Remembering Some Remarkable Lives Lost In 2009
Talk of the Nation reached out to friends and colleagues at NPR to ask them to remind us of some of the remarkable men and women who died in 2009. They responded with personal stories about the people who inspired them.
Arnie Sachar, 'A True Intellectual'
Gwen Thompkins, NPR's East Africa correspondent, remembers documentarian, screenwriter and New Orleans native, Chappy Hardy.
Karen Grigsby-Bates, NPR correspondent, remembers centenarian Ann Nixon Cooper.
Margot Adler, NPR correspondent, remembers Arnie Sachar, who, for 40 years called radio stations to ask deep questions, and to make probing, existential points.
Paul Brown, NPR newscaster, remembers musician, music collector and dear friend, Ray Alden.
Remembered by Margot Adler
Arnie Sachar died this year. No, you never heard of him. He not only wasn't famous, he was one of the many people on this Earth who never get recognized for anything they do, except by a small circle of friends. We at NPR, like most of the media, tend to celebrate the successful, the famous and the celebrated.
Sachar lived alone in Queens, N.Y.; he never finished college; he didn't have a real career; in the end, he was pretty disabled and lived on a tiny bit of money left from his parents. But for 40 years, Sachar called radio stations to ask deep questions, and to make probing, existential points. He wasn't the kind of caller we know so well: the kind who tells you what they think about Iran or health care policy. No. Like 1960s anarchist Paul Goodman, the author of Growing up Absurd, Sachar assumed that most people, like him, lived lives of quiet desperation, that much of modern life, politics, technology, science and education was deeply unfeeling and alienating. He always asked things like: How do we do work that is truly meaningful? How do we allow passion, sensuality and ecstasy into our lives? How do we stop being defined by the boring jobs many of us hold?
Sachar was a true intellectual without portfolio. He made lifelong friends among the radio people he called, and many were at his funeral. He and friends published a tiny literary journal, And Then — about 800 copies per issue — yet the subjects of the poems and essays within those pages were eternal ones, the ones we will remember decades after we forget the name of our local member of Congress or current secretary of defense. Every few weeks, I would get a call from Arnie, who would tell me about an article in an obscure journal or an intellectual fight among academics that was totally fascinating, but that only 100 people cared about.
For the last 21 years of his life, he bemoaned that talk programs on radio no longer provided forums for his existential discussions. Instead, they were only the ideological barkings of the right and the left. Perhaps Internet radio will finally bring back the possibility that Arnie's main question — how do we live a joyous, unalienated life — gets a new hearing.
Ann Nixon Cooper, Centenarian
Remembered by Karen Grigsby Bates
When I went down to Atlanta last summer to visit with Ann Nixon Cooper in preparation for writing her memoir, she wanted me to be very clear about one thing: She thought it was lovely that then-President-elect Obama had taken the time to mention her in his speech on election night. And while she reveled in the media attention that followed, she bristled a little bit that all these people thought she was a complete unknown before Mr. Obama called her name.
"I did have a life before that, you know," she told me.
And she proceeded to have her friends and family pull out photo albums, vintage newspapers and reams of letters to prove it.
There she was with eminent sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, whose landmark 1957 treatise, The Black Bourgeoisie, would spark years of public and private debate on class stratification in black America. There she was in a group photo of black Atlanta socialites, her friend Coretta Scott King smiling a few people away from her. Newlyweds Nat and Maria Cole beamed in her den as they went out back to a clubhouse her husband built specifically so she could entertain in the style she thought appropriate.
She worked briefly as a policy writer for Atlanta Life, the big, black-owned hometown business. "They hired me because I had beautiful handwriting," she said proudly. "If you pull the old policy books, you can see for yourself." She quit that when she became pregnant with her first child, and stayed home to have and raise three more.
Although she didn't work for pay, Mrs. Cooper probably spent a full workweek volunteering. She started the first black Boy Scout troop in Atlanta, founded several book clubs (and still participated in one until last year), taught fitness classes to senior citizens younger than she until she was 100, and was a literacy tutor at the church her friends, the Revs. Martin Luther King Sr. and Jr. pastored.
She wore heels higher than any I dared to, and firmly believed one should capitalize on one's best assets. "Mine are my legs," she grinned. "I still got good ones!" And boy, did she.
Mrs. Cooper is gone now, just shy of her 108th birthday. But she enjoyed her life while she lived it. And last summer, as she pointed to the picture that brought her so much attention last year — a picture of her casting her early vote, in person (in high heels, of course) — she leaned over and patted my hand.
"When you think about where we were when I was born and what's happening now — it's amazing. I never thought I'd live to see the day a black man might be president. And now here he is, in the White House! America is something, isn't it?"
It is indeed.
This remembrance first appeared on NPR's Two-Way news blog.
Kim Peek, 'The Real Rain Man'
Remembered by Howard Berkes
Kim Peek was buried in December during a light snowfall in Salt Lake City. If he had still been alive, he probably would have been able to detail the weather on the same day, year after year, deep into history. He would have been able to name notable events and the births of notable people on that day. And with enough time, he could have recited every word in thousands of novels and ticked off the names, addresses and phone numbers listed in every phone book he's read.
Peek's mind was so much like a computer he was called the "Kim-puter." But, like a computer, the mega-savant lacked "the ability to take those things ... and use them, to reason with them ... to know the implications, to make judgments based on them," notes Daniel Christensen, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah's Neuropsychiatric Institute.
Christensen and other scientists found that Peek's brain was missing the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres.
Peek could commit to memory almost everything he saw and heard, but he couldn't make sense of it. And he lacked the cognitive abilities and motor skills to do the simplest things, including buttoning his shirt.
Two years after his chance encounter with Peek, screenwriter Barry Morrow wrote the Hollywood blockbuster Rain Main, which featured Dustin Hoffman playing the title character, a man inspired by Peek. Both Hoffman and Morrow won Academy Awards, and Morrow eventually gave his Oscar to Peek.
Rain Man transformed Peek, from an obscure and isolated savant to a globe-trotting public speaker billed as the "Real Rain Man." He and his attentive father, Fran, a specialist in Utah's Special Education law, used Kim's sudden fame to campaign for fair and respectful treatment of the mentally disabled.
Christensen says Peek was unique among savants. Most, he says, had one particular obsessive specialty, say music or math or sports. Peek burrowed into 15.
To the end, Peek defied attempts to classify and understand him. In fact, he was so wrapped up in facts, some said he was too literal to have a sense of humor.
But reporter Lois Collins of the Salt Lake City Deseret News reported in July that Peek had begun telling jokes, displaying a level of cognitive reasoning supposedly beyond his reach.
"In Cleveland," Collins reported, "speaking at a Catholic school, [Peek] tells a priest there's a typo in the church's policies and procedures. 'They left the R out of celebrate,' he deadpans."
Christensen sums up Peek this way. "No one knows to this day why, exactly why, people can do things like Kim could do."
Kim Peek died Dec. 19, at age 58, from a massive heart attack. Christensen says there may never be another savant quite like him.
