A Tribute To The Remarkable Lives We Lost In 2012
In 2012, the nation mourned the deaths of some extremely influential individuals — from singer Whitney Houston to astronaut Neil Armstrong, writer Maurice Sendak and TV personality Dick Clark.
Each year, Talk of the Nation reaches out to colleagues at NPR for help remembering some of the remarkable men and woman who did not make the front page when they died, but whose lives still made a significant impact.
In our annual obituary show, host Neal Conan speaks with NPR's Paul Brown, Alan Greenblatt, Neda Ulaby and Susannah George about the people who inspired them in 2012.
James M. Cox, Mark Twain scholar
Remembered by Alan Greenblatt, who writes for NPR Digital News
"You should always start with a big lie." That's something I heard James M. Cox say at the start of a lecture on author Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was vintage Cox — winning the trust of an audience by assuring them he was going to lie.
Cox, who taught for nearly 30 years at Dartmouth College, died on Jan. 26. His 1966 book, Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor, influenced generations of scholars. Cox's own humor, as boisterous as his booming Southern voice, was sometimes profane, occasionally dark.
"Jim Cox was the closest I ever came to meeting Mark Twain, and I'm not forgetting Hal Holbrook," says Twain biographer Jerome Loving.
I once actually had a girlfriend break up with me after attending one of his lectures. She said she realized that she'd never really heard me laugh before.
Cox wrote notable essays on nearly every great 19th-century American writer and discovered autobiography as his second great subject, years before memoirs became first a literary fashion and later a cliche.
He was a master teacher, a winner of national and campus awards, pointing with a crooked finger and avoiding what he once described as "overwrought interpretations inevitably attending overworked authors."
Cox knew hard-worked fields. He was born and died on the family farm along Saddle Creek, deep in southwestern Virginia. He was educated in the Midwest, where he met his wife of 63 years, Marguerite, with whom he had six children.
Walking through his apple orchard one fall day, Cox quoted Robert Frost: "I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-tired." Returning to his library, he dug up the poem and showed how Frost, whom he loved, did not have a good strategy for finishing it.
Cox always ended his lectures the same way, exhorting his students to "Go forth, win victories." He was 86.
Rosa Guy, novelist
Remembered by NPR reporter Neda Ulaby
Rosa Guy was a leading writer of young adult literature that often drew on her own experiences as a West Indian immigrant. She wrote a trilogy of young adult novels in the 1970s that examined issues such as abortion and lesbian relationships through a friendship between two girls living in Harlem.
Guy moved to Harlem from Trinidad when she was 7 years old. Her family soon fell apart, and she worked in a sweatshop and lived in foster homes. As an adult, Guy co-founded the Harlem Writers Guild, and became deeply involved in the civil rights movement and black nationalist causes.
One of her novels for adults, My Love, My Love, was turned into the musical Once on This Island. The production ran on Broadway for more than a year, and was nominated for eight Tony Awards.
Guy died of cancer on June 3 at the age of 89.
Garry Harrison, fiddler and music collector
Remembered by NPR newscaster Paul Brown
Garry Harrison was a remarkable traditional fiddler and music collector/scholar. He was largely unknown to the wider world but was deeply respected and admired in the world of traditional music. He died in his sleep, at home in Bloomington, Ind., apparently of a heart ailment at age 58.
While a lot of attention in documenting traditional music of the U.S. has gone to the South, Harrison collected fiddle tunes, songs and other traditional music from mostly rural senior performers in his native downstate Illinois and elsewhere nearby. He unearthed some remarkable repertoire and, with collaborator Jo Burgess, produced a monumental collection of music and writing drawing on his field recordings titled Dear Old Illinois. The massive book and accompanying sound recordings aren't found in stores. But you might find them by contacting Harrison's band, The New Mules, which continues to perform, with Harrison's daughter Genevieve Koester now handling the fiddle duties solo.
And that brings us to Garry Harrison's own music. As if it weren't enough that he'd documented music no one else had gotten to, he was an exceedingly powerful fiddler himself, bringing the old tunes to new life for another generation. He achieved a quiet legendary status within traditional music circles, first with a band of like-minded souls called the Indian Creek Delta Boys, and later with the Mules.
Not even that was enough. Garry Harrison turned out to be an impressive tunesmith himself. He finally came out with a recording of his own tunes titled Red Prairie Dawn. Although I did not know Garry well, he contacted me at the recommendation of a mutual friend, and asked me to participate in the recording. He sent me music. I flew out to Indiana and contributed a couple of banjo parts to the album. It was a fabulous experience. Perhaps not surprisingly given Garry's aversion to publicity and ostentation, the album is out of print and, like Dear Old Illinois, now hard to find.
Garry passed his fiddling art along to his daughter Genevieve. She's helping to fuel the enthusiasm of a new generation of young adults embracing an ancient musical art in an electronic digital age. It's easy to find her and the band at traditional music festivals, concerts and fiddlers' conventions.
Juanita Smith, loving mother
Remembered by Tell Me More senior producer Davar Ardalan
My beautiful mother-in-law, Juanita Bell Betty June Smith, passed away on
Friday, Nov. 23. At 93, she had led a rich and blessed life, and I was lucky to have become very close to her.
Juanita was born on Sept. 25, 1919, in Lima, Ohio, and was a big history buff.
"My grandfather had a high-back chair with his stovepipe hat always on the floor beside him, and whenever you went in their home he had pictures of Abraham Lincoln," she recalled. "I just begged him to tell me those stories, and about Abraham Lincoln, my favorite historical figure. I read everything I could about Lincoln."
Growing up, Juanita was always independent-minded, curious and feisty.
When she was in the 8th grade at school, she and a friend were walking down the hallway when Juanita pointed out a tall, dashing basketball player walking ahead of them and said, "You see him — I'm going to marry him one day."
And as fate would have it, in 1939, she did end up marrying her high school sweetheart, James Smith. Years later, she recalled, "I asked him, 'Why did you marry me when you could have gone with so many of the other girls?' And he said, ' 'Cause you were so independent.' "
Together Jim and Juanita had four children — Jim, Jane, Joan and my husband, John.
In 2007, Juanita celebrated her 70th high school reunion in Lima. In an NPR interview, she was asked what success has meant to her. She said, "Being able to take care of your family properly, being a firm believer in God, and trying to be broad-minded with other people's beliefs and things."
"I don't think scads and scads of money really is the answer to success," she added. "I think there's a lot more to it than that."
Mom, as she insisted I call her, lived life to its fullest. Never holding back, she became a champion golf player and was always curious and engaged. She often reminded us to "be a good egg," and to take care of one another, and to be thankful to God for all our blessings.
Mom's loving spirit will remain in our hearts and souls forever, and we will all do our part to keep her legacy alive.
