoyed the D.C. nightlife, and, in 1961, defied society by entering into an interracial marriage that lasted a lifetime.
“After living through that hell, she was blessed with the gift of authenticity.”
Margit Buchhalter Feldman, 90, was a Holocaust survivor who dedicated her life to teaching children about the atrocities that killed around 6 million Jews. She died one day before the 75th anniversary of her liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Brian R. Miller, 52, built a career in the Education Department’s Rehabilitation Services Administration after a lifetime of battling for the rights of those living with disabilities. Born with defective retinas, Miller was among the first wave of blind students to sit in classrooms alongside the sighted in the 1970s and 80s. He sang a cappella, was fluent in four languages and vowed to set foot in 100 countries.
Wallace Roney, 59, was a Grammy-winning virtuoso of jazz trumpet who was mentored by Miles Davis. He performed with Davis during one of the jazz legend’s final performances.
“Everything in Jen’s world had glitter on it. Everything had a little flair.”
Jennifer Arnold, 67, was a longtime costume dresser on Broadway for “Phantom of the Opera” and a “New Yorker through and through,” her friends and family said. She lived her life immersed in creativity, spending her childhood summers in an artist’s colony in Woodstock, dancing her way around the world in her 20s and showcasing her late father’s paintings throughout New York City. She worked the final performance of “Phantom” before Broadway went dark — and fell ill days later.
Keith Redding, 59, made friends wherever he went; even the nurses who treated him in his final days at the hospital were charmed by his easy smile and good-natured humor. Keith wore a suit every day to his job as a project manager for an FBI contractor, but he was most at home in biker boots and jeans, playing with his grandchildren or riding his motorcycle. After his death, Keith’s wife allowed doctors to share a rare 3-D image of his lungs in hope that it might aid in the fight against the disease.
“I don’t think he was ever going to be anything but someone who helped people.”
Frank Gabrin, 60, right, became the first emergency room physician in the United States to die of the virus after he treated patients in hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey. Known for his buoyant Type A personality, he cooked lasagna dinners for his colleagues and wrote two books to help other health-care workers find purpose in their jobs.
Dez-Ann Romain, 36, was the principal at a Brooklyn high school for students who struggled and fell behind elsewhere. She pushed disadvantaged young people to succeed, building a reputation for “tough love” and sharing her own story of growing up as an immigrant in New York City.
“He is a truly original writer, unequaled, and a genuine poet of the American people.”
John Prine, 73, was a raspy-voiced heartland troubadour who wrote and performed songs about faded hopes, failing marriages, flies in the kitchen and the desperation of people just getting by. He was, as one of his songs put it, the bard of “broken hearts and dirty windows.”
Patricia Frieson, 61, left, and Wanda Bailey, 63, were sisters whose lives centered on their large but close-knit family and their deep faith in God. The family was shaken when Patricia became the first patient in Illinois to die of the coronavirus and was further devastated when Wanda died days later.
Larry Rathgeb, 90, was in charge of engineering racecars for Chrysler during the heyday of stock car racing. His team famously broke a world record for closed course racing. Two days before the 50th anniversary of that automotive achievement, on March 22, Rathgeb died after contracting the coronavirus in his West Bloomfield, Mich., senior living community.
“She said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to work because no one else is going to help the senior citizens get their groceries.’ ”
Leilani Jordan, 27, was a Giant grocery store employee with an overpowering desire to help others. Nicknamed “Butterfly,” she kept going to work despite the risks, and her mother held her as she died.
Stanley Chera, 78, second from right, was a real estate developer and property owner who started out in New York’s outer boroughs and moved onto the big stage of Manhattan. He was the first person to die from covid-19 who President Trump publicly named as a friend. A leading figure in New York’s Syrian Jewish community, Chera owned large swaths of retail space on Fifth Avenue, gave many millions to charities and was an early and generous supporter of Trump’s presidential run.
“Adam Schlesinger took pop music writing to its classiest and most untouchable place.”
Adam Schlesinger, 52, co-founded the rock band Fountains of Wayne and racked up many accolades for his music over the years, including Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for writing the title track to the 1996 comedy “That Thing You Do!” and a Grammy nomination in 2003 for the band’s tongue-in-cheek “Stacy’s Mom.”
Bennie Adkins, 86, received the Medal of Honor in 2014, 48 years after close-combat fighting in Vietnam. A farmer’s son eager to see the world outside Oklahoma, he had volunteered for Army Special Forces training and found himself in a harrowing firefight in the steep hills of the A Shau Valley.
Douglas Hickok, 57, a physician assistant in and out of uniform, was the first service member to die of the coronavirus. The New Jersey Army National Guard captain, baseball fanatic and outdoorsman was the latest of three generations of family members to serve in uniform — and his son will be the fourth.
“His solos are full of secrets.”
Lee Konitz, 92, was an alto saxophonist who was an innovative figure in jazz for more than 70 years. He was the last surviving member of the groundbreaking “Birth of the Cool” group of the 1940s, with Miles Davis.
