The Lives That Have Left a Lasting Footprint in Sonoma County, North Bay



The song is over, but the melody persists.

Irving Berlin, 1927

The words are suitable for many or all of the people of Sonoma County and North Bay whose songs of life were played last year.

The Berlin songwriter’s encouraging words sound particularly appropriate for at least four of the most accomplished local residents who have died since January 1: Don Green, whose love of singing prompted him to launch the world-class Green Music Center. ; pianist and passionate Santa Rosa Symphony champion Norma Brown; Jeff Langley, former director of the performing arts at Sonoma State University, and pianist and ultimate hostess Lucille Gonnella, of the famous Union Hotel in Occidental.

While these four and all of our recently deceased neighbors were with us, their voices and spirits added to the unique anthem of this place. Today, surely, their imprints on our collective melody continue.

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

Green donation

Who knew that besides everything he did, Don Green could sing?

The British-born telephone communications innovator had long seen himself as designed solely to savor the vocal music of others.

Green recounted in his 2016 memoir, “Defining Moments,” that one Sunday in the 1960s he sang hymns from a San Francisco pew – his wife, Maureen, might have said he was “bawling. 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 did. Maureen too.

Almost 30 years later, Don Green has become the great visionary of Sonoma County’s burgeoning Telecom Valley. He and Maureen sang in the Bach Choir conducted by Bob Worth, then music director of the choir at Sonoma State University. The trio explained how much SSU needs a performance hall designed for vocal music.

Don Green profited greatly from the 1996 sale of public shares in his company Advanced Fiber Communications, Inc. So he and his wife donated $ 10 million to SSU for what has become the magnificent Green Music Center in $ 145 million.

At its grand opening in 2012, wowed by acclaimed pianist Lang Lang, Don Green told the crowd, “As the beer ad says, it doesn’t get better than this.

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

Norma Brun

For decades from 1958, Norma Brown’s husband Corrick stood with baton in hand outside the Santa Rosa Symphony and fine-tuned the music flowing from what he helped raise as one of the best regional orchestras in the country.

Behind the scenes, Norma Brown did just about everything else.

She managed the orchestra’s music library, attracted famous soloists, then made all arrangements for their visits, set up the tape recorder at each rehearsal, etc.

“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 play the music.

Of course, Norma Brown also made music. Beautifully.

Discovering as a child that she loved the piano, she accompanied the choir of the Church of Santa Cruz. She entered Stanford University at age 16 and left Harvard to earn a graduate degree in musicology from Columbia.

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

Norma Brown died in May at the age of 89.

Alan Silow, president and CEO of the orchestra, said, “Without her the Santa Rosa Symphony would not be what it is today.

Jim harberson

With his remarkable 25-year tenure as a local elected official in Sonoma County, Jim Harberson has accomplished a lot.

This down-to-earth gentleman, raised in North Carolina and Vietnam veteran, was clear on the accomplishment he was most proud of: his leadership role in ensuring the perpetual preservation of large unspoiled tracts of Sonoma County land. .

As county supervisor, the former Petaluma City Council member was instrumental in establishing the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District in 1990.

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