At year's end, remembering some of the people Seattle lost in 2023
Every year, deaths hit hard in families and communities around our region. Ideally, those losses come with moments of reflection, and appreciation. As this year draws to a close, we’re marking some of those passings.
Longtime Seattle talk-radio host Dori Monson was known as a conservative firebrand. He hosted the popular Dori Monson Show on KIRO Radio for 27 years. People who knew him recalled his softer side, saying he often reached out to colleagues during tough times or would offer unsolicited words of encouragement. Monson died from complications of a heart attack on New Year’s Eve, 2022. He was 61 years old.
Bassist and songwriter Van Connor co-founded the band Screaming Trees in Ellensburg, Washington in 1984, with his brother Gary and singer Mark Lanegan. The band evolved in the Seattle grunge era of the 1990s, alongside bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. Their most successful album was 1992’s "Sweet Oblivion.” Van died at age 57, after a series of health issues. Gary Conner wrote that his brother had “many more songs to write.”
Celebrated author Jonathan Raban was an Englishman by birth but chose the Pacific Northwest as his home in 1990. Raban told KUOW, “I loved the water around Seattle. I thought this is one of the wateriest cities I've ever seen.” Known for both his fiction and travel writing, Raban was honored with a National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award. He died of complications from a stroke in January. He was 80 years old.
Another January death, of a young woman from India, shocked Seattle. It later drew nationwide and global outrage. 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula, an engineering student at Northeastern University Seattle, was hit and killed by a speeding Seattle Police car late one night in South Lake Union. The officer was responding to an emergency call. Investigators later found his car was going 74 miles per hour.
Eight months later, audio surfaced of another SPD officer, who had responded to the scene, laughing about Kandula’s death... saying, among other things, that “She had limited value." The revelation sparked rallies, official apologies, and wide condemnation. After her death, Kandula’s family released a statement. It said, “Jaahnavi was a brilliant student with a promising future. Her radiant smile and bubbly personality warmed the hearts of everyone she met." They said her death left them "with an unfillable void in their lives." Kandula would have received her master’s degree in information systems this month.
Borracchini’s Bakery was an institution. The Rainier Valley business was founded in 1922 by Italian immigrants Mario and Maria Borracchini. Their son, Remo Borracchini, carried on the tradition. His cakes graced innumerable birthdays, weddings, and graduations. But Remo was also known for his kindness and generosity. His daughter, Nannette, told KUOW about an emergency call he took from a bride in tears. Another bakery hadn’t shown up with the wedding cake for a party of 200. Borracchini told her not to worry. He rushed another cake he’d prepared to the site, hugged the bride, and didn’t charge her. “You’ve been through enough,” he told her, “just enjoy your day.” Nanette said in her father’s final days, he continued to talk about the people he met through the bakery and the joy they brought him. Remo Borracchini was 92 years old.
Elijah Lewis was a community activist and entrepreneur known for his work in the Central District and South Seattle. He had spoken out against gun violence. "We are tired of seeing the multitude of people that are being killed,” he said at one demonstration, “not just in schools, but I live in a place, south Seattle, where it happens all the time.”
Lewis was shot and killed in early April while driving through Capitol Hill with his nephew. A Seattle Police statement said Lewis got into a confrontation with a man riding an electric scooter. During the altercation, the man on the scooter pulled out a gun and shot three times into the car. One of the bullets struck Lewis in the chest and killed him. He was 23.
Also in April, two stars of the Seattle area’s food and beverage world died. Ron Zimmerman co-founded Woodinville’s The Herbfarm, a restaurant that pioneered farm-to-table cuisine. Starting with lunch service in 1986, Zimmerman and his wife, Carrie Van Dyck, transformed his parent’s nursery into a restaurant. The Herbfarm ultimately earned national acclaim for its seasonal multicourse dinner. Zimmerman died from liver cancer. He was 75.
And Rachel Marshall made her mark with some of the best, spiciest ginger beer anyone ever tasted, Rachel's Ginger Beer. Inspired by European varieties, Marshall started her company in 2008. She grew it from scratch, from Seattle farmers market stands to nationwide distribution. Colleagues say Marshall's way of connecting with people was the secret to her success. She died unexpectedly at age 42, from liver failure. Rachel's Ginger Beer continues to thrive.
John McCoy was a member of the Tulalip Tribes and one of the longest-serving Native Americans in the Washington State Legislature. During his 17 years of service, he focused on environmental issues, leading efforts to overhaul how Washington schools teach about tribal sovereignty and governance, improve tribes' access to voting rights, and expand access to dental care on reservations. He died of natural causes in June at his home in Tulalip. He was 79.
“Mur the Blur.” That’s what some friends and colleagues called acclaimed bartender Murray Stenson. In 2010, he was named “America’s Best Bartender.” Stenson was known for his humility, infectious laugh, and encyclopedic memory for drinks and people. One of his claims to fame was resurrecting a lost prohibition-era cocktail, "The Last Word." Stenson died at home in September from complications of Guillain-Barré syndrome. He was 74.
One Christmas, famed Seattle chef Thierry Rautureau’s wife, Kathy, gave him a fedora as a present. He loved it and started wearing it to work. He also loved it when a customer called him “The Chef in the Hat.” So he trademarked the name.
Many KUOW listeners knew Rautureau from his “What’s in the Fridge?” segments when he somehow turned odd remnants no one knew what to do with into delicious meals. Rauterau earned a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest in 1998. His friend and fellow chef, Tom Douglass, said, “Guys like him don't come around very often. He's such a charmer.” Rautereau died in November from complications of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 64.
Meteorologist Steve Pool was one of the first Black weather forecasters in the U.S. He started as an intern at KOMO TV News in 1974, while still a student at the University of Washington. And he stayed on, becoming the station’s principal weather anchor from 1984 until his retirement in 2019. Pool received eight Emmy Awards during his career. He died in November from early-onset Alzheimer's. He was 70.
Dr. Abraham “Abe” B. Bergman was a nationally known pediatrician who led successful efforts to protect the safety of children. Born and raised in Seattle, he graduated from Garfield High School in 1950. He joined the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1964 and practiced at Seattle Children's. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Bergman was responsible in part for the Flammable Fabrics Act of 1967, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Act of 1974.
Bergman is remembered for his mentorship of hundreds of pediatricians in his long career, said Dr. Fred Rivara, one of his UW Medicine colleagues. “He was an iconoclast who pushed us all to do better,” Rivara said. Dr. Bergman died in Seattle in November. He was 91.
Wier Harman was one of Seattle’s most influential arts figures. He served as executive director of Town Hall Seattle for 17 years. During that time, he grew the organization into a cultural powerhouse that often drew nationally known figures to Seattle, and brought wide swaths of the community together. Harman was instrumental in raising the funds for and overseeing needed renovations for the historic Town Hall building, built in 1916. He was also committed to keeping ticket prices affordable. Harman struggled with lung cancer for 6 years. He died at 57 years old.
Finally, every year the King County Medical Examiner’s Office handles the deaths of people whose families can’t be located, or who can’t afford a burial service. The number has been increasing. 2022 set a record with 302 deaths, including seven infants. Staff hold a ceremony to bury all of the cremated remains together in a Renton cemetery plot after the year closes. James Sosik Jr., a lead investigator for the office, told KUOW, “This might very well be the last time that these people's names are said out loud.”