A look back at some of the lives we’ve lost to COVID

COVID-19 has now taken more than 11,000 lives across Massachusetts. This holiday season, thousands are sick, hospitalized, or recovering from the coronavirus and thousands more are mourning the loss of a loved one. The numbers are staggering — but these are not just numbers. They are real people with lives, families, and communities grappling with their loss. There is no way to tell the stories of everyone who has been taken by COVID-19. Instead, here, with the assistance of students from the Berklee College of Music — who express their own pandemic experiences in original musical compositions — we revisit a small, illustrative sample of stories we told this year of people we've lost since the pandemic began.

Remembering Fred Harris

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Nicole Harris says her father was gregarious and friendly and known to stop and talk with strangers. He worked at UMass Amherst for years and was well-known around campus. A talented athlete, Fred was scouted by the Red Sox when he was young, but he was forced to turn down the offer after being drafted to Vietnam. He grew up in Amherst and lived in Northampton at the time of his death.

Fred and his wife Judy were a month away from celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. [ Read the full story...]

Fred Harris' daughter on celebrating her father's life with his community

A Berklee Tribute: "Together Apart"

Written, performed and produced by Claire Donzelli, mastered by Matthew Davis.

"I recorded 'Together Apart' in my bedroom rather than a Berklee studio. It’s the first song I ever released. I hoped that by putting it out into the world, it would help others feel less alone."
Claire Donzelli, Current Berklee Student
"Together Apart"

Remembering N.S. Ramamurthy

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Dr. Rama, as his students and colleagues called him, was a professor and researcher at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He lived in Smithtown, New York, and his daughter and son-in-law live in Brookline. His family describes him as a beloved father, grandfather, husband and teacher. He and his wife Sharon were married for 49 years — it would have been 50 on Oct. 3.

N.S. and Sharon began to show symptoms of COVID-19 in March. N.S. went to the ER on March 24, but was initially turned away, his daughter Sharmila Murthy said, because the hospital lacked resources to test him. His symptoms worsened. He returned to the hospital four days later and spent the next month on a ventilator.

His family says a stronger federal response would have saved his life. [ Read the full story...]

N.S. Ramamurthy's daughter on celebrating her father's love for his children and grandchildren

A Berklee Tribute: "Desperate to Feel Free"

Written and performed by Teghan Devon.

"It’s about wishing for relief from the depressing routine of quarantine and wanting to feel better, wanting to feel free."
Teghan Devon, Current Berklee Student
"Desperate to Feel Free"

Remembering Keith Jacobs

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Keith Jacobs worked as a photographer for most of his life. He was also a well-known and beloved camp counselor at overnight camps in the state.

His family describes him as a man who was kind and generous. His daughter, Jackie Winer, said he loved going on long drives listening to folk and soul music. His son, Seth Jacobs, said he was a loving grandfather who cared more about a person's character than their social status. [ Read the full story...]

Keith Jacob's wife on the importance of wearing a mask

A Berklee Tribute: "Not a Losing Battle"

Written and produced by Brenda Lau.

"Sometimes I feel that God sets a special protection towards all who are selfless during COVID-19, and the reason is because they are the chosen ones to set the example of integrity, to lead us to finding joy and hope in the midst of a challenging time."
Brenda Lau, Berklee 2020 Graduate
“Not a Losing Battle”

Remembering Bernie Rubin

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Rubin, of Sharon, was half of Bernie & Phyl's, a local regional chain of furniture stores.

His wife Phyllis and their daughter Michelle Pepe also contracted the coronavirus. All three were infected while in Florida, where Bernie and his wife lived a portion of the year.

While Bernie was in the hospital on a ventilator, Michelle cared for her mother, who also has MS, as she battled the coronavirus.

Michelle said her dad was charming and treated everyone like they were best friends. She urged people to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. [ Read the full story...]

Bernie Rubin's daughter on how the family business began

Remembering Jean Leslie Morgan

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Jean Leslie Morgan with three of her grandchildren.
Courtesy of the Morgan and Paul family

In her absence, weeds have made their way to the surface where Roxbury resident Jean Leslie Morgan’s vegetables used to sprout. Morgan, an avid horticulturalist and optimist, could often be found working a tiny plot of land at the Audubon Society's Boston Garden Center in Mattapan. She was known as an activist heavily involved in her community, and also worked full-time to support her large extended family, including four children, nine grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two surviving siblings. [ Read the full story...]