Sam Maloof, 'Dean Of American Woodworking'
Remembered by Neda Ulaby
Sam Maloof died at the age of 93, the first American craftsman to be honored with a MacArthur "genius grant." The son of Syrian immigrants, he was one of the fathers of California's modern arts movement. Although he started off making furniture because he couldn't afford to buy his own, his iconic rocking chairs now cost as much as sports cars.
I interviewed Maloof just a month before his death, in the living room of his hand-built redwood house. (It's on the National Register of Historic Places and remains open to the public). He was very old and in ill health — not the famously exuberant wood guru who terrified onlookers by carving his pieces freehand, with a band saw. Still, he radiated a sort of honor and humility.
He insisted on making me tea and peppered me with questions about my own Syrian heritage. As we sat, surrounded by his taut, sculptural and utterly wonderful furniture, he referred to himself repeatedly with an Arabic expression I'd never heard before: "He's a failure; he works with his hands." It seemed to reflect lingering embarrassment about being the black sheep of the family; the only one of his siblings who'd never graduated from college.
But by the time he died, Maloof had at least three honorary Ph.D.s and was the acknowledged dean of American woodworking. He was restless to finish all the projects he had under way, but admitted ruefully, "I'd have to live to be at least a hundred."
Sam, you came awfully close.
Jorge Reyes, Musician
Remembered by Felix Contreras
Although the phrase "Ancient Future" was dreamed up by another group of musical visionaries, it applied to the music of Mexican musician Jorge Reyes, who died on Feb. 7.
After studying music at the National School of Music, Mexico (Escuela Nacional de Musica de la UNAM), he traveled around the world (Turkey, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka) collecting folk instruments and refining a vision that seemed to be waiting for the technology to express it.
After a successful decade as a progressive art rocker — think early Pink Floyd rather than Yes — Reyes reached back into his own cultural history to re-create himself and his music. Handmade ceramic flutes, small drums made from logs and clay pots, rattles of various sizes: It all became part of Reyes' sonic identity on a string of 20 albums that meshed indigena with the keyboards and samplers of electronica.
My introduction to Reyes was by way of a good friend from Mexico (thanks Elena!) who was surprised his music wasn't more popular here in the U.S. Those who must classify and categorize music called it Ambient at first, then New Age.
But Reyes' music is much more than New Age or even Ambient.
It's a calculated and very thought-out connection between music from the past using instruments from the future: It's ethereal and dreamlike (in fact, his album El Costumbre used recordings of Huichol indigenous dream readers reciting dreams); it floats like smoke from an incense burner; it has the texture of water sliding over smooth rocks.
Jorge Reyes may not have gained the name and musical recognition he deserved outside of Mexico. But those who have heard his music experienced a vision that was cut tragically short when he suffered a heart attack at the age of 57.
I'm thankful for the many moments of peace and tranquility I have experienced through his music, whether at home in a darkened meditative room or even on a busy Metro commute.
Erma Henderson, 'Mother Of Detroit'
Remembered by Dennis Herndon
I was just in Detroit, my hometown, to attend a funeral for Erma Henderson. Henderson was known as the "Mother of Detroit." She passed away at the age of 92. The entire City Council, House Reps. John Conyers and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Judge Greg Mathis, who worked as an intern for Henderson, all spoke. TV anchor Diana Lewis was the emcee for the public ceremony. The funeral was covered by all the local television stations.
The Honorable Erma Henderson was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1972 to fill a vacancy created by the death of council member Robert Tindall, and she made history by becoming the first African-American woman to be elected to that post. She then made history by becoming the first woman of any descent and the first African-American to be elected president of the Detroit City Council. During her tenure as council president, she fearlessly and tirelessly crusaded to end redlining, homelessness, police brutality, wage disparity, unfair labor practices and more.
She founded the Women's Conference of Concerns, which organized thousands of women and men throughout the region to empower, educate and enhance families and citizens. She also led successful trade missions around the world — from Detroit to Nairobi, Kenya, to Minsk in the former Soviet Union, to Mexico, Asia and Canada — promoting peace, fair trade, international human rights and justice. She also ran against her longtime friend, Mayor Coleman Young, for mayor. She ran, not because of the job that Young was doing, but to show women that they can run for mayor.
John Rivas, 'Mr. Magic,' DJ
Remembered by Zoe Chace
It's hard for me to imagine the radio without hip-hop. Granted, much of the music we hear now is commercialized, Auto-Tuned nonsense that rappers who came up back in the day get mad about. But still, radio is where hip-hop lives. Underground shows still exist to showcase new artists, and hip-hop music is the bread and butter of Radio One. Hip-hop on the radio is how the word gets out about the up-and-coming; it's where a dance craze starts; it's where DJs make names for themselves; it's where rivalries get debated; it's the soundtrack to your summer.
But back in the day? There was only one place to hear it — and you made an appointment. It was like Biggie Smalls said: "Every Saturday, Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl!" In 1983, John Rivas — aka DJ Mr. Magic or Sir Juice — debuted Rap Attack, the first all hip-hop radio show anywhere. Marley Marl was a DJ, and Tyrone "Fly Ty" Williams was the show's co-producer. John Randolph, better known as Jay Smooth, host of New York's longest-running hip-hop radio show, Underground Railroad, put it this way: "There was no such thing as hip-hop radio until he invented it."
Mr. Magic was a gatekeeper. Not only did he make an artist by putting him on his show — remember, virtually the only airtime back then for rappers — he broke artists by trash-talking them on the air. Before music television, before Hot 97, Rap Attack was the way everybody heard hip-hop.
When Mr. Magic died on Oct. 2, tributes poured in from major artists who were raised on Rap Attack. But everyone who listens to music radio has benefited from the moxie of Sir Juice. It's a lesson for anyone who isn't hearing what they want on the radio — just put it on yourself, and the people will come. Now, hip-hop is everywhere. Thank you, Mr. Magic.
Arnold Stang, Actor
Remembered by Neal Conan
"Radio allows you to use your imagination," said Arnold Stang. "TV dinners describe what TV is."
Stang, the eternal sidekick and second banana, started out as a child actor on network radio in the 1930s, on shows such as The Horn and Hardart Hour and Let's Pretend, and grew into the role of the wiseacre, swapping jokes in a squeaky voice with Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, Fred Allen, Fanny Brice, Jack Benny and, most memorably, as the nerdy teenager Gerard on Henry Morgan's Great Talent Hunt.
After he accompanied Berle onto TV, viewers could put a skinny frame, big glasses and a bow tie to that trademark squawk. He appeared in a few movies — one really good one, The Man with the Golden Arm, which starred Frank Sinatra; and one very strange one, as Arnold Schwarzenegger's partner in the governator's first feature film, Hercules in New York.
In later years, you might remember that unforgettable voice declaring "Whadda Chunka Chawklit" for Chunky Candy Bars. His best-known star turn came as the voice of Top Cat in the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon based on Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko.
