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Longtime activist Alice Powell dies at age 85

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, June 15, 2014, at 7:50 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 15, 2014, at 8:43 p.m.

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In the five years Alice Powell lived in Wichita, she touched people’s lives, made friends and found a new life.

“My dad was a Hollywood screenwriter that was blacklisted in the McCarthy era,” said her son, Anthony Powell, the former KSN Channel 3 anchor and now owner of the Mooyah franchise of Wichita. “They were both old Hollywood liberal activists. She was heavily involved with numerous causes. When Los Angeles became too chaotic, I expressed some concern telling her Wichita is a lot more conservative than Los Angeles.

“But as soon as my mom got here, she was like a tornado hitting the ground,” he said. “She became so involved with so many different things.”

Alice Shragowitz Powell, psychotherapist, widow to screenwriter Dick Powell, peace activist, political book club promoter and Palestine Study Group founder, died Saturday in Florida. She was 85.

A Celebration of Life service is planned at a later date.

She was born Alice Shragowitz in Minneapolis, Minn.

She grew up in an immigrant ghetto; her best friends were often from diverse cultures, according to friend Gretchen Eick, a local historian and author. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1945.

Mrs. Powell’s first husband, Robin “Lefty” Willner, was the son of George Willner, the talent agent for the Hollywood 10 – producers, directors and screenwriters imprisoned on contempt charges by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee when they refused to identify people in the industry who were communists, Eick said. That marriage lasted four years.

In 1962, she married Dick Powell, who wrote scripts for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “M.A.S.H.”

The couple became involved in the civil rights movement, Vietnam War protests and cultivating activism. Mrs. Powell pursued a doctorate in social clinical psychology.

Dick Powell died in 1996.

In 2009, Mrs. Powell moved to Wichita to be closer to her son, Anthony, and his family.

“She lived on a beach in Malibu for much of her life, but from the Wichita angle, this city really breathed new life into her,” Anthony Powell said. “She was burned out on Los Angeles traffic and chaos. Here, she found a second life with close friends. She loved Wichita as a cultural city. She believed it had everything that a city could offer.”

Mrs. Powell became active in Wichita’s Peace and Social Justice Center. She brought speakers into the city to address numerous issues, including prison reform and disparate sentencing laws for marijuana use. She joined the Occupy movement to raise consciousness over wealth inequality, Eick said.

“She taught a lot of us some of the strategies used in California by having house meetings, where she would serve food and talk about issues,” Eick said. “She had the energy and the willingness to say, ‘Let’s do this’ and put in money to make it happen. She had an invigorating presence.”

Ten months ago, Mrs. Powell found a cancerous lump in her neck.

“She kept up her interest in what kind of world she was leaving, but she also brought in her friends and family and let them walk the process of dying with her,” Eick said. “She took good friendships into a much deeper level of intimacy.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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