CINCINNATI — The past year has been a tough one, there's no doubt about that. Along the way, we've lost a lot: traditions, special occasions, family gatherings, loved ones and some Greater Cincinnati treasures.
Todd Portune dedicated his life to public service. He was appointed to Cincinnati City Council in 1993 and elected to the Hamilton County Commission in 2000. Portune never let his long health battle, or the amputation of his leg, deter him from public service. He left his mark across the Cincinnati skyline, from The Banks and Paul Brown Stadium, to the county administration building, which will be renamed in his honor. By the end of 2019, the cancer he'd been fighting for years forced him to step away from his role of public service. He died on January 25, 2020.
Just days after Portune's passing, on January 27, 2020, civil rights icon Judge Nathaniel Jones died. Jones was presidentially appointed in 1967 to look into the causes of racial unrest in the U.S. and was the first African American to be an assistant U.S. Attorney. He was appointed to judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for two decades. For his contributions to civil rights, namely his work in desegregating schools in the U.S. and for his consulting work that helped end apartheid in South Africa, the NAACP awarded Jones its Spingarn Medal. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall received the same honor in 1946, and other recipients of the award include the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Hank Aaron, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey.
One of the greatest baseball players of all time and a key figure of the Big Red Machine, Joe Morgan was 77 when he died on October 12, 2020. Morgan was a Baseball Hall of Famer, a two-time Most Valuable Player, a 10-time All Star and won five Gold Gloves. He was also the spark plug of the Big Red Machine, scoring a hit in Game 7 of the 1975 World Series that most Reds fans have never forgotten.
Tony Yates was a national champion, an All-American and was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in Columbus on June 6, less than one month after he died. The Lawrenceburg native played basketball for the UC Bearcats and led them to two NCAA championships before returning to coach the team in the 1980s. He was inducted into the University of Cincinnati Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985.
John Ruthven grew up in Walnut Hills and went on to become one of the most celebrated naturalist artists ever. In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded Ruthven the National Medal of Arts and his work is featured in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian. Cincinnatians don't have to go far to see his paintings, though. In 2014, his iconic painting of “Martha – The Last Passenger Pigeon” was translated into a striking 6,000-square-foot mural on a six-story building at Eighth and Vine streets in downtown Cincinnati. He died on Oct. 11, 2020.
On March 21, Springdale Police Officer Kaia Grant was killed while trying to help stop a driver fleeing from police on I-275 near Rt. 4. Police believe the man they were chasing, Terry Blankenship, intentionally rammed Grant's car, killing her. Grant, 33, was an eight-year veteran of the Springdale department who was born and raised in Wyoming, Ohio. The 2005 Wyoming High School graduate is the first Springdale officer killed in the line of duty.
Former Hamilton County Common Pleas judge Ralph Winkler spent 22 years on the bench, presiding over hundreds of crucial cases, not the least of which was the trial of serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Winkler was a federal agent for 10 years and served as first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. The lifelong Cincinnati resident retired as judge in 2004. He died on Sept. 4, 2020.
A generation of Cincinnati Catholics had their first communions administered by Archbishop Pilarczyk, who led the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for 27 years. Pilarczyk is widely known for working to guide the Archdiocese of Cincinnati through its guilty plea in connection with priest sex abuse cases in 2003. He died on March 22, 2020, at the age of 85.
Wanda Lewis was welcomed into the homes of Cincinnatians for years as Captain Windy on WCPO's "The Uncle Al Show." A pioneer in local television, she played her role for 35 years, working with her husband, "Uncle Al" Lewis, to bring joy to children all over the Tri-State. When "The Uncle Al Show" broadcast for the last time on May 28, 1985, after 14,000 episodes, it was one of the longest-running children's shows in the country.