Chantay Steptoe-Buford, Researcher
Remembered by Tanya Ballard Brown
On July 29, Chantay Steptoe-Buford passed away after a nine-year fight with cancer and kidney problems. She was 48 and had worked as a researcher in the library of The Tennessean in Nashville for nearly 30 years.
Chantay always smiled. Always. And her smile made you want to smile, too. Her infectious spirit kept her house full of family, friends and good food. I was there many a Sunday and holiday with a full belly along with lots of our Tennessean colleagues.
I lived in Nashville for less than two years, but for the short time I was there, Chantay made sure I had a "family." After I moved to Washington, D.C., Chantay sent me two notes, both of which I had forgotten about until I stumbled across them recently. One thanked me for my friendship and "familyship"; the other wished me great luck and lots of love in my new city.
This fall, Chantay's Tennessean friends conducted a toy drive in her honor and managed to collect a pickup truckload full of toys for needy children. Everyone was so anxious to give to this cause because it meant so much to her.
"Chantay did so much for so many, and many of us didn't realize just how much until she died," says Ellen Margulies, the paper's assistant features editor. "She had a way of making you feel so special, and when we saw the hundreds and hundreds of people at her funeral, it became apparent that to Chantay, everyone truly was special."
Ray Alden, Banjo Player
Remembered by Paul Brown
I call Ray Alden "The Connector." In the relatively tiny world of traditional music, a world I often inhabit when I'm not practicing journalism, he brought individual people together as no one else did. But there was so much more to Ray that it's nearly impossible to describe. He embraced with gusto the people he loved. He took photographs. He painted. He taught high-school mathematics. He recorded musicians. He built high-fidelity speakers. He swam. He rejoiced in his Italian heritage. But perhaps his greatest achievements are that he built himself, against odds and adversity, into an exceptional human being, showed other people they could do the same, and never stopped growing.
Much of what others assumed came naturally to Ray, in fact, did not. He grew up in tough circumstances and deprivation, a street-wise, reserved Bronx city kid. He became a gregarious, welcoming center of a musical community. The sound of the banjo struck him. He loved music. But playing an instrument was very hard for him. He worked and worked at it.
He was so determined that he sought out mentors, such as the great North Carolina fiddler and banjoist Fred Cockerham. To do this, the reserved young guy from the Bronx had to develop big social skills. He did it. He started to record the old-timers in their homes. One good experience grew into another. Ray produced albums. He encouraged younger people. Eventually, he founded the Field Recorders' Collective, to make as many recordings available as possible — and to share the joy he had found.
Look at Ray with Fred Cockerham. Ray is fully there. He's supporting Fred, musically and emotionally. He's respectful, aware he's with a master. He's listening hard. He's learning. And he's living to the fullest. What a great example.
Alaina Reed-Amini, Actress
Remembered by Dalia Martinez
Alaina Reed-Amini (1946-2009) died from breast cancer on Dec. 17. She played Olivia Robinson on Sesame Street in the 1980s. I watched her from Mrs. Rodriguez's second-grade class in Miami. Reed taught me about playing nice with big brother Gordon, the letter N, and singing songs that broke through a foul mood. After leaving Sesame Street, she appeared in another neighborhood on 227, playing Rose.
In the past few years, I caught her in various television and movie roles. Reed is one of the few black actresses I vividly remember from my childhood. Prior to Sesame Street, she had an impressive career on Broadway and as a cabaret singer. But to me, no other role defined her like Olivia Robinson. Reed had the patience to explain the importance of listening to Big Bird; she illustrated the possibility of getting along with siblings (a much-needed example to my big brother and me); and she sang with such a strong, mellifluous voice.
Jeff Hanson, Musician
Remembered by Stephen Thompson
We lost so many musicians in 2009, from the iconic likes of Michael Jackson to the prolifically brilliant Vic Chesnutt, whose suicide darkened Christmas Day. Far fewer people noted the passing of 31-year-old singer, guitarist and songwriter Jeff Hanson, whose music seemed almost otherworldly. With his soft, high, delicate voice, Hanson sounded a little bit like a female Elliott Smith, with all the fragility, preciousness and grace that description suggests.
Hanson's senseless death — the result of an apparent drug overdose on June 5 — lends his music even more of a ghostly ache than it had already, which is saying a lot. He leaves behind three solo albums, each of which unfolds with more promise than the one before it. Jeff Hanson will never get to realize that potential, but his voice is forever etched into the delicate records that bear his name.
Dennis Brutus, Poet And Activist
Remembered by Sue Goodwin
South African poet and human rights activist Dennis Brutus died in his sleep on Dec. 26. He was 85 years old.
His anti-apartheid activism led to South Africa's exclusion from the Olympic Games from l964 until apartheid ended. It also led to his arrest. He was jailed for 18 months at Robben Island in a cell next to Nelson Mandela, and banned from writing.
After he was released, Brutus went into exile and fled to the U.S., where he continued to organize, write and teach. I worked with Dennis in 1984 when he was a writer-in-residence in Washington, D.C., and did workshops with high-school students in D.C. public schools. I watched him convince young writers of the importance of their own experiences in life, and inspire them to use writing as a way to speak truth and make a difference. This is a mark Dennis left on many of those who were fortunate to know him.
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
If you tuned in for our regular visit with the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin and the junkie are on hiatus this week. They'll be back next week.
The deaths of Roy Disney, Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson are among those noted on the front page this past year. This hour, we take time to remember those less well-known but people who we ought to remember, too.
We've asked a few of our colleagues here at NPR to tell us about people they knew, and we want to hear from you. If there's somebody you knew or knew of who died in 2009 that you think we ought to remember, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation and find more tributes on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And we'll begin with some emails that we've received over the past couple of days, from Jennifer(ph) in Oberlin, who nominated Richard Miller(ph), a former voice professor at Oberlin Conservatory.
She wrote: Mr. Miller taught many singers who've gone on to brilliant stage careers, including several Met opera winners and one of the tenors in Il Divo. More importantly, he tried to bring a scientific, anatomical approach to the study of singing. Too many vocal teachers offer baffling, image-dependent advice: Hang the tone on the tip of your nose was one of my favorites from my years of study. Mr. Miller was determined that every singer who attended his master classes or sang in his studio would know the precise way in which the human body produces sound and how to make the body do that most efficiently.
His office was papered in prints from "Grey's Anatomy," and he had a lab full of laryngoscopes, breath monitors, voiceprints, recordings and other tools to help him figure out what made the great voices truly great and how the rest of us could improve what we do. He was the singing equivalent of the sports doctors that put your swing on the computer frame by frame to analyze and improve it. He's influenced singing and the teaching of singing for a generation of vocalists.
And from Aaron(ph) in California: Emily A. Mazoni(ph), who passed away on September 10th of this year. I'd like to share that Emily was a smart, resourceful woman who began her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse in the woods of Pine River, Minnesota, at the young age of 19. She journeyed to California in her 20s, ending up in Hollywood, where she worked as a companion to silent film star Clara Bow.