Ralph Frese, conservationist and canoe maker
Remembered by All Things Considered producer Brendan Banaszak
His name was Ralph Frese, but you could call him Mr. Canoe.
Frese owned the Chicagoland Canoe Base, a one-stop shop for canoes, paddles, life jackets and the history of watercraft, all within the city limits of Chicago.
And when you talked with Frese, you realized it was as much a store as it was a museum — and not just for canoes. Frese was a fourth-generation blacksmith and might have been the last one operating in the city of Chicago.
Frese dedicated his life to the canoe and the protection of the rivers around Chicago. He designed and made modern canoes, but also replicas of the huge birchbark canoes used by the first Europeans to lay eyes on what would someday become Chicago.
According to the Canadian Canoe Museum, Ralph Frese was one of the "most influential canoeists in the world." And a huge chunk of that influence was felt locally. Frese worked tirelessly to educate people about canoeing and the city's local waterways. He added more than a hundred canoes to the Chicago Maritime Museum. A section of the north branch of the Chicago River was named in his honor.
A few years ago, a group of people helped Frese move some of his dozens of historical canoes to a new storage area. One person helping that day noted that Frese was a lucky man — he never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did.
Frese died on Dec. 10 from complications related to cancer. He was 86.
Remembered by NPR elections producer Evie Stone
Not many English Literature Ph.D.s go to work in finance. But after Alan Young-Bryant defended his 2011 dissertation on musicality and voice in Victorian poetry ("Perverse Form and Victorian Lyric"), he needed a break from academia.
So he moved from Cornell University to Los Angeles and took a job at Oaktree Capital Management, and threw himself into his new role with the rigor of a scholar. According to his longtime partner, Alexis Briley, "He must have read 200 books on the history of American industry" to get ready for his new career.
After joining the marketing department at Oaktree, he was baffled and entertained by the lingo of high finance, scribbling terms like "deliverables" into notebooks and onto scraps of paper.
He wrote a 100-page style guide for the firm's memos and public documents, similar to the Modern Language Association [MLA] for scholars or the Associated Press Stylebook for journalists — likely a unique document in the financial world.
That combination of zeal and detail was typical for Alan. He embraced every new hobby (squash! bridge! cooking!) with a combination of heavy library research and daily practice.
Alan was a wellspring of spontaneous kindnesses, a leaver of love notes, a guy who called long-lost friends when a song lyric reminded him of a shared memory.
He was that rare combination of gregarious extrovert who delighted in hosting parties, and gentle listener who never made himself the center of attention.
He died in the early hours of Dec. 5, after an accidental fall into the Cascadilla Gorge in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 32 — but since he was born on Leap Day, Feb. 29, he just celebrated his 8th birthday this year.
Alan and Alexis were back in Ithaca for her thesis defense, their last act as the graduate school couple who had spent seven years living and studying there, taking walks through the snow, hashing out ideas, and editing each other's chapter drafts.
They took a victory lap of sorts around the town. As Alexis described it: "We went back to the apartment where we had met, walked around all of our old haunts, and remembered things we hadn't talked about in years. And then we talked so intensely about the future and all the things we wanted to do ... and we were both just ecstatic."
Alan leaves behind Alexis Briley; his sister, Noelle Young-Ellis, and her family; and his parents, Judy and Peter van Wageningen. He also leaves his writing: most formally, his exceptional dissertation and its careful meditation on Victorian lyric expression; but also countless notebooks, emails and scraps of paper, the artifacts of his own thoughts and voice.
After his accident, Alexis found a piece of paper tucked into a book on the nightstand of the bed and breakfast where they were staying:
"Discovered today that what I want is to feel good about what I'm doing (and good about myself in doing it).
Anthony Shadid, New York Times foreign correspondent
Remembered by newscast producer Susannah George
I first met Anthony in Baghdad, around the dinning room table in the dusty house that we were sharing as a bureau. He was working for The Washington Post then, and while most journalists over for dinner complained and told cynical jokes, Anthony recounted even the mundane task of negotiating checkpoints with wonder and curiosity.
Later, during a rare shopping trip to Baghdad's old city, Anthony narrated the drive with that same tone, pointing out landmarks from recent events (This street used to be a no man's land, that's the intersection where the American contractors were lynched) and scenes from Iraq's past (That's the cemetery where Gertrude Bell is buried). He turned an oppressive city, scarred by war, made claustrophobic by blast walls protecting against suicide bombs, into a magical place.
At the end of that day, he left a rug shop not only with carpets, but with a beautiful set of old copper doors as well. Originally the doors weren't for sale — they were hanging as decoration. But somehow Anthony persuaded the shopkeeper to part with them. He was a master haggler.
And Anthony never lost sight of the humanity around him. When he recounted his kidnapping and beating in Libya, he often mentioned the moment when one of his guards loosened the ties on his wrists — a sign, he said, of the Middle East's "deeply humane culture."
Over the past year, I've missed Anthony. I wish he were just another overseas assignment away. But maybe more, I've missed having his journalism to turn to. As the Syrian crisis worsened, as Egypt's Morsi consolidated power and as Libya fractured, I longed to hear Anthony's take, his voice full of that same wonder and curiosity as he guides readers down the streets of Aleppo, Cairo and Benghazi.
Frances Hashimoto, inventor of mochi ice cream
Remembered by NPR staffer Wilma B. Consul
Like the fortune cookie first molded in California, Frances Kazuko Hashimoto's culinary invention is strictly Asian-American. Mochi ice cream fuses perfectly the texture, taste and technique of a traditional Asian ingredient with the classic Western frozen dessert. A bite into a small ball of paste made of pounded sweet, sticky rice engages the palate with the flavors of vanilla (original flavor), strawberry, chocolate, mango, green tea, red bean and Kona coffee.
But Hashimoto didn't just shine in the kitchen. In fact, she broke many grounds when in 1970, on her mother's insistence, she quit her third-grade teaching job to run the pastry business in Los Angeles that's been with her family since 1910. Under her leadership, the Mikawaya shop expanded to locations in California and Hawaii, and its signature product is now sold at Trader Joe's, Albertsons, Safeway, Costco and Asian groceries.
Hashimoto's husband, Joel Friedman, told me that it was in 1984 on a bullet train from Tokyo to Nagoya where he had the idea for the dessert. But, he said, Hashimoto took it from there. She got a bank loan, and together, they researched and developed the product for 10 long years ("Rice doesn't like to be frozen," he said.) before mochi ice cream entered the market and became a household favorite.
Born in 1943 inside the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona, Hashimoto remained true and passionate about her Japanese identity. She served as a leader and mentor in her community, including the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Nisei Week Japanese Festival. She was president of the Little Tokyo Business Association for 14 years.