Jeff Bagby, 60, was a math whiz, family man and legend in the world of DIY loudspeaker building. He was unfailingly upbeat — even as he endured kidney failure and cancer — and sometimes wore a Superman tee his wife bought him beneath a button-up shirt like Clark Kent.
Ellis Marsalis, 85, was a pianist and patriarch of a jazz dynasty that included his sons Branford and Wynton Marsalis. They and their brothers became unquestionably the American first family of jazz.
“George Valentine epitomized what it is to be a dedicated public servant.”
George Valentine, 66, was a longtime lawyer in the D.C. Attorney General’s Office who later worked as a legal adviser to the mayor. A Harvard Law graduate, he mentored young lawyers and served as a foster parent.
Jason Hargrove, 50, was a city bus driver with the Detroit Department of Transportation who took to Facebook in late March to warn others of the virus. A woman had boarded his bus and coughed several times. “This is real,” he said in a video. “For us to get through this and get over this, man, y’all need to take this s— serious.” He died a week and a half later.
Bucky Pizzarelli, 94, was one of the nation’s preeminent seven-string guitarists. He began his career as a coveted sideman and studio musician before forming an acclaimed jazz duo with one of his sons.
“He was probably our most impassioned advocate of architecture as a means toward social justice.”
Michael Sorkin, 71, was a fiery champion of social justice and sustainability in architecture and urban planning. He emerged as one of his profession’s most incisive public intellectuals over a multifaceted career as a critic, author, teacher and designer. Sorkin was an architectural gadfly, known for biting attacks on structures that he deemed pretentious or lacking in social purpose.
David C. Driskell, 88, was an artist, art historian, art collector, art teacher, author and curator who became an influential champion of African American art. His painting “Behold Thy Son,” depicting the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till, was called a “modern-day Pietà.”
Rabbi Romi Cohn, 91, survived the Holocaust and helped rescue 56 Jewish families during World War II. Born in Czechoslovakia, he moved to Brooklyn, became a respected rabbi and a mohel, and delivered the opening prayer before Congress on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“When you think of ’90s country, you think Joe Diffie.”
Joe Diffie, 61, was a Grammy-winning artist and icon of mid-90s country music, whose hits included “Honky Tonk Attitude,” “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I Die),” “Home” and “Pickup Man.” He inspired the careers of younger singers, who named-checked him in their music and introduced his work to a new generation of fans.
Patricia Bosworth, 86, was an actress turned journalist and acclaimed author of biographical studies of self-destructive figures, including members of her own family.
“He was a kind, groundbreaking chef who paved the way for so many South Asians.”
Floyd Cardoz, 59, was an influential India-born chef and restaurateur who was widely credited with introducing the flavors of his homeland to New York’s fine-dining scene in the 1990s. He won multiple James Beard Awards and Season 3 of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.”
Terrence McNally, 81, was a prolific, much-honored playwright who rose to the forefront of American theater with a humane and lyrical style in works such as “Love! Valour! Compassion!” and “Master Class.” McNally was a pivotal American dramatist, particularly as art and politics collided during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s.
Henry Grimes, 84, was one of the most promising jazz bass players of the 1950s and 1960s, working with superstars and appearing on more than 50 recordings. Then he disappeared for more than 30 years, only to make a triumphant return to music after the year 2000.
“She could teach a rock to read.”
Susan Rokus, 73, was a teacher for 55 years. Former students spoke of her lasting influence, friends spoke of her loyalty and love of Italian food, and colleagues spoke of her colorful outfits and distinctive decor — especially the leopard-print chair, shaped like a stiletto, that she kept in her classroom.
About this story
The Washington Post is updating weekly this collection of Americans who died of coronavirus. The stories and obituaries excerpted here were written by Nick Anderson, Bart Barnes, Lateshia Beachum, Timothy Bella, Kim Bellware, Adam Bernstein, Michael Brice-Saddler, Tim Carman, Rachel Chason, Paul Duggan, Marc Fisher, Meagan Flynn, Derek Hawkins, Alex Horton, Marisa Iati, Peter Jamison, Sarah Kaplan, Hannah Knowles, Meryl Kornfield, Marissa J. Lang, Michael Laris, Terence McArdle, Katie Mettler, Hannah Natanson, Nelson Pressley, Samantha Schmidt, Matt Schudel, Brittany Shammas, Ian Shapira, Darran Simon, Harrison Smith, Perry Stein, Sydney Trent, David Von Drehle, Laura Vozzella, Emily Yahr, Ovetta Wiggins and Julie Zauzmer.
Text composed by Derek Hawkins and Katie Mettler. Edited by Ann Gerhart and Herman Wong. Photo editing by Nick Kirkpatrick and Karly Domb Sadof. Videos produced by Allie Caren and Adriana Usero. Copy editing by Emily Codik. Design and development by Tyler Remmel.