Sonoma Valley notables who passed away in 2017

Carole Peccorini


Sonoma Valley lost more than its fair share of notable longtime residents in 2017. Based on comments and remembrances received from readers, we’re looking back at the lives of a few.

March 24 – Cody Cordellos

Since birth, Cody Cordellos had battled a rare genetic skin condition called Epidermolysis bullosa. He lived almost 30 years longer than expected with the painful and debilitating condition and finally succumbed to the disease at the age of 32. The disorder so severely stressed Cordellos’s system that he stood just 5 feet tall. The condition made him look and feel as though his body was covered by burns, with scabbing that never healed. The community rallied behind Cordellos with periodic fundraisers over the years to help cover his extensive medical supplies, bandaging needs and medicine. “But with everything that Cody was going through he still had an upbeat personality and he always put others before himself,” said his friend Daniel Hankins.

March 26 – Brandon Barmore

Sonoma Valley High School senior Brandon Barmore drowned in a swimming lagoon while on a Seeds of Learning service trip with classmates to Nicaragua over spring break. Barmore, just 17, was the high school’s Student of the Year for 2017, captained the track and speech forensics teams, and participated in the Mock Trial team and Model UN Club. His peers selected him “Mr. Dragon” and he was nominated as homecoming king. “He was involved in so many things. He knew almost every student on campus,” said Principal Kathleen Hawing.

June 21 – Kathy Mazza

Kathy Mazza always seemed to be part of the Sonoma landscape, whether as a volunteer or a city employee. She was the widow of former mayor and longtime fire chief Al Mazza, who she met during the time she worked at City Hall. Together the Mazzas served as the Sonoma Alcalde and Alcaldesa in 2006, receiving the official cane of office as honorary “mayors.” After she ended her 17 years in City Hall in 1997, she went on to help establish the Red and White Ball, worked with the Teen Center and the Sonoma Community Center, and was often found cooking up a pot of something for Meals On Wheels, out of the Trinity Episcopal Church across from the East Spain Street home.

Aug. 29 – Dennis O’Neil

Dennis James O’Neil was a lifelong Valley of the Moon resident, except for two years active duty in the U.S. Army. After Vietnam, he immediately started working in the Sebastiani Winery alongside August Sebastiani, who treated him as part of the family. After August died, his son, Don, took the responsibility of watching over O’Neil, who worked in his office even during Don’s time as a California assemblyman. O’Neil was great booster of Sonoma and its history, and seemed to know everyone in town. He was the youngest son of Sonoma photographer Richard O’Neil and his wife Wilma.

Oct. 17 – Carole Peccorini

It was Carole Peccorini’s idea to illuminate an evergreen tree on the Plaza with white lights during the holiday season, a glowing tribute to those who had passed away. She was one of the founders of Valley of the Moon Hospice, which eventually became Hospice By the Bay. In addition to the Lights of Remembrance tradition, she also started the Hit the Road Jack run, a hospice fundraiser. Prior to her hospice career, she was a pediatric nurse, and in recent years led workshops and travel excursions through her company Big Ideas and Rich Conversations with Women, which encouraged women “to discover and nourish who they truly are.”

Oct. 20 – Don Lyons

When Don Lyons was a kid, he wanted to be a baseball player, a firefighter and a teacher. Lofty dreams indeed, but he became all three. He played minor league baseball in the California Angels farm system, was a firefighter for the San Francisco Fire Department and taught English at Sonoma Valley High for more than a decade. And for the last 18 years he was the Sonoma Valley High Dragon baseball coach. For the past two years, he waged a gallant fight against cancer, a fight that he lost at age 63.

Nov. 20 – Joyce Murphy

Joyce Murphy – literacy advocate, Giants fan and beagle aficionado – lived in Sonoma for 29 years, where she owned and operated the Sonoma Valley Greeting Service, an agency dedicated to acclimating newcomers to the challenges and delights of life in Sonoma. An extrovert known for her friendliness and warmth, Murphy established herself as the Valley’s de facto welcome wagon when she purchased the greeting service in 1996. Murphy advocated in support of children’s literacy and also worked tirelessly for the Kid Scoop Newspapers in Education program.

Nov. 20 – Rose Murphy

After attending journalism school, Rose Murphy dedicated the rest of her life to writing, teaching and literature, but she is perhaps best known for co-founding Murphy’s Irish Pub in 1993, with her husband Larry. At Murphy’s, she shared her love of Irish literature by producing Irish plays and readings designed to delight pub patrons with the joys of Irish writing and to celebrate the Irish tradition of neighbors gathering their families at the local watering hole for conversation and music. In 1994 she published a biography of Irish mystic and poet Ella Young. She taught at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College. Her writing appeared in the Index Tribune and Marin Independent Journal, and she donated her writing and production skills to countless charitable organizations.

Dec. 10 – Marilyn Duggan

Marilyn Duggan Caselli was the funeral director of Duggan’s Mission Chapel for 35 years. “Mar,” as she was called by loved ones, had plenty of practice with death and dying, but she was “the life of every party,” said her daughter Tisha Chinn. A mother of four, three of whom live in Sonoma, Caselli was deeply committed to her children. She stayed at home raising them until they entered high school, at which point she stepped into the family business. Though Marilyn and her sister Susan sold Duggan’s a year ago, it remains the only licensed crematory in the Sonoma Valley. Caselli loved going to the movies; she traveled often and visited exotic ports of call. But what she loved most was having her family together.

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