Jean Leslie Morgan’s daughter on her mother’s love for her grandchildren

A Berklee Tribute: "Montana"

Written and produced by Hannah Coleman.

"'Montana' was written to reflect how much I wanted to be in the open fresh air with my friends, to find peace of mind during this pandemic. It’s also about an emotional state that I was in that represented wanting to run away, wanting to be free, and having to cope with that emotion whilst being trapped inside."
Hannah Coleman, Current Berklee Student

Remembering Jerry Williams

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Jerry Williams (second from left) and his wife Bobbie Jo Williams (far left) pictured with jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton (second from right) and friends after a show in Boston in 1958 or 1959.
Courtesy of the Williams family

Jerry Williams moved from Birmingham, Ala., to Boston with his wife, Bobbie Jo, in the 1950s as part of the Great Migration. Bobbie Jo said when they moved to Boston, Jerry hustled to make sure his family didn’t want for anything and that they had as many opportunities to advance as he could provide.

Grandson Michael Jr. was inspired by his granddaddy’s resilience. Jerry had survived a life in the Jim Crow South. Then he thrived driving a cab in Boston, when the city was still overtly racist. He loved to walk and take road trips, watch sports and talk trash about the New England Patriots. Basking in the love of his family, Michael Jr. said, was probably Jerry’s favorite pastime. [ Read the full story...]

Jerry Williams’ grandson remembers his grandfather’s 82nd birthday party

A Berklee Tribute: "Charles River"

Written and produced by Madison Simpson.

"Writing songs during this time has been such a challenge, but this song in particular came to me very easily. I needed to get everything I was feeling out of me, and I think it produced a very accurate sense of what it feels like to be a musician during this pandemic."
Madison Simpson, Berklee 2020 Alumna
“Charles River”

Remembering Evelyn and Bernie Seckler

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Married for 67 years, Evelyn and Bernie Seckler both died in April — within three days of each other — in an assisted living facility in Newton. Just as Evelyn and Bernie’s lives ended in parallel, they also began that way. Both were born in 1920s New York, in Eastern European immigrant communities.

The Great Depression had hit when Evelyn and Bernie were still children, and the Depression shaped Evelyn’s worldview. “She had strong opinions about not wasting money and then strong opinions about politics,” their son Stephen said about his mother. Bernie was always striving. He was a math professor who was so committed to mastering the field that he learned Russian just to translate Russian math textbooks, and was an avid stamp collector. [ Read the full story...]

Ari Seckler on his grandmother Evelyn’s worldview

Remembering Dolores Woodford

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Dolores Woodford had built a nursing career that spanned 60 years. Regina Patrick, Woodford's friend and fellow nurse, reminisced about her colleague: “She always said, 'Regina, I will not stop until the day I die. I want to work until the day I die.' One thing that gives me peace a little, is that she was able to do that,” Patrick said.

Dr. Michael Dern, who worked with Woodford for many years, said not only did she focus on her patients, but she also mentored younger, less experienced nurses, taking them under her wing. “It was just, labor of love. I mean, I can't think of any other way. It helped define who she was being a caregiver,” Dern said. [ Read the full story...]

Lynn O’Brien, Dolores Woodford’s daughter, on her mother’s generosity

A Berklee Tribute: "Interlude (Atlas)"

Written and recorded by Rachael Rhodes.

"The title, 'Interlude (Atlas)', is a reminder that this time in history is only an 'interlude' in our lives — not the end. 'Atlas' refers to the world as a map for all of us navigating this difficult time."
Rachael Rhodes, Berklee 2020 Graduate
"Interlude (Atlas)"

Remembering George Coppez

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George Coppez playing drums while serving in the Army Air Corp. during World War II.
Courtesy of Diane Craven

George Coppez was a veteran, a father, a grandfather, a Boston sports fan, and a drummer. He served in World War II, and after the war, he got a call that he'd talk about for the rest of his life. The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, one of the most famous big bands in the country, was in town, and they needed a fill-in drummer, an opportunity he jumped at. After his month-long stint, Coppez played in jazz bands and orchestras for decades. In his 90s, he took up drumming again and became a fixture at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home weekly music sessions. [ Read the full story...]

George Coppez’s son and daughter on their father’s death at The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke

Greater Boston Looks Back