I loved hearing stories of this time in Tinsel Town, where she, a na�ve Minnesota transplant, didn't know much about pouring drinks or mingling among the rich and famous. I finally remember one story: One night at a party, my grandmother was asked to fix drinks for Clara and her then-husband Rex Bell. She managed to find two highball glasses and proceeded to fill them to the brim with whiskey, nothing but whiskey. I was fortunate enough to have had her for nearly all of my 31 years of life. She is sorely missed.
Joining us now from Nairobi in Kenya is Gwen Thompkins, known to listeners as NPR's East Africa correspondent, though many of you may also know that she is a native of the great city of New Orleans. Gwen, great to have you on the program today.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Hi, Neal, how are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you. Happy New Year. And Gwen, I know you're here with us to remember someone known as, well, one of those people who embodied the spirit of your hometown.
THOMPKINS: It's true, it's true. I wanted to talk about my friend Chappy Hardy, who died in June of this year. And so tonight, I'm actually in Nairobi. I'm making pralines, which is of course the quintessential New Orleans candy, and I'm thinking about Chappy.
You know, he was a wonderful man, and he - you know, I was by no means his (unintelligible), but every time I saw him, he treated me as if I were. And in fact, he was the first person to suggest that I might like broadcast, you know, I might be interested in broadcast news.
CONAN: And you don't hold that against him.
THOMPKINS: I'm sorry, what?
CONAN: And you don't hold that against him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPKINS: Well, some days I do, actually, you know, because I started my career in journalism at the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, and I was writing the obits. You know, I was an obituary writer, and I wrote the weather. And you know, it was a wonderful way to learn about what made New Orleans great and the people who made New Orleans great. And what I love about this show that you all are doing at TALK OF THE NATION is that, you know, this is reminding everybody about what a wonderful world this is and how great, you know, it is to live in it.
And the thing about Chappy was that he reminded us about that all the time. You know, he just - you know, he was an extraordinary character. You know, officially, he was a documentarian, and he wrote and produced documentaries about New Orleans. And then he also worked on other people's feature films, you know, a lot of those films being made in New Orleans.
And you know, I just looked him up on the Internet database, and it listed one of his credits as production oracle. And I thought, you know, that's a perfect way to describe Chappy. He was a real production oracle.
CONAN: Well, Gwen, in one of your previous lives, you were also the editor of WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY and arranged to have Chappy Hardy on the program to talk with Scott Simon. And here he is discussing his favorite Mardi Gras song.
Mr. CHAPPY HARDY (Publicist): It was a little ditty from the musical "Bluebeard.� And since the Grand Duke Alexis came down here literally kind of sniffing after old Lydia Thomson(ph), all of the bands would play "If Ever I Cease To Love," just to kind of tweak him a little bit. And it's played in a number of different ways. You can play it bouncy, you can play it as a dirge. I mean, I even had the organist at my father's funeral play "If Ever I Cease to Love." I believe that "If Ever I Cease To Love" really is the classic New Orleans Mardi Gras song.
(Soundbite of song, "If Ever I Cease to Love")
CONAN: "If Ever I Cease to Love." And Gwen Thompkins, I'm sure your head is nodding to that beat.
THOMPKINS: Indeed it is, actually. And I'm so glad you played it. I want to dedicate it, if I could, to his son, Zepper Hardy(ph), who is also a great New Orleanean(ph). You know, Chappy, you know, his family tree dates all the way back to, you know, the French colonial period in Louisiana. He was a real blueblood and - but he was also sort of a blueblood who knew how to live. And he just was so able to show people how to enjoy themselves.
You know, he always collected friends around the city, and then he collected friends around the nation, you know. And through his work in film, you know, he met all those Hollywood types. You know, he was friends with John Goodman and, you know, Taylor Hackford, and all the, you know, all the guys who liked to come to New Orleans and stay for a while.
But what was really fun about Chappy was that he made local people feel great about the city, too. And he made them feel happy about being here - well, being there, I should say. I feel like I'm in New Orleans now, even though I'm halfway across the world.
But you know, when he was on WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY, he sort of came with us for a summer, and he talked about - he talked about finding affordable and delicious eateries around the South. So we would talk to him from week to week about where he was going and what he was eating. He'd bring his own fork, and you know, he went from Louisiana to Arkansas to Alabama and Florida. And then when Katrina came, he actually, you know, evacuated up to New York, and he ate his way through Manhattan, and then he ate his way through the Jersey Shore.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Which can be great fun. Gwen, thank you so much for being with us today. We know it's late there and we appreciate you staying up to share your stories about Chappy Hardy.
THOMPKINS: Well, I'll stay up all night to talk about Chappy, believe me. And I thank you for the opportunity. Chappy Hardy is a great man.
CONAN: NPR East Africa correspondent Gwen Thompkins, with us on the phone from her base in Nairobi in Kenya.
800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. Let's hear from Craig(ph), Craig calling us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
CRAIG (Caller): Hi, I'd like to suggest Wayman Tisdale.
CONAN: As basketball player or as musician?
CRAIG: As both.
CRAIG: He helped put Oklahoma basketball on the map, right along with football, and was a great college Olympic and pro basketball player but also a really good jazz musician and someone who spread the world, a lot like Oral Roberts, through music.
CONAN: And did you - were you a fan of one or both, or did you know him?
CRAIG: Both. I actually used to work in the neighborhood where his - one of his girlfriends in Tulsa, but just would see him around town, and he was always making people smile. He always had a smile on his face.
CONAN: He was said to be not just - not only perhaps the tallest jazz musician but one of the nicest, as well.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Craig.
CRAIG: You bet, thank you.
CONAN: Wayman Tisdale. Let's go to an email, this from Jack(ph) in Charlotte, North Carolina. In an era where we know every celebrity that has died or misbehaved in 2009, do we know the names of one wounded or fallen soldier? Please honor the people who gave everything in 2009.
And this email from Todd Bell(ph) in Little Rock: I will greatly miss Frank McCourt. I discovered his second memoir, "'Tis," in about 2002, when I found the audio version at a discount bin at Books-A-Million. I've listened to it at least 15 times over the years. The unabridged version is 14 hours long, and it only cost about $8. That may be the best investment I have ever made. He will always be my favorite author.
Let's go next to Jeffrey(ph), and Jeffrey's calling us from Cincinnati.
JEFFREY (Caller): Yes, I'm calling to talk about the demise of Sam Maloof and James Krinoff(ph), who were two of our leading furniture makers and very important people in both the education and design of contemporary furniture here in the United States.
CONAN: For what were they best know?
JEFFREY: I think Sam Maloof is probably best known for his rocking chairs. They're the ones with really beautiful wood and continuous contours and those rockers that come back and then sweep back down in the back. I know that there's one in the White House, and they're quite well-known.
CONAN: And Mr. Krinoff?
JEFFREY: It's kind of hard to describe his style. I mean, both were excellent teachers but especially Krinoff, and he's very well-known for his cabinetry and attention to detail and using the color and figure in wood, as well as a lot of the shapes, a lot of Oriental influence and very light, very light design.
CONAN: And it sounds as if these furniture makers made their products in small quantities.
JEFFREY: Well, relatively. It was quite a backlog, if you were hoping for a Sam Maloof chair, I think at least six, nine months or more, and you also had to have a fair amount of money. I think they were going for about $30,000 a piece.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much. We appreciate that.
JEFFREY: You're welcome.
CONAN: Bye-bye. That's Jeffrey, calling us from Cincinnati. And let's see if we can go now to remember other people we lost in 2009, people whose contributions made an impact on the way we live and the way we see, hear and interpret the world. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And this email from Aaron(ph). I will deeply miss the voice of Blossom Dearie, who passed in February, I believe. Thank God we live in an age of vinyl, CDs, iPods and downloads so that she's never far away.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. BLOSSOM DEARIE (Singer): (Singing) A trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things.
CONAN: I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION. Stay with us on NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. DEARIE: (Singing) We have been aware that our love affair was too hot not to cool down. So goodbye, dear, and amen. Here's hoping we meet now and then. It was great fun, but it's just one of those things, one of those things, one of those things, just one of those things.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
This hour, we're celebrating the lives of people who may not have made the front pages when they died but whose lives made an impact. As we put together our look at some of those people who we lost in 2009, who may not have received that much recognition, we're asking you who you would like to remember. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.
This email from Joe Smith(ph) about someone many people here at NPR knew, Sheryl Flowers, the longtime executive producer of public radio's "Tavis Smiley Show." He writes: You all know that producers are the unsung heroes of radio. Hosts get all the attention and praise, but it's the producers who do all of the work to make the hosts look smart. Sheryl's energy will be much missed.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and let's go to Mike(ph), and Mike's calling us from Lawrence in Kansas.
MIKE (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. I'd like to remember my mom, Diane Tara Ford(ph). She died in July of this year in a car accident in Moss Point, Mississippi. She worked as a librarian at Lincoln Park Elementary, and she helped her parents. She took them in when they lost their homes during Katrina, and she was from Shawmut, and that previous caller made me remember a lot about my mom and New Orleans. Thank you.
CONAN: Yes, and obviously, Mike, this is something that's so very powerful for you.
CONAN: Yeah, thank you very much for the call. We'll miss her, too. Let's go now to one of our correspondents, Karen Grigsby Bates. And she joins us now from NPR West, our studios in Culver City, California. Karen, nice to have you with us today.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Hi, Neal.
CONAN: And who do you want us to remember on this day?
BATES: I'd like you to remember someone that president-elect Barack Obama put in his acceptance speech on election night. Her name was Ann Nixon Cooper. She was maybe the oldest person who voted for him last year. And in his speech, he said - let me see, I have it here.
CONAN: I think we have the clip of the speech, in fact, right here. So let's listen to it. This is president-elect Obama, as he addressed the enormous crowd in Grant Park in Chicago on the night he claimed his election victory back in November, 2008.
President BARACK OBAMA: This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She is a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.
(Soundbite of applause)
President OBAMA: She was born just a generation past slavery, a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky, when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons, because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin. And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America: the heartache and the hope, the struggle and the progress, the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed, yes, we can.
CONAN: Then-president-elect Obama and, well, Karen Grigsby Bates, you knew Ann Nixon Cooper pretty well.
BATES: I did. I came to know her a little bit when someone called and said, you know, she's gotten so much attention since the president-elect mentioned her in that speech. There's been media, there's been this, that and the other. She is 108. She's - 107, I'm sorry. She's probably not going to be with us too much longer, and it got us to thinking we'd really like to have a history of who she was before she got to the point that she became nationally known for a couple of minutes by the president.
And so I went down to Atlanta and spent some time with her, talking with her about her life before the president called her name. And she did - he was right, she had an extraordinary life. She grew up on a little farm in Bedford County, Tennessee, a little town called Shelbyville. Her father was a tenant farmer. Her mom was a stay-at-home mother. She was the third youngest of eight children.
When she was about 11, her mother died quite suddenly, and back in those days, dad had to go out and work. There was no one to watch the children and probably not much to keep body and soul together. And so what happened to her is what happened to a lot of children back then, the family was broken up and sort of parceled out to relatives.
She ended up going to live in Nashville at a time when Nashville's middle-class black community was doing quite well. And she lived with her father's brother and sister-in-law, who treated her like a second child. They had a grown daughter or almost-grown daughter who considered her a little sister. And she was petted and adored and had a wonderful life and then met the love of her life when she was still barely out of high school, and he was a dental student at Meharry, which is the black medical college in Nashville. And after a couple of years of serious courtship, they got married, moved to Atlanta. He started a dental practice, and she kind of became a fixture there.
So, she died on the 21st of this month. And at her funeral on Monday, last Monday the 28th, what a lot of people kept saying was, so many things that exist in this city would not exist if Mrs. Cooper hadn't decided, well, there's needs that aren't being met and we can't sit around and wait for people to do these things for us, we have to go ahead and do them ourselves.
CONAN: And it sounds like we may want to know a lot more about Ann Nixon Cooper, and fortunately, we'll have the chance. A book by Ann Nixon Cooper and Karen Grigsby Bates comes out next month. It's called "A Century and Some Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name." It must have been a privilege to get to know her.
BATES: It was. She was a delightful person. You know, you think - we sort of segregate out elderly people here in the United States. Other cultures are sort of fully integrated and revered even. Here, it's kind of like, oh, I've got to go visit grandma again.
People loved visiting her. She was full of life. She had a very snappy sense of humor. If you came in and she thought you didn't look as well as you could, she's like, honey, why are you wearing those flat shoes? You know your legs will look better if you get in high heels. Let's go up and get you some high heels.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BATES: She felt very strongly that you needed to go where you could to get the best with what you had. And one of her grandchildren told me, you know, Granny would scare us because we would come up and we would want to go do the grocery shopping with her, and she would steer us away from the nice, big grocery stores and say, no, no, no, let's go over to Big Bear.
Well, Big Bear is a local grocery chain in Atlanta that tends to be located in neighborhoods that are on the economic margins. And sometimes they're not always that safe. And the grandkids would be saying, we really don't need to be in here, and Mrs. Cooper would say, yes, we do because you cannot get a good ham hock at the Safeway. We are going to Big Bear. And she would go, and they would go with her because you kind of have to just travel in her orbit. So she leaves a big hole.
She has a large family, but she was sort of the top of that pyramid, and they're going to have to realign themselves in order to figure out what next, in some ways. And I think Atlanta in some ways. There are several, as I said, several institutions - there's a series of daycare centers, there's a literacy program, there's several book clubs that she started.
And she began, actually, the first black Boy Scout troop in Atlanta because the troops weren't integrated in the 1930s. And she thought that the principles and practices that the Boy Scouts stood for would be a good thing for black boys to be exposed to, but they couldn't become Boy Scouts. And she wrote to the Boy Scouts in New York and said, tell me how to start one because I'm going to do it with or without your help. And they sort of gulped and said, yes, ma'am, and sent instructions and Troop 95 still exists.
CONAN: Karen Grigsby Bates, thank you for telling us a little bit about Ann Nixon Cooper and for where to get a good ham hock in Atlanta.
BATES: You are welcome, and happy almost-new year.
CONAN: And happy almost-new year's to you, too. Let's see if we can get another caller in on the line, and this is Michael(ph), Michael with us from Calistoga in California.
MICHAEL (Caller): Well, hi, Neal.
CONAN: Hi, Michael, go ahead, please.
MICHAEL: Okay. Well, I want to remember my father-in-law, Ken Harris(ph), who was just a fabulous guy with a wonderful sense of humor. He was an Army veteran and a pharmacist for all his working life, and he kept working right up into his 80s, just up until a few weeks before he passed away on November 22nd here. And he had five kids and a lot of grandkids, and he was a real - he was kind of a ham, actually. He was a barbershop quartet singer and had a lot of fun with that.
And he asked us - my wife and I are musicians, and he asked us to learn this corny George Burns song called "Old Bones" so - you know, to back him up so he could sing it and record it to play at his own memorial service. And you can see it. It's posted up on YouTube there. It's Ken Harris "Old Bones," and it's kind of melancholy, a little bittersweet because he was only, you know, one week from his passing. But he still wanted to sing, and he's got a great smile, and he was just a wonderful guy, and I feel very privileged to have known him for 36 years, longer than I knew my own dad.
CONAN: Ken Harris, "Old Bones" on YouTube. We'll go take a look at it.
MICHAEL: All right, thanks.
CONAN: Thanks Michael very much for the call. Here's an email that we have. This is from Linda(ph)in Missouri, or Linda Joe(ph), I think, in Missouri. Mike Seeger - the Seeger family has been a major part of the history of traditional and folk music and writing original music and in documenting traditional music. I had the joy to play with Mr. Seeger at a music festival a few years ago in Arkansas. He was a great musician across many instruments but he was a magnificent teacher. He played my pre-1900 banjo prototype. He told me never sell it, but if I did to contact him. Well, I'll never going to sell that instrument. It will stay in the family with the memory that it was appreciated by Mike Seeger. I should also mention Mike Seeger has been a guest of this program a couple of times too. We will also miss him.
Let's go now to NPR's Margot Adler, a correspondent who joins us from our bureau in New York. Margot, nice to have you on the program with us today.
MARGOT ADLER: It's a pleasure.
CONAN: And who do you want us to remember on this day?
ADLER: Well, I want you all to remember a man named Arnie Sachar who died this September. And for almost 40 years, he called radio stations and really pushed conversations in a direction that I would say was truly meaningful. You know, when we look at - when we listen to talk radio these days, we think about very strident. We think about people saying, you know, this is what I think about Iran or this is what I think about health care policy. But what he would do is he would push the conversation to really existential questions, such as how do we do work that's truly meaningful? How do we allow passion, sensuality, ecstasy into our lives? How do stop being defined by the boring jobs many of us hold?
He lived alone in Queens. He never finished college. He never had a real career. He certainly is - you know he lived - he was somewhat disabled. And yet, he would call all these people up at different radio stations and different programs and he would try to sort of say, look, let's look at sort of eternal questions. And when he died, just all kinds of radio people came to his funeral. He, at one point - he was involved also with a little, tiny literally magazine called "And Then." It still publishes. About 800 copies come out. And here's just - I'd love to read... I'd love to read just a paragraph in it of his last essay...
ADLER: ...because he - it just - it's so different than anything we think about. I was always maladjusted, sympathetic to drifters and dropouts. Today, liberals and progressive seemed to opt for good schools, decent jobs, a more humane inclusion into the American dream. Perhaps, they think that's all they can get. I've come to fear that's all they want. I was an anarchist hippy. I was a poor student in school. I never held a job. All my life, I was deemed freakish, unable to cut the mustard. This remains the ground of my politics. It still informs my vision of a society without hierarchy and domination. Some call this ineffective politics. At some level, I do not care. I need to keep my vision to preserve my soul. I cannot think or breathe otherwise.
CONAN: Wow. That's good stuff and only appropriate that on this program we should remember a caller.
ADLER: That's right. Absolutely. Absolutely.
CONAN: Margot, thank you very much.
ADLER: You're very, very welcome.
CONAN: NPR's Margo Adler, our correspondent in New York. We're talking about those we missed who died in this past year. It's the annual obit show on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: Here's an email that we have from David Moss(ph). I lost my father, July 4th of this year, from a massive heart attack. He was a 24-year veteran of the Kentucky State Police as an on the road trooper; for the last 13 years of his career, a detective in drug enforcement and special investigations. Steve Moss(ph) began his career September 1975, and rode school buses in Louisville, Kentucky during the forced busing riots. He served the Commonwealth of Kentucky with distinction and balanced home and work as best as anyone in his field could.
He had many accolades during his career, but probably the best is that I don't know them. Dad did his best, even when his cases where in the media, to shield my family from the talk of the community. And he went to work everyday to make our commonwealth a better place. What qualifies him as a memorable obituary for 2009 would be, after being retired for almost 10 years his funeral filled the funeral home with family, friends, his colleagues, at least one person who he arrested, were there to pay their respects. I don't know what mark he left on our community until that day. I'm sure he didn't know either. There's obviously a lot more information to share if you like to contact me. And he provided his information below. And so, he's remembered his father who died, Steve Moss, on July 4th of this past year.
Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Mary(ph). Mary with us from Little Rock.
MARY (Caller): Thank you so much for taking my call.
MARY: I would like to remember, well, my mother, first for being my mother, and also recognizing that she touched so many lives before her tenure as the first black female appointed to the Arkansas State Supreme Court and to the Arkansas State Court of Appeals.
CONAN: This must have been a difficult - difficult row at points.
MARY: It was a very difficult - and actually, she had encountered so many barriers during her adult life as a woman and an African-American, and she just had a philosophy of pushing forward and really, kind of, I think, branching out of her comfort zone because she started out as a scientist. She wanted to be a zoologist like Jane Goodall but she was told that she couldn't go on the field because she was a woman.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARY: And so then she decided to go into law once she relocated to Arkansas with my father, because unfortunately, she was encountering a lot of discrimination as an African-American. And she branched out with what started out as a small, private African-American law firm, and did, kind of - just maybe, you know, what isn't glamorous kind of grunt work, but also played a mentoring role with a lot of her clients. And based on her integrity and her passion as an attorney, and the work that she did in the community with my father, she ended up getting the attention of both Democrat governor and a Republican governor who both appointed her at different times.
CONAN: Remind us of her name again.
MARY: Andrea Rolfe(ph).
CONAN: Andrea Rolfe. Thank you, Mary, for the call. We appreciate it.
MARY: Thank you so much for having me.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And here's another email. This we have from - do we have a name here? A friend: My friend Christie(ph) died at 39 after a 10-year fight with breast cancer in New Orleans. Christie spent her time fighting but spent her life living. Warm, funny, beautiful and vain, Christie reminded so many that life may hand you lemons but you have a choice as to whether you become bitter or use them to highlight your hair. She is sorely missed.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Coming up, we'll discuss more undersung lives we lost in 2009.
Another email - this from Michelle(ph) in Washington, D.C. My unsung hero for this past year is my brother Jeff(ph). He was not only the hero of my childhood but a good friend of all whoever met him and had the most infectious smile and laugh. He committed suicide in May. My mom and I are still shocked, along with all his friends. How could someone so loved be so deeply sad? So now, in addition to having already inspired me to be good to the people I love, he daily inspires me to tell the people that I cherish just how much I love them.
Who do you want to remember? Email us firstname.lastname@example.org . Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Today, it's our annual obit show. We've asked our friends and colleagues here at NPR to remind us of some of those we lost this past year but should remember better. And we'd like to hear about the people you're remembering today. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. We received hundreds of emails. That email address is email@example.com.
We got this one from Kathy(ph) in Whittier, California: My relative, William E. Smith, passed away this year at 87. He served in World War II on Guam as a radio expert. He built a real-time computer called ReComp in the late 1950s, which was grabbed up by the military and put to use in missiles. I wonder what would have happened had that computer found it's way into the private sector. He was a good person and we'll miss him.
And this email from Eric(ph) in Minneapolis. Please remember modernist ceramicist, Ruth Duckworth. While perhaps not a household name, Ms. Duckworth was influential and a driving force in making ceramics a legitimate part of the fine arts. Her sculpture works ranged from large-scale architectural installations to intimate porcelain forms. I saw her work at a retrospective show at the Minneapolis Institute several years ago. It completely changed my understanding of modernist art and has influenced my own work ever since.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Wendy(ph). Wendy, with us from Glenborough in New Jersey.
WENDY (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Wendy.
WENDY: Thank you for taking my call.
CONAN: How are you? Welcome.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
WENDY: I'd like to remember my mother-in-law. Her name is Narcisa(ph). She died suddenly in the end of September. We didn't know she was even not feeling well. She's an artist, first and foremost. Many media, but largely a painter. She taught many people. She ran writing groups and taught art to everyone from children to the residents in a continuing care facility which is where she was - had multiple studios until the end of her life. She worked with clay and people, paint bird houses and did all sorts of things.
But something not too many people know about her besides being raised Catholic, but a Quaker as an adult and then a Baptist toward the end of her life, she went to Washington, D.C. at one point in her life and somehow got herself into the gallery and was complaining out loud about some things that were happening at the Senate and was thrown out because women weren't allowed in the gallery...
WENDY: ...at the time. And then later on, they had to kind of change that rule.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: You knew she had to be a tough person. Anybody who goes through life at the name of Narcisa.
WENDY: You got it.
WENDY: She did fit her name very well. But she raised four kids, two of them without a dad for quite a while and did all kinds of amazing things and touched many, many lives. The church, which I thought was huge, was far overflowing with people when we had her service. And I'm sure there are few people that hear about her today that didn't know she passed who might be glad to hear, at least to know, but...
CONAN: Wendy, we're...
WENDY: ...thank you very much.
CONAN: We're sorry for your loss.
WENDY: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Juliet(ph) in Kansas City. I'm remembering Ronal Takaki - excuse me - the influential historian who's groundbreaking work, "Stranger's from a Different Shore," convinced me to focus my study on Asian-American history while in college. He changed a lot about the way historians and others examined the complex stories of race in our nation's history. I'm confident that the next generation of American historians will continue to expand on his important work.
Well, joining us here on Studio 3A is a voice many of you are familiar with early in the morning, Paul Brown, a newscaster here at NPR. And if I may say so, also a very talented musician.
Nice to have you with us, Paul.
BROWN: Good to be here, Neal.
CONAN: And you're remembering a fellow musician?
BROWN: A musician and a music collector. I'd like to talk for just a moment about Ray Alden who passed away in September of this year. Ray, Neal, was an unusual person in that he not only wanted to learn music, he developed a tremendous set of social skills through which he brought hundreds if not thousands of people together around a subculture of traditional, old-time mountain music and related musics here in the U.S. and eventually even overseas.
CONAN: And one of the things that he did was to collect - in fact, we have a clip of - tape of him playing. Set this up for us, if you will.
BROWN: Sure. This is a song called "Visits," which Ray wrote after he'd been collecting music in the mountain south and elsewhere for a number of years, and he recorded it with a number of his friends. And it came out on a double LP years ago in which Ray featured his visits with old timers in the mountain south and some of the younger generation of musicians who'd come along.
CONAN: Well, let's listen to a bit of the music of Mr. Alden.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Ray Alden playing there. And, Paul Brown, you not only knew him as a musician, he was your friend.
BROWN: Absolutely. Ray was a friend to me as he was to many, many other people. He had a remarkable ability to set up, if you will, sort of a gravitational field around him that just drew people to him. And he encouraged young people and old alike to make music, to go out and hear music, to record it, to learn from the old timers as much as possible, and had as - what became a really unusual ability to do that. A lot of folks in our little subculture will go out and make recordings of musicians, for example.
BROWN: You'll head to the mountains and you will get to know some old folks and record them. But how many folks will draw in hundreds of other people and then do what Ray Alden did in 1995, which was to found an organization called the Field Recorders Collective? And this brought together a group of other collectors to aggregate their recordings and make them available to the public at large.
And the FRC has now put out nearly 70 CDs of field recording sessions made at people's homes and other venues, which would otherwise simply not be available. Ray didn't want these recordings to get lost in giant archives where they were inaccessible to most people. He wanted them out there, and that was Ray's spirit all the way along.
CONAN: Well, thank you very much for sharing. Paul Brown - you obviously can't see in the studio. Paul Brown, you know he's a newscaster because he wears his earphones on one ear only, on the left ear. That's the one way you can always tell somebody who's first love is the newscast in the mornings. And, Paul Brown - I should also point...
BROWN: Hear the rest of the world that way, Neal.
CONAN: You hear the rest of the world that way and avoid going deaf in both ears.
CONAN: But the fact is among earlier incarnations, he once had administrative responsibility for this program, and he's lucky enough to escape that. But anyway, Paul Brown, thanks very much for being with us today.
BROWN: It's been a pleasure.
CONAN: Paul Brown, you hear him every morning on National Public Radio newscasts.
This - an email we have from Richard Harris(ph) in Bethesda, Maryland. I lost my neighbor who was fixture here for walking his beloved sheltie whatever the weather. But many folks who may have seen Jack Nelson(ph) taking his dog for his nightly constitutional may not have known that Jack was a giant in the journalistic life of the nation. He was a superb investigative reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner who broke major stories in the civil rights era and led the Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau during the tumultuous Watergate period. Jack was also an inspiration for many of us who followed him in the journalism craft. I already miss seeing him taking his stroll with the dog through the neighborhood. And that from yet another person who used to have administrative responsibility for this program, our friend, Richard Harris.
Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to Shelly(ph), Shelly with us from Kansas City.
SHELLY (Caller): Hi. I wanted to remember Helen Howard(ph). She died in July, and she actually died in DC. She was living with her daughter at the time. But when I was growing up, she was the organist and the music teacher for my church and for my grade school. And in November, we had a memorial service for her and dozens - numbers of her old students and kids that sang for funeral masses with her, who were all now in their 40s and 50s. We all showed up because she'd given us a lifelong love of music, of making the best of what you had in terms of a lot of small kids with voices singing in church.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SHELLY: And it was not only just the huge amount of the older people that showed up, but it was all of kids from all over the country that basically came back in to go to her memorial service. And it was, to me, outside of being one of my best friend's mothers, I mean, it was a great tribute to her that all of these kids came back because they wanted to thank her for having been there when we were little.
CONAN: What was her favorite music?
SHELLY: Well, she always used to like to - she loved playing the organ. She could not play, really, any other instrument but the big pipe organ at church. And - but she used to warm up by playing polkas on the organ before mass.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: That must've been something to hear.
SHELLY: And one of my favorite memories was, is they did - we did buy a new organ at the church. And when they were putting it in, they had the big, huge like building lights up in the choir loft, and she had to wear a big sun hat while she was playing because she couldn't see the music. So if you looked up from, like, the altar up, you would see her in this really audacious sun hat, you know, while she was playing the organ.
CONAN: Shelly, thank you for that vivid picture of Helen Howard.
SHELLY: Thank you very much.
SHELLY: Okay. Bye.
CONAN: Here's an email from Gayla(ph) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A great woman died in 2009 on the same day as Natasha Richardson. This amazing woman was named Haregewoin Teferra and she almost singlehandedly rescued many children who were the earliest victims of the AIDS crisis in Ethiopia. Please, I apologize if I mispronounced her name. Her story is chronicled in the book, "There is No Me Without You" by Melissa Fay Greene. After the loss of her husband and daughter, Teferra reluctantly agreed to take in two of Addis Ababa's thousands of AIDS orphans. Soon, children of all ages began to appear at the door of her tin-walled compound. She eventually transformed her home into an orphanage and began facilitating adoptions to homes all over the world. This book and this woman are especially important to me as my family and I will be traveling to Ethiopia this spring to adopt a young girl into our family.
It's the annual Obit show. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go next to Kat(ph). Kat with us from Berkeley in California.
KAT (Caller): Hello. How are you?
KAT: I am reminded today of my mother who died about two months ago. Her name was Christine Kennedy(ph) of Palatka, Florida. She was a wonderful woman, very kind and generous. And I was made to think of her today because of your earlier show about transplants. If she had lived for two more months, my mother would have maintained a transplanted heart for 20 years.
CONAN: That's extraordinary.
KAT: It's extraordinary. And she maintained that heart by being such a wonderful and compliant patient. I watched whatever it took for her to keep herself going, to follow her doctor's instructions, to live a life that would enable this heart to continue to live within her. And I wanted to say she provided an example to me and everyone she knew. And so - also, to remember all the other people who have received organs and done what their doctors told them and provided the proof that we can use the organs of those who have passed on, that we can have this wonderful medical addition to the world, that we can have a transplant society. And she just lived that everyday, and it was very hard work and she showed what you've got back for it. I miss her.
CONAN: Kat, thanks for sharing her memory with us.
KAT: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. This email from Debbie(ph) in Columbus, Ohio. Gale Storm who died - starred in "My Little Margie" died the same weekend as Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett. Given the timing of her death, it went somewhat unnoticed. She was a remarkable woman. She has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame - TV, recording and radio. I believe she was the first celebrity to step up and do a public service announcement about a personal battle with alcoholism. My family became friends with her. No matter how much pain she endured at the end, she maintained that positive, sweet attitude that she carried throughout her entire life. She will be missed.
Let's go next to Andrew(ph). Andrew with us from Boulder, Colorado.
ANDREW (Caller): Hi. I'd like to remember Muriel Rosen, who with her husband, Arnold, were the founders of the Appalachian Summer Festival, and they were also major benefactors at Appalachian State University, that brought all forms of music to the people of the Appalachian region.
CONAN: And what kind of music did she particularly - was she particularly fond of?
ANDREW: She was particularly fond of opera and classical, but they brought all forms, including country and ballet, all kinds of things, to the Appalachian Mountains area.
CONAN: And enabled many, many people to see kinds of performances they would - never seen or heard otherwise.
CONAN: All right, Andrew, thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.
ANDREW: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Paul Dall(ph) writes us: Please remember my mother, Lillian S. Robbins(ph), who died of natural causes this year at 88 years old. She was raised in an orphanage and was one of the first 100 women to join the Women's Marine Corps during the Second World War. She was a true American hero, always doing for others without thinking of herself.
And this email from Jan Down(ph) in Iowa City. Dr. Ignacio V. Ponseti is a hero to thousands of people, parents, children, physicians and all those who have known of his work over the course of his life as an orthopedic physician. Dr. Ponseti developed a nonsurgical method, now known as the Ponseti method, of correcting children's congenital clubfoot to gentle, manual manipulation and a series of casts followed by a brace. Dr. Ponseti, a native of Spain, fled there during the Spanish civil war. He eventually arrived in Iowa City at the university hospital to do his orthopedic residency where he realized that surgical correction of clubfoot was not the best treatment. He continued to see patients until well into his 90s, and he died in October at the age of 95.
This also from Thelma Riggs(ph) in Tulsa. She remembers her son, Mark Allan Thompson(ph). No, he was not a Broadway, TV or movie celebrity. He was a teacher. He touched the lives of hundreds of young people as he taught English and drama in junior high school. At Mark's memorial service, I met a young woman who had been in his English class. She was so inspired by him that she decided to become a teacher. I would like him, along with all the other teachers who passed away in 2009 to be remembered.
And we'll end with this email from Penny(ph) in Eugene. While it is nice to recall those whose names we can easily recall, such as Walter Cronkite, Michael Jackson, Don Hewitt, Bea Arthur, it is equally important if not more so to remember those who fight and risk and give their lives for our freedoms - our soldiers, our sailors, our Marines, our airmen and our coast guardsmen in this time of reflection on the year passed. I mention these folks because our family includes members of all the various branches of the military that protects our great nation. God bless and protect them, everyone. And Penny we thank you for that.
And we'd also like to thank all of our colleagues who joined us today and everyone who wrote and called in. And literally, we've gotten hundreds of emails. We thank you so much for that. I'm sorry we couldn't get to them all. To read additional remembrances from NPR staff members, including Felix Contreras, our musician Jose Reyes and Dennis Herndon on Erma Henderson, the mother of Detroit. There's also one I wrote of Arnold Sang(ph), one of the great voices in radio that we lost this past year.
You can go to our Web site at npr.org. Special thanks to producers Sarah Handle and Beth Novey for putting that together for us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.