Her legacy remains prominent today at the intersection of Azusa and 2nd Streets in Los Angeles, unveiled as the Frances K. Hashimoto Plaza two weeks after she died on Nov. 4.
Bill Reedy, firefighter
Remembered by NPR staffer Jessica Reedy
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world." — Mr. Rogers
On Sept. 14, we lost one of those helpers. Bill "The Chief" Reedy was a firefighter, responding to numerous disasters in 30 years with the Santa Cruz Fire Department. I don't know how many lives he saved, but I do know he made it on the front page of the Santa Cruz Sentinel at least once. He retired having attained the rank battalion chief — hence the nickname.
But my grandfather didn't just help people during fires or earthquakes. He helped my grandmother Kathy raise three children — my father, Michael, and my aunts Patty and Colleen. He helped his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews on family fishing trips, always offering to bait your hook and clean your catch. When his grandchildren were sick, he would help take care of us by making grilled cheese sandwiches and cracking jokes during The Price Is Right. When I was 14, he dropped everything to help me after I called him in tears, because I had accidentally caused a small electrical fire and didn't know what to do. In his final years, he helped give back by working as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
At my grandfather's memorial, the first guest to arrive was one of his middle school classmates. She immediately mentioned that Bill would always assist her in math class.
Bill "The Chief" Reedy leaves behind a close-knit family, a massive fishing pole collection, a mouthwatering turkey meatloaf recipe, and a wicked sense of humor. But his remarkable legacy as a helper deserves the most merit.
Oswaldo Paya, Cuban political activist
Remembered by NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten
Oswaldo Paya, the leading political dissident in Cuba, died in a car crash in July under circumstances his supporters describe as suspicious. Paya was a passenger in a car driven by one of his international supporters, Angel Carromero of Spain. According to the Cuban police report, Carromero lost control of his vehicle due to excessive speed and crashed into a tree.
A practicing Catholic, Paya led Cuba's biggest and most successful nonviolent movement advocating political reform. Unlike some other dissidents, he worked within the Cuban legal system and opposed U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba economically. In 1992, Paya attempted to run as a candidate for the Cuban legislature, but was barred from doing so. In his second attempt at legal reform, he took advantage of a clause in the Cuban Constitution that required a national referendum on a question if 11,000 signatures could be gathered in support of the effort.
The petition called for freedom of speech and assembly, an end to one-party rule in Cuba, and legalization of private business ownership. By 2003, Paya had managed to collect more than 25,000 signatures. The Cuban authorities, however, countered with their own petition drive, declaring socialism in Cuba to be "irrevocable." In recognition of his political activism, the European Parliament honored Paya with its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Paya's supporters and family members say he had received threats in the weeks preceding the crash, and associates of Carromero say he and a Swedish activist with whom he was traveling both sent text messages before the crash, saying Paya was being followed and harassed by Cuban state security agents. Paya's family members said they had information that another car rammed Carromero's vehicle before he lost control.
Carromero, who survived the accident, was charged with vehicular homicide and sentenced to four years in prison for his alleged responsibility for the crash. In public testimony, he did not implicate any other vehicle in the crash, but friends and Paya family members believe Carromero kept quiet out of fear for his own safety.
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. On this day in particular, we'll hear a lot about Dick Clark, and all of us can remember some of the others we lost in 2012, the famous like Whitney Houston, Maurice Sendak and Sally Ride; and some whose obituaries may not have made the front page but who lived history and changed our lives, Eugene Polley, the inventor of the first wireless remote control; Judith Crist, the first female fulltime film critic for a major American newspaper; Antoni Dobrowolski, the oldest known survivor of Auschwitz.
Each year, we take time to focus on some of the lesser known lives lost this past year. We've asked a few of our NPR colleagues and friends to join us, but we're going to need your help, too. Who is someone you knew or knew of whom 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 on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We're going to start with a familiar voice, NPR newscaster Paul Brown. Good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Paul.
PAUL BROWN, BYLINE: Always a pleasure, Neal.
CONAN: And you're normally hearing Paul Brown on the morning newscast, but he's also a musician. He has a band called the Mostly Mountain Boys, and Paul, you're here to remember one of your fellow fiddlers.
BROWN: One of two, remember a gentlemen by the name of Garry Harrison, Neal, who was a native of downstate Illinois. He passed away early this fall at the age of only 58, died in his sleep at home, apparently of a heart ailment. It really took all the fiddlers, I think, in the old-time and traditional and bluegrass world by considerable surprise.
And Garry was one of these people, Neal, who was more than a musician. He was also a great documenter of music traditions of his home region. He became an instrument builder and was a fine tunesmith himself. He made up a lot of tunes. So he was a very inspiring person, I think, to people all around the acoustic music scene and all these different areas of it.
CONAN: To give you an idea of one of the things that he collected, this is a tune Garry Harrison made with Pappy Taylor(ph), one of the first old-time fiddlers that Garry found there in downstate Illinois. And I'm going to ask you to pronounce the name of this tune.
BROWN: Sure, this is called "The Butterfly Schottische." Now the schottische is actually a dance, and it originated, we think, in what is now the Czech Republic, believe it or not, and there was a schottische craze just the way, you know, there's a rock craze or a blues craze or a ragtime craze, in the middle of the 19th century. And schottische music has now infused almost every form of traditional music in the world, so the U.S. as well.
And the schottische is danced sort of like a polka. It's a little bit like a slow polka. Pappy Taylor as a very interesting man, apparently. When Garry Harrison started out as a young man looking for old musicians to record. Pappy Taylor was the first person that he ran into. And one of the great things about him was, apparently, that he was in practice, even though he was quite elderly at the time.
A lot of folks give up their music, and you have to sort of urge them back into it...
CONAN: Rediscover it.
BROWN: Yeah, and they have to get back into practice. But Pappy was there, and he was playing at full strength when he was recorded on this day in 1979.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE "BUTTERFLY SCHOTTISCHE ")
CONAN: Again that's Pappy Taylor, "Butterfly Schottische," I hope I'm pronouncing that right.
CONAN: Schottische, OK, there you go.
CONAN: We know of old-time music in North Carolina and Virginia, Southern Illinois?
BROWN: Well, that's a really good question, Neal, to ask, you know, why Southern Illinois. And why are we hearing about Midwestern music here? One of the unusual and wonderful things about Garry Harrison and some of his friends who were in one of his early bands called "The Indian Creek Delta Boys," is that they started to collect music and to document music in areas that I would say that had been under-covered by folklorists.
When you think about American music, a lot of what defines it is in fact the cultural mergings in the South of African-American, Native American and British Isles and European. But there was also a lot of great music out in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, all those states, and Garry was one of these people who went and found it, and otherwise it wouldn't have happened.
