Notable deaths: Wagner, Raggio, LaLanne

Carolyn Wagner

Carolyn Wagner

Former P-FLAG vice president Carolyn Wagner, 57, died of cancer in Tulsa.

Wagner became an advocate for the LGBT community after her son was a victim of bullying. She sued the Fayetteville, Ark., school district in a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where she prevailed.

While he was a teenager, Wagner brought her son to Dallas to participate in the Gayla Prom, which was then held at the Dallas Grand Hotel in Downtown. At the time it was the only event of its type held anywhere in the region and one of the few in the country. P-FLAG Dallas was the event’s sponsor.

Wagner said at the event that she was delighted to have her son experience a healthy dating environment.

Wagner served as grand marshal of the Tulsa Pride parade in 2000. She founded the support group, Families United Against Hate.

She was a nurse who spent her career caring for children that were abuse victims and those with cancer and terminal illnesses. She founded Camp Rainbow for children with cancer.

Wagner died Jan. 18, and a memorial service was held Saturday. Donations may be made to P-FLAG.

Louise Raggio

Dallas women’s rights activist Louise Raggio, 91, died this weekend.

She was the first female Dallas County assistant district attorney. When Raggio was first hired she was paid half what the men in the department made. She was the first woman in Dallas to prosecute a criminal case and the first woman to serve as director of the State Bar of Texas.

After going into private practice, Raggio worked to get the Marital Property Act of 1967 passed. Prior to passage of that law, married women could not have their own bank accounts, apply for mortgages or have their own credit in Texas. Dallas District Court Judge Lorraine Raggio is her daughter-in-law. Her son, Greer Jr., ran for Congress in 2010 against incumbent Pete Sessions.

Jack LaLanne

Jack LaLanne, 96, the original TV fitness expert, died on Sunday. His show began in 1951 and ran for 34 years.

“The only way you can hurt the body is not use it,” LaLanne said. “Inactivity is the killer and, remember, it’s never too late.”

In 1955, at age 41, LaLanne swam handcuffed from Alcatraz to San Francisco. The year before, he set a world record swimming the length of the Golden Gate Bridge under water. In 1956, he set a world record for push-ups.

LaLanne opened his first gym in 1936. By the 1980s, he owned more than 200 Jack LaLanne’s European Health Spas. The company became Bally’s Total Fitness.

—  David Taffet

Fierro, en fuego

Born in El Salvador, Oscar Fierro hopped the border with the intent to become famous. Now the designer and TV fashionista is making his mark — and he’s not shy about saying so

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

OSCAR GOWN | Designer Oscar Fierro, below, finds the perfect marriage between fashion and fundraising when his runway show also acts as a benefit for the Legal Hospice of Texas this weekend. Photo by Jirard.

DAMAS DE BLANCO
Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.  $15­–$50.
DDB2010.com

……………………………….

Oscar Fierro admits that modesty is not a value he subscribes to. He’s just not a humble person.

That might lead some to think he’s cocky, but really, he’s just confident … and not just because he’s a gay fashion designer with a sense of entitlement. It’s because he’s been through hell and doesn’t plan on going back.

“My journey to United States was painful and basically a miracle,” he says. “When people try to knock me down, I laugh about it. I crossed three borders [Guatemala, Mexico and Texas] and I have made a name for myself in a short time. It’s gonna take a whole army to bring me down.”

As a boy in El Salvador, he attended school barefoot and ate a meal only when he could. He emigrated to the U.S. illegally, but because El Salvador was in the middle of a civil war, he was granted asylum. He made his way to Dallas in 1990 to live with his “very straight brother and his family,” but Fierro found stability in his work as a waiter at Mercado Juarez.

“When people leave their country they say they’ll make their money [here] and go back,” he says. “But why in hell would I ever go back? Once I experienced the wonderful sense of freedom and flushable toilets, I knew this was for me. Toilets to me were the best things ever. But I also knew here, I could make my dreams come true and even help people in a way.”

On Thursday he’ll demonstrate that mission with the Damas de Blanco runway show, where he will debut his spring and summer collections. All proceeds will benefit the Legal Hospice of Texas, which provides legal services to low-income individuals with terminal illnesses or HIV.

“I think it’s the perfect marriage between fashion and charity,” he says. “When fashion can be attached to a great cause, I think it makes it better.”

Charity is crucial to Fierro. The struggles of his family and those near to him inspired Fierro to start the Oscar Fierro Foundation. In 2004, he returned to El Salvador to find that people still needed help, mostly children. His foundation helps to rebuild schools and provide for kids where it can.

Fierro’s dream has remained pretty basic: He wants to be famous. He knew from childhood that he wanted to be involved in entertainment. He began by helping make dresses for beauty pageants in El Salvador; that’s when his path to fame and to America was starting to reveal itself. But really, fashion wasn’t a passion — it was a vehicle to get to where he wants.

“I have a clear mind for logistics and I knew, whether as fashion designer, singer or whatever, I’d have to embrace myself to not make money doing it,” he says. “So I concentrated on working to pay bills and then ventured into fashion.”

He started designing in 2000, mostly because he had to create his own clothes. At 4-foot-11, finding fashionable clothing that fit him was a challenge. Figuring he’d have a niche market, he began designing for shorter bodies.

“It kept pulling me in and I loved it,” he says.

In 2008, he finally debuted his first collection — to him, a lightning-fast record. Fierro’s dreams were coming true.

“It was like an explosion when it came out. I’m not ashamed to say it, but I believe I have great talent and personality and people can relate to me. That has been the combination for me to go as fast as I can in fashion. Other designers in Dallas have been at it that same amount of time but haven’t been able to reach the level I have yet.”

As much as he loves his adopted home, he says Dallas isn’t as stylish as it pretends to be. Despite some success here, he has to work in New York to really put his designs out there. Dallas has some catching up to do.

“Dallas is not fashion-ready and you can put that in bold print,” he says. “These ladies can tell you all day long how fashion forward they are and how they support local fashion, but fashion forward for them is big hair — that’s it.”

That acerbic wit is enough to get him on television. Gabriela Natale of Telemundo tapped into Fierro’s sassy talk on fashion and celebrities as the fashion police on her Spanish-language show SuperLatina.

“Oscar is a natural,” says Natale. “He is an exquisite designer, an over-the-top diva and the fiercest fashion critic, all in one. He was born for TV.”

So: Television, in print and on the runway. All that’s left is one thing and perhaps his American dream will be fully realized.

“We’ve sent gowns to stylists for the Oscars, but I’m not aware of any red carpet where my gowns have appeared,” he says. “But one celebrity that I wouldn’t like to dress is Paula Abdul. She’s a crime for a fashion designer.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens