Saturday, July 19, 2008

Underwire and steel: two obits

In the newspaper itself, the Wall Street Journal had equal-sized headlines for the two obits; in the website, the Magidson obit had a smaller headline. I find her the more interesting of the two, though Boni has his own interesting facets.

After finding success manufacturing underwire bras, Shirley Magidson became a leading Southern California social activist.

An interesting juxtaposing of her life's details. She hand her husband, both Carnegie-Mellon grads, moved to California and set up shop in Los Angeles as Metric Products Inc. and at first manufactured wire axles that Mattel Inc. used to attach wheels to toy cars and balsa-wood airplanes. A contract from Helene of Hollywood, a competitor to Maiden Form Brassiere Co., brought a big order for underwires.

In addition to design, the Magidsons shared a passion for social justice, and their Beverly Hills home became a meeting place for progressive leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed at their home shortly before he was assassinated, family members say. In his memoir "Spock on Spock," Dr. Benjamin Spock, a close family friend, wrote: "If anybody was in charge of the opposition to the war in Vietnam, it was Herb Magidson."

They were involved in more than civil rights: The family held fund-raisers for the Black Panthers, the Berrigan brothers, Daniel Ellsberg and numerous activist causes.

In 1980, Mrs. Magidson helped to found the Southern California branch of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the antinuclear group that shared a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1985. As a leader of the group, Mrs. Magidson journeyed to Stockholm for the awards ceremony. She also was part of a delegation to Peru to visit Lori Berenson, an American prisoner who became an international cause célèbre.

Mrs. Magidson studied Zen Buddhism in Los Angeles, became adept at flamenco dancing and doted on her grandchildren. In recent years, she had a hit with a sleep mask she patented.

Quite peripatetic. Boni was much more staid.

After receiving a doctorate at Carnegie Institute of Technology, Mr. Boni spent his entire career with Armco, based in Middletown, Ohio. He had a sheaf of patents for improved manufacturing processes and coatings. He was fond of citing a quotation attributed to Charles Kettering, GM's legendary head of research: "I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down."

Staying with one company wasn't unusual in mid-20th-century America. Yet he, too, had another side:

A man of diverse interests, Mr. Boni played drums in a touring Dixieland band as a teen, and taught himself cello. He attended a writing seminar at Kenyon College and published books of poetry. As he struggled in the past year with the leukemia that killed him July 1 at age 80, he put the finishing touches on a novel, his second. Titled "Why War?," it follows the fates of three young American soldiers in World War I.

"He was in the process of examining the meaning of life and facing death," his daughter, Leslie Boni, says. "It became so painful to him that we were at war."

No comments:

Post a Comment