Prominent citizens are often described as "towering figures" in the community.
Robert Ellison left an enduring mark on Sonoma County by forging towering steel figures that stand in public places from Petaluma to Santa Rosa — and places as far away as Providence, R.I. and Anchorage, Alaska.
Ellison, who died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at his Sonoma Mountain home on Sept. 9 at age 65, is among the county's notable residents who passed away this year.
Among the departed are two prominent jurists, three Pearl Harbor veterans and a woman who survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.
Some endured for decades, like wine pioneer Louis J. Foppiano who died in March at 101, while others passed prematurely, like rodeo star Broc Cresta, who died in July at 25.
Ellison's name may be unfamiliar to many, but his art is practically unavoidable. "Sun Zone," a 14-foot-tall, three-legged piece reminiscent of ice cream cones, stands in front of the Sonoma County Administration Center.
"Arch Tworain," a 28-foot cream-colored structure that weighs 8? tons, stands along the entry road to the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. The scissored "Renaissance" rested for years in Old Courthouse Square and is now at Cornerstone Sonoma.
Public art like Ellison's welded steel abstractions serve a purpose, said Harvey Charnofsky of Sebastopol, board president of the Arts Council of Sonoma County.
"It raises the awareness that art has a place of importance in our community," he said.
It also translates into revenue for the local economy, Charnofsky said, asserting that visitors stay longer and spend more in art-rich places like Sonoma County.
Ellison, an ebullient and energetic man, offered a simpler explanation for why he shifted to steel after first working in ceramics.
"Every sculpture I've ever built is still in existence," he said in a 2010 interview. "If I'm going to spend a lot of time and effort making these pieces, I want them to last forever."
As a Sonoma County judge for 20 years, Joseph P. Murphy set a gold standard for running a courtroom in a fair, even-handed manner and for schooling a generation of young attorneys.
"He was the guy we all looked up to," said Chris Andrian, a Santa Rosa defense attorney who started practicing law here in 1973, trying some of his first major cases before Murphy.
"Everybody was treated with respect, no matter what side you were on," Andrian said. Murphy also demonstrated "enormous patience," an attribute that Andrian said is "not a requirement" for sitting judges.
Murphy, an Irish Catholic, diehard Giants baseball fan and Democratic Party activist, retired from the Superior Court bench in 1984. He died of heart failure at his Santa Rosa home in March at age 89.
Jack DeMeo, a Santa Rosa attorney for 53 years, tried mostly civil cases in Murphy's courtroom and found him to be both witty and wise, as well as fair and honorable.
"I thought the world of him," DeMeo said.
He recalled watching Murphy stride rapidly along Mendocino Avenue toward the courthouse, puffing on a long cigar and turning down proffered rides.
"He was a kick in the butt," DeMeo said.
Rex Sater, another retired jurist, died in January at his Santa Rosa home after suffering several strokes at age 84.