Of note: R.B. Greaves, Nguyen Chi Thien, Stan Mudenge, Barbara Pillsbury Milne

October 6, 2012
R.B. Greaves
pop singer

R.B. Greaves, a pop singer whose “Take a Letter, Maria” was a 1969 hit, died Sept. 27 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 68.

He died of prostate cancer, said Craig Harvey, the Los Angeles County coroner’s chief of operations.

Ronald Bertram Greaves was a nephew of the rhythm-and-blues singer Sam Cooke. He was born on a U.S. Air Force base in the former British Guyana. Living in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, he recorded several soul singles as Sonny Childe.

It was after moving to the United States that he scored his biggest hit as R.B. Greaves. “Take a Letter, Maria” tells the story of a man who comes home to find “the woman I thought I knew in the arms of another man.”

He dictates a final letter to her through his secretary with the chorus: “Take a letter, Maria. Address it to my wife. Say I won’t be coming home, gonna start a new life.”

The tune ends on a hopeful note, however, as the man asks his secretary out to dinner.

The song, with its soul style, catchy chorus and brassy horn edge, went to No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1969. It earned Mr. Greaves a gold record, selling 1 million copies, and remains a popular oldie.

Mr. Greaves also broke into the Top 40 in 1970 with his version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David tune, “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me.”

Nguyen Chi Thien
dissident poet

Nguyen Chi Thien, a Vietnamese dissident poet who spent nearly 30 years in communist prisons in his native country, died Oct. 2 at a hospital in Santa Ana, Calif. He was 73.

Mr. Thien had contracted tuberculosis while in Vietnamese prison, and doctors were investigating a large mass in his lung in the days before he died, his friend Hanh Thang-Thai said. The actual cause of his death was unclear.

Mr. Thien first went to prison in 1960, after telling Vietnamese high school students that, contrary to their textbooks, the end of World War II was not the result of a Soviet attack, but rather U.S. nuclear attacks in Japan.

He was later imprisoned again because of poems he wrote that decried communist oppression. But because of a lack of evidence, he never went to trial.

In 1977, Mr. Thien was released from prison long enough to write down poems he had memorized in captivity, a manuscript that became known as “Flowers of Hell.”

The poems were published in Vietnamese after he hand-delivered them to British diplomats at their embassy in Hanoi.

When he exited the embassy, security agents were awaiting him and he was promptly sent back to prison.

While he was still imprisoned, Mr. Thien won the International Poetry Award in Rotterdam in 1985.

He was released from prison in 1991 and traveled to the United States in 1995, and later France, before settling in Orange County’s Little Saigon.

Stan Mudenge
Zimbabwe official

Stan Mudenge, Zimbabwe’s former foreign minister, died Sept. 27, state radio reported. He was 71.

The radio reported Mr. Mudenge collapsed before giving a speech at a meeting of academics in the southern town of Masvingo.

A loyalist of President Robert Mugabe’s party, he was the foreign minister for a decade after serving as the country’s chief diplomat at the United Nations for five years. At the time of his death, he was the higher education minister in charge of universities and colleges.

As an academic and historian, Mr. Mudenge’s writings on ancient African civilizations became school textbooks after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Barbara Pillsbury Milne
anthropologist

Barbara Pillsbury Milne, 69, a medical and cultural anthropologist, died Sept. 27 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She had leukemia, said a daughter, Heather Cristman.

Dr. Pillsbury Milne, who settled in the District in 2003, spent much of her career consulting for the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the nonprofit Global Health Council. Her work took her to more than 100 countries.

Her expertise was in women’s health, reproductive medicine, family planning, and HIV/AIDS prevention and education.

Barbara Linne Kroll was a native of Bemidji, Minn., and a 1964 graduate of the University of Minnesota. At Columbia University Teachers College, she received a master’s degree in applied linguistics and teaching English as a second language in 1968. She received a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Columbia University in 1973 and studied under anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Dr. Pillsbury Milne was past president of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

— From news services and staff reports

Most Read Local