CONAN: Well, he's of course, as you mentioned earlier, an influential musician himself. This is a tune called "Red Prairie Dawn," the title cut from Garry Harrison's album of original songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RED PRAIRIE DAWN")
CONAN: Again that's "Red Prairie Dawn," and you could certainly see people dancing to that, too.
BROWN: No kidding, and you ca n hear that Garry had become a really excellent fiddler. You know, Neal, when I think about people we remember who may not have been just hugely famous but really contributed something, I often find myself thinking what is it, what is it that this person contributed.
And usually it comes down to some combination of personal qualities that increase understanding and expand potential and thinking and all that sort of thing. With Garry, I think about this combination that he had of empathy and openness. He could get to the old-timers. He had this incredible enthusiasm for what he was doing.
And then he had the ability to focus on that and pass it on. He's passed the tradition on to his daughter, Genevieve Koester, who is playing in the last band that Garry was in. They're still out there. They're called The New Mules. And he influenced a lot of other people. So he had this remarkable combination of personal qualities in addition to the expertise.
When you think back, that's what you really remember about special people when they're gone. It's those wonderful personal qualities that bring others together, and that's really what Garry Harrison did.
CONAN: He also brought a musician named Paul Brown into his scene at one point.
BROWN: Oh my gosh, this was hilarious. I did not actually know Garry, and I didn't know him all that well ever. I didn't get to see him that much. But when he recorded this "Red Prairie Dawn" album, he had gotten a couple of recommendations from other folks that they might want to call me to contribute some of the banjo work on the album.
He wrote me a letter, phoned me up, asked me if I would do it, sent me the music, and the first time I met him was when I flew out there to do this recording. It was an amazing experience. Just the way some of his friends told me that he was totally focused and would become completely expert at anything he did, I fly out there, I meet this guy for the first time ever, we go to his place, and he has purchased and learned to use a digital recording outfit to record his own album and had become quite expert at it in record time.
So it was really just an example to me of the type of person he was, incredibly focused and driven to do the things that he loved to do.
CONAN: An example also of the kind of person we want to hear about today, somebody we lost in 2012 who contributed a great deal but whose life may not have been featured in an obituary above the fold on your newspaper, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And Paul, thanks very much for your time. We'll listen for you tomorrow morning, I guess.
BROWN: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: NPR newscaster Paul Brown, with us here in Studio 3A. In the meantime, let's see if we can go to Steve(ph), Steve on the line with us from Burlington in Wisconsin.
STEVE: Yeah hi, I want to remember Jonathan Frid, who was the actor that played...
STEVE: Barnabas Collins, yes, on "Dark Shadows," and he was personally important to me because I'm a fantasy and science fiction and horror writer, and he changed my life. but more importantly than that, he changed the way that people perceive vampires to this day because his vampire, his portrayal of Barnabas made the vampire a really sympathetic character with a tortured past.
He worked with the writers of the show to do that. And that's influenced everything from Langella's Dracula, which many of us like, down to Edward Cullen, which a lot of us don't like so much, but you can see his influence in the entire horror genre in making the monster human.
CONAN: As I understand, he got to make a cameo appearance in the new version of "Dark Shadows" just a little bit before he died.
STEVE: Yeah, he did. He was in there with Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott in the - there's a great scene with Alice Cooper where they have like a big ball and rock concert at the mansion, and he's one of the guests that shows up at the door.
CONAN: So were you one of those kids who raced home from school in time to watch "Dark Shadows" on TV?
STEVE: I was. I was one of those kids, and I was even a kid that, in Boston where I was growing up, they weren't showing it in the afternoon at first, and I would occasionally be sick in the morning when they had it on so that I could see it once I discovered it was there.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Steve.
STEVE: All right, have a great day.
CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Martin(ph), Martin's with us from Denver.
MARTIN: Yes, thank you for taking my call. I'm a cantor in a synagogue. I have been doing funerals for 35 years. And this past week, we lost a 98-year-old survivor of the Holocaust who was a very small man. He was about 5'6" tall and - but really packed a punch. He smiled at everyone and loved everyone. And he was actually in synagogue only about two months ago to celebrate his 98th birthday.
CONAN: Do you remember his name?
MARTIN: Sam Fireman, impossible to forget because he really was a - came to synagogue every week, and the most amazing thing was young people loved him as much as the old people. He - I saw him at 95 kick his heels up into the air and dance to celebrate his 95th birthday. So - and on his 95th birthday he gave a talk in our synagogue about his story of survival.
And it's a name that you would never hear, but it's an incredible soul that left the Earth this past week.
CONAN: And the stories of incidents as terrible as that, they lose something when they're no longer in the first person.
MARTIN: I have to tell you it's been a tough year for us in that respect. I feel not only survivors but people who lived in that time and experienced life. Even my kids, I try to get them to know what it's like to live in a world without cell phones and computers, and this guy lived in a world without, you know, cars and electricity, so...
CONAN: We're just getting a quote of his from the Denver Post: Sam Fireman survived the Holocaust in part to honor his younger brother. Aaron Fireman died after blowing up a crematorium in a show of defiance at Auschwitz. Quote, he told me to stay alive and tell people what happened. Sam Fireman, Martin, thank you very much.
MARTIN: Thank you for taking us. Thank you.
CONAN: If you'd like to remember somebody we ought to remember, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Just this past Friday, poet Jayne Cortez died. Born in Arizona, she grew up in Los Angeles, lived her adult life in New York City and traveled the world. She was active in the civil rights movement and became known for laying verses of social criticism over the tunes of her jazz band, the Firespitters. Here she is reading a poem called "A Jazz Fan Looks Back."
JAYNE CORTEZ: (Reading) I crisscrossed with Monk, wailed with Bud, counted every star with Stitt, sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah, wore a flower like Billie, screamed in the range of Dinah and scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium, jazz at the Philharmonic.
CONAN: Jayne Cortex died Friday, December 28th at the age of 76. Today we're remembering remarkable people like Jayne who died in 2012. We want to hear from you. Who is somebody you knew or knew of who you think we ought to remember. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Alan Greenblatt is a correspondent with NPR Digital News. He's based in St. Louis and joins us now from member station KWMU. Nice to have you with us today.
ALAN GREENBLATT, BYLINE: Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: And you wanted to remember, well, a Mark Twain scholar.
GREENBLATT: Yes, his name was Jim Cox. He died this year. He was a professor of mine at the University of Virginia, but he taught most of his career at Dartmouth. And he was just a great guy, so well-remembered by thousands of students, had a really forceful personality and a great deal of humor.
But I think for a broader audience, what's remarkable about him is that he's a critic who if you read him, you not only learn about writers like Poe and Emerson and Frederick Douglass, but you learn so much about the country.
CONAN: It sounds from that list these are 18th- and 19th-century he's a specialist on.
GREENBLATT: Well that's right, primarily 19th century. He wrote all through American history. He wrote about Thomas Jefferson. He wrote about Hemingway. He wrote a great deal about Robert Frost. But Mark Twain is where he made his mark. He wrote a book in 1966, "Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor," that really changed the way scholars look at Mark Twain and therefore the way students look at Mark Twain.
What's remarkable is not just that his book is in print from 1966, although that is remarkable for such a book, but that we read so little of the critics who came before him. He really reshaped the way we think about Mark Twain, about his life and his humor and the darkness behind the humor.
CONAN: You also mentioned Jefferson, and this is James Cox speaking in a film by Ken Burns called "Thomas Jefferson."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THOMAS JEFFERSON")
JAMES COX: When you'd stop and think to yourself do you really believe all men are created equal, or are people, let us say, are created equal, you have trouble believing it. But you don't ever wish it hadn't been written. If the equality clause will trouble us 1,000 year, as Frost said, if it'll trouble us, then the pursuit of happiness will mystify us forever, and I like the trouble, and I like the mystery.
CONAN: I like the trouble, and I like the mystery. Good stuff.
GREENBLATT: Yeah, he was great. That little clip shows you a little bit of the music of his voice and the emphasis he would put on things, but it also - at the center of his critical vision was to find a paradox like that and to play with it and tease it and find something new to say about the author from the inherent contradictions that he presented or she presented.
CONAN: And I understand he could have a profound influence on the personal lives of some of his students, including you.
GREENBLATT: Well, you know, just today I put on Facebook that I was going to be on this show, and a friend of mine who was in class with me more than 25 years ago commented about four specific memories of Cox, four little moments that illuminated Herman Melville and Poe and Jefferson. And they were very shorthand comments, but they brought him back.
I mean, he's a figure who remains very clear in people's minds decades after they last saw him.
CONAN: And - but there's also a personal story, as I understand it.
GREENBLATT: Well, I knew him fairly well. You know, I was a student but stayed in touch all these years afterwards. And I guess if I was to talk about him personally, I just want to remember that he died on the same farm where he was born in 1925, well down in southwestern Virginia. And he could see from his kitchen window, at least in fall, the family graveyard, which included slaves that his grandfather had owned.
He always talked about how close he was to slavery and yet how far away. And he always talked about desegregation as his great achievement. But the personal story you may be referring to, I mean I'm sounding very sober and talking about race and slavery, but he was so funny. I can't do him justice. But I once heard him give a talk on Pudd'nhead Wilson, and afterwards my girlfriend broke up with me because she realized she'd never really heard me laugh before.
CONAN: I gather...
GREENBLATT: I don't know if that was helpful, but yeah.
CONAN: But it happened. I gather he always ended his lectures the same way.
GREENBLATT: Well for our class, at least, he would always tell students to go forth and win victories.
CONAN: Go forth and win victories. Alan Greenblatt, thanks very much.
GREENBLATT: Well, thank you.
CONAN: Alan Greenblatt's a correspondent with NPR Digital News. He joined us from member station KWMU in St. Louis. You can read his remembrance of English professor and Mark Twain scholar James Cox at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Daniel(ph), Daniel with us from Maui in Hawaii.
DANIEL: Hi Neal.
CONAN: Hi, go ahead please.
DANIEL: I just wanted to remember a musician that most people probably haven't heard of outside of Hawaii. His name is Anthony Natividad, and he specialized in the Hawaiian nose flute, which is an influence again not much known outside of Polynesia. But he was a master of it and just - not just an instrumental and performer with 'Ulalena, it's a show here on Maui, but he was just a real giving guy, I mean just full of the aloha spirit.
And he would teach. He would play for people in, you know, the elder housing. He would play for kids in schools and just a great guy all around, Anthony Natividad.
CONAN: I have to confess, Natividad does not sound like a Hawaiian name.
DANIEL: He's not. He was born in Hawaii, but he was Filipino heritage. And he spoke to that one time, he said how blessed he was to be - you know, here he was this Filipino guy born in Hawaii, but he was able to perpetuate the very Hawaiian art of the Hawaiian nose flute.
CONAN: And there were a fair number of Filipinos who were brought over to Hawaii to work on the plantations there.
DANIEL: Yes, many, many times many, yeah.
CONAN: Daniel, thank you.
DANIEL: You're very welcome.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Lavi Salawe(ph) in Los Angeles: My friend Richard Adams died in Los Angeles on Monday, December 17. He was the plaintiff in the first federal lawsuit to demand recognition of same-sex marriage after he married Tony Sullivan in Boulder, Colorado, in 1975. Adams filed a green card petition for Sullivan as his spouse and received a one-sentence denial from the L.A. district director of the NINS: You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two - I'm going to use the word he's used in this quotation - faggots.
That set off a decade-long legal battle. They lost. The couple, however, we together until the end. I was with Richard and Tony on Saturday morning, two days before his death at their home in Hollywood, working with them on a challenge to DOMA, that's the Defense of Marriage Act, and an almost complete documentary film about their life and their long battle.
Let's see if we can go next to Sean(ph), and Sean's on the line with us from Spokane in Washington.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
SEAN: I am calling, my wife and I are calling to remember our friend Doug(ph), who passed away at the age of 25 this year. He actually introduced the two of us. So we would not be married without him. But more than that, we both grew up in fairly conservative Christian churches, and he changed our minds a lot about homosexuality, to the point that we voted - I grew up in California, I voted for Proposition 8 in California and just now voted to uphold gay marriage in Washington.
CONAN: And died at 25?
CONAN: What was the cause, do you know?
SEAN: We don't know. He had some health issues, but we're not certain either way.
CONAN: Well, much too young. Thank you for calling to remind us of your friend.
SEAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment and cultural trends for NPR, and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back with us on TALK OF THE NATION.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Thank you so much.
CONAN: And there were an awful lot of famous people in the arts who passed away this year: Whitney Houston, Etta James, Maurice Sendak, Nora Ephron. Is there somebody, though, who's maybe lesser known who stood out for you?
ULABY: You know, I do a lot of these, and it's really sad when it's not the big names.
CONAN: I used to work the black border beat myself.
ULABY: And, you know, it's hard to cram these extraordinary lives into sometimes just 45 seconds, and one of the people I had to do that for was Rosa Guy. And she was a leading author of young adult fiction, primarily in the 1970s and the late '60s and early '80s. And she's one of the people who really introduced a lot of very topical issues to young adult.
She wrote about class and race and immigration and sexuality at a moment when people weren't really doing that so often in young adult fiction. And her own backstory is amazing. It's like something out of a fairy tale almost. She was born in Trinidad, came to Harlem when she was seven years old to join her family, who preceded her there, and things completely fell apart.
Her mom died when she was nine. Her dad died when she was 14. She lived in an orphanage, was shunted around the foster care system, became a garment worker when she was 14 years old, became a union organizer in that garment factory. Studied acting at the American Negro Theater, which is the place that produced Sidney Poitier...
CONAN: So - yeah.
ULABY: ...Harry Belafonte. And then she started the Harlem Writers Guild, which was an early organizing place for people like Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde. And she wrote these unbelievably beautiful again adult novels. One of my favorites is called "The Friends," which is about an educated affluent West Indian teenager and her friendship with an African-American girl from a much more disadvantaged background.
CONAN: And those who may not have grown up in the East Coast in those days may have come as a surprise. It was a lot of tension between the people from the Caribbean - the African-Americans from the Caribbean - and American blacks.
ULABY: You know, I read it as a young teenager Kansas, and it always doesn't matter. The stories are - it does - I mean, obviously, that's what she's writing about - that these are stories that anyone can pick up and immediately get drawn into. They're unbelievably, powerful, emotionally intense - actually, when - it was Alice Walker who reviewed "The Friends" for The New York Times. And she called a heart slammer for a book, and it really, really is.
CONAN: We tend to think of young adult fiction as, you know, that uplifting stuff, you know?
ULABY: And it is. You know, I know it's - I'm making it sound really depressing, but her books were not. They are about human responsibility and love. And one of the sort of the interesting codas of Rosa Guy's that - one of her books for adults was based on a fairy tale, Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid." It was called "My Love, My Love, Or, The Peasant Girl." And it was made into the Broadway musical, "Once on This Island," which got eight Tony nominations.
CONAN: Well, you mentioned that musical "Once on This Island." This is a tune from that. People may remember seeing the show, ran for quite successfully for quite sometime. This song called "Waiting for Life to Begin."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING FOR LIFE TO BEGIN")
LA CHANZE: (Singing) A stranger in white in a car. Going somewhere. Going far. How it must feel to go racing wherever you please. Flying as free as a bird with his tail in the breeze.
CONAN: And that must have introduced a lot of people to that now familiar reggae beat.
ULABY: Probably so. She introduced a lot of us to worlds that I'm very happy to have live inside.
CONAN: If there was one book you would recommend of hers, what would it be?
ULABY: It would be "The Friends" from 1973. The one that I mentioned earlier about the friendship between these two girls from very different backgrounds.
CONAN: Neda Ulaby, thanks very much.
ULABY: Thank you.
CONAN: Neda Ulaby reports on the arts, entertainment and cultural trends for NPR. She was kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Happy New Year.
ULABY: Happy New Year.
CONAN: Stay with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And this is an email we have from Kelda(ph): I like to remember my father Marshall B. Jamison, World War II pilot, educational technology pioneer charmer, visionary tender-hearted father and lover of humanity. He care for the poor and the forgotten and the hardworking unnoticed. He was funny and passionate beyond measure. I was born when he was 61 and, therefore, grew up not only a child of the 1980s and '90s but also a child of the depression survivor, on 1920s folk music and Laurel and Hardy. He died with my baby son and baby nephew in his arms after sudden and swift bout with cancer this April, to the final words of the poem: I must go down to the seas again. And all I ask is a quiet sleep and sweet dream when the long trek's over. Thank you for listening.
That is from Kelda Jamison. And again, we'd like to hear from you about some what do you think we ought to remember, whose life made some contribution that is of lasting importance. 800-989-8255. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's see if we go next to - this is Kirk. And Kirk is on the line with us from Louisville.
CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.
KIRK: Well, listen, I just wanted to remember June Curry, one of the most generous and welcoming people on Earth who passed away this past June in Ashton, Virginia at 91. For more than 35 years, she welcomed cycling tourists from around the world who traveled the Trans-America Trail on bicycle to her home. And she created what's actually know as The Bike House.
And in 1976, during the BikeCentennial, she welcomed the first of her many thousand, probably, of cycling tourists into her home; provided warm showers, a stocked kitchen, you know, a nice warm place to stay and ask nothing except that free-will donation. And she was just one of the most wonderful people. She was awarded the first Trail Angel Award by the Adventure Cycling Association. And she just told wonderful stories about Ashton, Virginia, different crossroads at the intersection of Highway 6 and 250 there in Ashton. And your thighs were burning by the time you got there 'cause of vicious climb to get to Ashton. They're near Blue Ridge.
And she was just so warm and welcoming. Had such a great stories to tell. And The Bike House there is practically a museum. It's full of memorabilia and cards that people have sent back to her thanking her for her hospitality. I'm talking about thousands and thousands of cards and photographs and people would leave an old bike jersey or a water bottle, you know, inscribed with some message to her. And the place is just filled with all those things.
CONAN: Was she a rider herself?
KIRK: You know, I don't think she ever was much of cyclist or anything. It's just that when the BikeCentennial came through there and she saw all the cyclists who inaugurated the route between Yorktown, Virginia and Astoria, Oregon, 4,600 miles, you know, they were just on the first leg of that trip and climbed that vicious hill to, you know - and her place is right there and she offered them water and cookies. And she was known as the cookie lady.
CONAN: The cookie lady.
KIRK: June Curry, yeah.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for calling to remember her.
KIRK: My pleasure, thank you.
CONAN: So long. This is an email we have from Karen: I'd like to remember Genevieve Hughes Houghton. She was one of the original 13 freedom riders in 1961 on the bus with Congressman John Lewis that was mobbed and firebombed in Anniston, Alabama. A child of Southern privilege, Cornell University grad working on Wall Street, she began volunteering with the Congress of Racial Equality, organizing lunch counter deseg(ph) in New York City. Last year, she was featured in the PBS "Freedom Riders" documentary, sat on the couch with Oprah but had never seen her show.
Wonderfully eccentric, when asked by her friends in her Illinois town why she had never told us what she had done, she replied it didn't matter what we've done to change the world yesterday, only what we were doing now. She died at 80 on October 2nd. Thank you, Karen. If there's someone's life you think we ought to remember, somebody whose obituary may not have been above the folds of a newspaper, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: Today, were doing a show we do each year at about this time in which we remember the lives of people who died over the course of the year, whose obituaries may not have made the front-page news but whose lives are well worth marking. Who is someone you knew whom you think we should remember today? 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Several of our colleagues have joined us today to contribute their stories of remarkable lives lost.
We turn now to Susannah George, a producer with NPR's newscast unit, years ago a field producer with the foreign desk who spent time with New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid in Baghdad, Cairo and Beirut, so the Pulitzer Prize wining journalists unexpected death did not pass without mention this year. We turn to her now because of the time she got to spend with him. And, Susannah, nice to have you on the show.
SUSANNAH GEORGE, BYLINE: Thank you for having me here.
CONAN: And a lot of people know Anthony Shadid from his writing. You got to spend time with him.
GEORGE: Yes. We were sharing a bureau with him when I was in Baghdad for NPR, and I got to know him sitting around the dinner table at night. And I think a lot of us know that the curiosity and his sense of wonder from his journalism, but that was also Anthony at dinner, just having conversations, recounting the events of the day.
CONAN: A lot of us hacks, as we call ourselves in those sorts of situations, sit around and make cynical jokes.
GEORGE: Yes. And that was not Anthony at all. He would even recount, you know, the frustrating process of negotiating checkpoints in Baghdad with the same kind of enthusiasm and good humor that he would - that he approached his journalism with.
CONAN: I understand you got, in those days, a rare opportunity to take a drive through Baghdad with him. And again, he didn't focus on the danger or the threat. Tell us what he told you.
GEORGE: Well, he narrated the entire trip in a way that turned the city that - it was the middle of the summer. It was hot. It was dusty. You know, Baghdad is scarred with these blast walls along all of the main roads that make it feel very claustrophobic. But the way he talked about the city and Iraq's history and past and present, it made the city a magical place, a place that made me want to learn more about it.
CONAN: A magical place for him, but not a place that he romanticized at all. He told the story through the eyes of the people who live there, whose eyes have been irretrievably changed by the events of 2003 and afterwards.
CONAN: And the kind of reporting he did at that time when we shared that bureau with The Washington Post - he was with The Washington Post and then later went to The New York Times - he got to see a different Arab world open up. I wanted to play a clip of tape from a lecture that Anthony Shadid gave at American University of Beirut. He remembers standing with a friend in Tahrir Square as President Mubarak stepped down from power.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)
ANTHONY SHADID: And he gets on the phone and they - and he says, what? You know, he did what? And then you just - you looked across this crowd that went far as the horizon, and this just kind of rippled through the crowd as Mubarak had fallen. And it was the most euphoric moment I've ever - I mean eight years oft the tragedy of Baghdad just washed away in a moment just to see this scene unfold. I mean, I got - I got choked up. In fact, I don't know who it was, and Jesse(ph) came up me and said (foreign language spoken).
CONAN: Susannah, what's that little bit of Arabic there?
GEORGE: Well, it's an Arabic phrase that you would say to a family member at a funeral. Technically, it means, you know, hold yourself together. But it's a kinder way to say, you know, stay strong. So I guess he's emotionally overcome at that moment.
CONAN: Anthony Shadid, of course, went on from Egypt to do reporting in Libya as that country underwent its change, and, well, that was a traumatic experience.
GEORGE: Yes. He was kidnapped along with three of his colleagues in Libya. But, you know, when he would describe...
underwent its change, and, well, that was a traumatic experience.
Yes. He was kidnapped along with some three of his colleagues in Libya, but, you know, when he would describe that experience of being kidnapped later, it was one of his, you know, he saw humanity all around him. And when he would describe that experience, he would often tell when he - the binds on his wrists that his captors had put were too tight, and they were making his hands go numb, and one of his captors came over and at one point loosened the binds on his wrists, and Anthony said - always made a point to tell that part of the story and say that this is an example that the Middle East is an incredibly - it's a humane culture.
CONAN: He died reporting on Syria, and it is an awful situation there to this day that, well, we miss him so much, the kind of reporting that he'd be doing.
GEORGE: Yeah. Many times over the past year, I've thought if only I could have his journalism to turn to and - but, you know, as I was, you know, getting ready to come here and talk to you guys today and I was going back and looking over everything he had written and I was, you know, there's a silver lining to this in that he left behind so much that we can kind of, you know, spend time with him even though he's not here with us by reading his work.
CONAN: Susannah George with us here in Studio 3A. Yes, Anthony Shadid's obituary did make the front page of The New York Times where - which he worked in and other newspapers. We bent the rules for Susannah partly because, well, Anthony Shadid was a regular voice on this program as well and partly because Susannah George is an alumna of TALK OF THE NATION, so good to have you on the program. Thanks for dropping by.
GEORGE: Thank you so much.
CONAN: We want to hear the stories of the people you think we ought to remember. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is email@example.com. Let's go to Lewis(ph). Lewis with us from San Francisco.
LEWIS: Hello, everyone.
LEWIS: I came to remember Alan Edward Farley. Alan was a radio personality here in San Francisco. He worked for KALW, which is an NPR station.
CONAN: It is.
LEWIS: Yeah. And he worked there for about 38 years, actually. He started out in 1974 at KPFA in Berkeley, and then in 1975, he went to San Francisco and worked for KALW.
CONAN: What kind of programming did he do?
LEWIS: He did some interesting shows. He did a thing on Noel Coward, and it was called "Entr'acte," and it aired weekly. And he had an annual Noel Coward birthday special. He was quite connected with the Noel Coward estate and knew a lot of the Noel Coward people. He also had a show called "Book Talk," and it was books he had read and interviewed the authors. And he had a show called "My Favorite Things" where he would get a few people here in San Francisco like, for example, the symphony director here, and they would play their favorite music, and Alan will interview them on the air.
And he had another show called "Exploration in Music," which is mostly classical base, but he was a very interesting character. I knew him for 40 years.
CONAN: What was he like?
LEWIS: He was a very tall, very shy man in his real personal life, but on the air, he had a big voice. And if you heard the radio voice, you couldn't compare that radio voice with the person off air. They were like two different people in the air.
CONAN: Yeah. Well, Lewis, thank you very much for calling. I'm sorry. I never listened to him.
LEWIS: Oh, I'm just so happy to put his name out there on the air.
CONAN: Thank you.
LEWIS: Thank you.
CONAN: Here's an email from Sean(ph): Philip Baldwin, my uncle who as a World War II pilot flew the survey flights over Japan to prepare for the atomic bomb drop and later as an attorney worked under JFK and was with him the night before he died in Texas and came up with the name for the Astrodome. Let's see - we go next to - this is Kate(ph), and Kate is on the line with us from Santa Cruz in California.
KATE: Hello. I'm so honored to be on the radio, and I'm calling to honor Martha Benedict. And she was a pioneer in acupuncture and herbal medicine. She was an oriental medical doctor. She was instrumental in lobbying for legalization of acupuncture in the state of California, and she helped start one of the first schools the traditional American college the traditional Chinese medicine in San Francisco.
