PASSINGS: Dave Gavitt, Wilma Lee Cooper, James Speed, James N. Rosenau, Yuli Ofer, Kurt Ziebart
Dave Gavitt

Coach led organization

of Big East Conference

Dave Gavitt, 73, one of basketball's most influential leaders in the last three decades, died Friday in a hospital near his hometown of Rumford, R.I., after a long illness, his family said.

Gavitt coached Providence College to the NCAA tournament five times, including the Final Four in 1973. He was the driving force behind the formation of the Big East Conference and was its first commissioner. He was selected to coach the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, but the United States boycotted the Moscow Games. Gavitt was president of USA Basketball and oversaw the introduction of NBA players onto the U.S. Olympic roster, including the Dream Team at the 1992 Games.

"He was not only a great basketball coach and organizer of the Big East but he was a great, great statesman for basketball, college and international," former St. John's University coach and fellow Naismith Hall of Famer Lou Carnesecca said.

Gavitt was the Big East's commissioner from 1979 until 1990. He served on the NCAA's Division I Basketball Committee from 1980 to 1984 and was its chairman from 1982 to 1984, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams and the first of its TV contracts with CBS was negotiated.

When he left the Big East, Gavitt joined the Boston Celtics' front office as a vice president, succeeding Red Auerbach in running the franchise. He was fired in 1994.

Gavitt served as chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 2006. He was president of the NCAA Foundation and worked as tournament director of the Maui Invitational from 2005 until 2009.

Born Oct. 26, 1937, in Westerly, R.I., Gavitt played basketball and baseball at Dartmouth, graduating from the Ivy League school in 1959. He was an assistant coach at Providence for two years before starting his head coaching career in 1967 at Dartmouth.

He became head coach at Providence in 1969 and led the Friars to a 209-84 record over 10 seasons for a .713 winning percentage that is still the best in school history. He became the school's athletic director in 1971.

Wilma Lee Cooper

Singer, songwriter in duo with

husband at Grand Ole Opry

Wilma Lee Cooper, 90, a singer-songwriter who with her husband, fiddler Stoney Cooper, made up one of country music's top duos, died Sept. 13 of natural causes at her home in Sweetwater, Tenn., according to the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1950, Harvard University named Cooper America's "most authentic mountain singer," and the Smithsonian Institution honored her as the First Lady of Bluegrass in 1974.

She had "a voice that can stop a clock and send the hands of time racing backward to an era when a mournful ballad and country music were one and the same," the Washington Post said in 1982.

A skilled banjoist, guitarist and organist, she wrote or co-wrote some of their most successful compositions, including "Cheated Too," "Loving You," "I Tell My Heart" and "Heartbreak Street."

Born Wilma Lee Leary in 1921 in West Virginia, she grew up singing with her parents and siblings in a bluegrass and gospel group called the Leary Family.