The life that left a lasting mark on Sonoma County, North Bay


The song is over, but the melody lingers.

– Irving Berlin, 1927

The words apply to many or all of Sonoma County and North Bay residents whose life songs were played over the past year.

The composer’s encouraging lyrics sound particularly apt to at least four of the most accomplished local residents who have died since January 1st: Don Green, whose love of singing led him to initiate the creation of the world-class Green Music Center; Pianist and passionate Santa Rosa symphony master Norma Brown; former director of the performing arts at Sonoma State University Jeff Langley; and pianist and ultimate hostess Lucille Gonella of Occidental’s landmark Union Hotel.

While these four and all of our recently deceased neighbors were with us, their voices and spirits contributed to the unique anthem of this place. Their traces in our collective melody are certainly indispensable today.

Here are memories of some of the locals who left the choir in 2021.

Don Green

Who would have thought that Don Green could sing along with everything else he did?

The British-born inventor of telephone communications had long evolved just to enjoy the vocal music of others.

Green said in his 2016 memoir Defining Moments that he sang hymns from a pew in San Francisco on a Sunday in the 1960s – his wife Maureen may have said he was “shouting hymns.”

How surprising, wrote Don Green, “when the woman in front of me half turned and said, ‘You have a beautiful voice. You should join the choir. “

He has. Maureen did too.

Almost 30 years later, Don Green rose to be the chief visionary of Sonoma County’s booming Telecom Valley. He and Maureen sang in the Bach Choir under the direction of Bob Worth, the then choirmaster of Sonoma State University. The trio spoke of how urgently SSU needed a performance hall designed for vocal music.

Don Green profited significantly in 1996 from the sale of the public interest in his Advanced Fiber Communications, Inc. So he and his wife donated $ 10 million to SSU for what became the impressive $ 145 million Green Music Center .

At the 2012 opening, which was enchanted by acclaimed pianist Lang Lang, Don Green told the crowd, “As the beer commercials put it, it doesn’t get any better.”

He died in June at the age of 90. Maureen Green also died in the fall of 2020 at the age of 90.

Norma Brown

From 1958, Norma Brown’s husband Corrick stood in front of the Santa Rosa Symphony with baton in hand for decades, refining the music from what he made into one of the best regional orchestras in the nation.

Behind the scenes, Norma Brown did pretty much everything else.

She managed the orchestra’s music library, attracting celebrated soloists, and then organizing their visits, putting the tape recorder on at every rehearsal, whatever.

“She knew everyone in the orchestra, and not just to say hello,” said Shirley Chilcott, a former cellist with the Santa Rosa Symphony earlier this year. “I can’t imagine anyone else being married to Corrick. She was the perfect wife for him because she did everything. All he had to do was the music. “

Of course, Norma Brown also made music. Splendid.

As a child she discovered her love for the piano and accompanied her church choir in Santa Cruz. At 16, she entered Stanford University and graduated from Harvard for a degree in musicology from Columbia.

She and Corrick Brown married in 1956. In 1958 they both gave their lives to the Santa Rosa Symphony and its Symphony League charity.

Norma Brown died in May at the age of 89.

Alan Silow, President and CEO of the orchestra, said: “Without them, the Santa Rosa Symphony would not be what it is today.”

Jim Harberson

Jim Harberson has achieved much in his remarkable 25-year tenure as a local elected official in Sonoma County.

The down-to-earth North Carolina-raised gentleman and Vietnam veteran knew what he was most proud of: his leadership role in ensuring the long-term preservation of the vast, pristine expanses of Sonoma County’s land.

As a district overseer, the former Petaluma City Councilor was key to creating the Sonoma County’s agricultural conservation and open space district in 1990.


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