CONAN: And what was she like?
KATE: She was a delight. She delighted in life until her last breath. Sorry.
CONAN: I can hear your - you're still a little emotional, yeah.
KATE: Yeah. And she carried the healing energy, you know, with very ill people. She could inspire the healing energy in them and help heal them, and there's many miracle stories. And I met her when our children were very, very young and have known her for 35 years. And she also started a whole line of healing products of tinctures and herbs and salves that are distributed nationally under Benedictine Herbs. And one of her really delights and one of my favorite pictures of her is with this pipevine swallowtail butterfly on her shoulder and flapping around her hat.
She became the midwife butterfly, and the pipevine butterfly was going extinct in this area. And so she started a project of recultivating the pipevine that they pupated on, and it is still going to this day, and they have 1,000 little crystals at their house. And one of the miracle stories I love to tell is that a dear friend of hers went to the shamanic conference down in Texas and met - was tapped on the shoulder and taken over to a Mayan shaman from Mexico. And he says I need to talk to you, and they translated through three languages and said this necklace is for your friend who midwives the butterflies.
And it was a beaded necklace with the image of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly with the yellow spots on the tail. And he made this for her, and he knew that he'd meet someone who knew her.
CONAN: That's a great story, Kate.
KATE: It's a great story, and she was a very powerful healer and a great loss to our community. And she died saying I love you.
CONAN: Thank you, Kate, for the call.
KATE: Thank you. Bye.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Paul: Florence Schultz, age 99 years and nine months, a remarkable lady, born in 1912, like all those 100 years who saw the car, plane, spaceships and all the wonders we take for granted. At age 99, alive, long - a lifelong Detroit Tiger fan who attended a ball game at Comerica Park in August of 2011.
We're remembering some of the lives of people who may have been - whose obituaries may not have been on the front page this past year. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's see if can go to Caroline(ph). Caroline with us from Tucson.
CAROLINE: Good morning, Neal. It's a pleasure to be on your show. I'm calling today to remember John Fitch. John Fitch is known for several things, two of which is he was the only American to ever race for Mercedes-Benz back when Mercedes-Benz was still racing in Formula 1. And the other thing that more Americans might remember him for is the invention of the Fitch Barrier. These are these large, usually yellow cylinders that are filled with either water or sand that are usually in front of highway overpasses.
They saved many, many lives for cars that go out of control. They hit the Fitch Barrier and it dissipates the energy into the Fitch Barrier instead of the car going straight into the highway overpass and killing the occupants of the car. So...
CONAN: How did he get interested in the safety part of it?
CAROLINE: It's my understanding - well, first of all, he was in that horrible, horrible crash in the '50s. I believe it was at Monaco, where so many spectators were killed. And that was the last race that Mercedes-Benz was ever involved in with Formula 1. That's one thing that got him involved in safety.
The other is that it's my understanding that his son was killed running into one of these highway overpass abutments. And he thought that he - that in honor of his son, he would find an inexpensive way of keeping this from happening in the future.
CONAN: Well, Caroline, thank you very much for remembering us - him to us.
CAROLINE: Thank you so much for having me.
CONAN: This is an email that we have from Ed. The residents of the Truckee Meadows, what we call the area of Carson City, Reno and Sparks, lost an important figure just this past week, Ed 'the Waver' Carson died last Friday. From the '70s to the mid 2000s, he walked from Carson to Reno, about 30 miles, and waived to everyone. Just looking at the comments on this great obit written by Guy Clifton, at the Reno Gazette-Journal, you could see that this simple act meant a great deal to us all. The people that personally interacted with him found him a loving and generous person. My favorite quote from the article: the best feeling there is in the world is to feel love in our heart then share it with the world, he said. Thank you for doing this show. I listen each year. I love listening to the stories of people and how we all touch each other.
Let's go to Brandon. Brandon with us from Iowa City.
BRANDON: Hi. I'd like to remember for those people in Iowa City a very special person whose name was Kevin Olish(ph). And he was a cashier at the local grocery co-op, and he worked there for 16 years and just a working class person who was very unsung. He knew - was expert in astronomy, in rock 'n' roll, in politics and could talk on and on about these things. And he had memorized, we estimated, over 2,000 member numbers. So when you went to his register, he knew your four to seven-digit number. So he was very unusual in this way, and he was the first one who would help people out who were handicapped. And he was the kind of person who made a difference every single day.
I think it's easy to sometimes - we celebrate a lot of people in the news. But the people who help us day to day are really the heroes, I believe. And Kevin Olish was really that kind of a person, and we miss him terribly in Iowa City and at the grocery store and in the community.
CONAN: Thank you for remembering somebody who's - you wouldn't think to find that obituary in the newspaper, but it's an important person who's part of our lives.
CONAN: Thank you, Brandon. Bye-bye. This email from Rena(ph): I'd like to share with you my father's story. Thanks for your consideration. A modern renaissance man and champion of the Alaskan dream, Robert Warren Hammel, longtime resident of Girdwood and Denali Park, Alaska, died November 24, 2012. Rob lost his life heroically assisting at a motor vehicle accident south of Girdwood while working for the State of Alaska Department of Transportation. Rob died as he lived, with sincere dedication to helping others and a commitment to humanity and justice. He was 60 years old.
In 1975, Rob realized his dream of moving north to the Last Frontier. He packed up Harvey, his three-on-the-tree Rambler with an extra radiator, AM radio, two extra headlights and four extra rimmed tires. Rob reinforced Harvey's undercarriage with sheet metal and, with an Alaska or Bust signed mounted on this trailer, set out for the AlCan Highway.
Here's a couple of emails. Before we run out of time, we'd like to thank everybody who called, everybody who sent us an email. We're sorry we couldn't get to everybody's story. But this is from Jennifer(ph): I'd like to remember my mother, Judith Nelson, who lost her battle with Alzheimer's disease on May 28, 2012. She was a soprano, specialized in the baroque genre who made multiple recordings, including Handel's "Messiah," Christopher Hogwood conducting, which BBC's music magazine listed at number 25 in the 50 best recordings of all time. Not only was she a wonderful singer, she was kind, warm and funny person who loved and was loved by many. We miss her terribly, but we're lucky to have her recordings to listen to.
And this from a listener: I'm remembering my dear pal and long-time puppet partner, Teri Jean Breitbach. Teri Jean performed and did school residencies with me for 31 years, puppet theater in all 99 counties of Iowa, plus 25 other states and four other countries. She touched the lives of thousands of children with her memorable performances and her irrepressible sense of play. Sometimes when we were working with kids in classrooms she'd say, tomorrow each of you has to bring a joke. The next day, we told jokes as we glued and decorated our puppets.
Some of the lives we lost in 2012. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.