James Gammon, a character actor who graduated from Boone High School and cut his teeth in local theater in Central Florida, died in July. You may not know Gammon by name, but you’d likely recognize his face. His seen-it-all-before expression and gravelly voice would be familiar to fans of Nash Bridges (he played Nick Bridges) and The Waltons (Zack Rosswell). His movie credits include Major League, Cool Hand Luke and Cold Mountain.
The local theater community mourned the loss of actress Kate Singleton this year. Singleton (who also worked as a director and costume designer) spent a quarter-century acting in Orlando theater productions. Singleton was just 51 when she died.
Janis Stratton, Universal Orlando vice president, died in November. Stratton was more than just a theme park executive – she also played a big role in charitable and civic causes and served on the boards of multiple nonprofits in the area.
The University of Central Florida lost two important figures this year: Mary Johnson, an associate professor in the film department at the University of Central Florida, died on Thanksgiving Day after a long battle with cancer, and Charles Millican, the school’s founding president who helped plan and launch UCF, died in December.
Margaret Smith, the “queen of Beefy King,” died in November. Founded as a competitor to Arby’s, Beefy King was originally intended to be a chain of restaurants. Smith and her husband bought an Orlando franchise of the chain in 1968. The parent company went out of business after a few years, but the Smiths kept the local Beefy King running. Today it’s one of two Beefy King operations in existence (the other is in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.), but according to the restaurant’s website, anyone interested in opening a new one can invest in a franchise of their own for $100,000.
Another local figure in the restaurant community, Tony Lombardi, who founded Lombardi’s Seafood in Winter Park, died in October.
Hattie Bush, the lead singer for the Spiritualette Gospel Singers, a group that sang all over Central Florida for the past 35 years, died in December. During her singing career, Bush was recognized by the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses for her contribution to gospel music.
Another great Orlando voice fell silent in September with the death of radio talk-show host and champion for civil liberties, George Crossley. Crossley, who hosted The People Power Revolution radio broadcast on 810-AM WEUS, was a former televangelist turned activist who spent time as head of the ACLU of Central Florida and was active in Orlando Copwatch, an organization founded to reduce abuses by police in the city.