Before entering a South African prison in 1964, Nelson Mandela stood up in court and reaffirmed his faith in democracy and liberty for all. “It is an ideal for which I hope to live,” the antiapartheid leader declared, yet one for which he was also prepared to die.
Five decades later, at age 95, Mandela was laid to rest, his journey from prisoner to president now part of history. He leads a lengthy list of notable figures who passed away in 2013, men and women whose impact on politics, global affairs, science, medicine, business, sports, and the arts will long be remembered.
It was a year that brought many triumphant and tragic moments, from life-saving advancements in science and championship athletic performances to devastating natural disasters and terrorist attacks at home and abroad.
Americans saluted their own departed leaders and heroes, among them former House of Representatives speaker Thomas Foley, a liberal Democrat who championed bipartisanship; five-term Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, the Senate’s last surviving World War II veteran; C. Everett Koop, the outspoken and influential surgeon general; Mercury 7 astronaut Scott Carpenter, exemplar of the “right stuff”; irrepressible New York City mayor Ed Koch, who served three terms in office, none of them dull; congresswoman Lindy Boggs of Louisiana, a staunch advocate for women’s rights; and Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, who represented his fellow citizens as governor and ambassador to Canada with great distinction.
Around the globe, Britons bade farewell to Margaret Thatcher, their first female prime minister, who commanded a prominent role on the postwar political stage. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez was remembered for his fiery, often controversial presidency. North Vietnam’s Vo Nguyen Giap left a complicated legacy as a ruthless military leader who became a proponent of postwar reconciliation with America.
The world of letters suffered momentous losses last year, too. Irish poet Seamus Heaney, a Nobel Prize laureate with a rock star’s aura, crafted works that were classically learned yet immensely accessible. Another Nobel recipient, Doris Lessing, upended literary convention in such acclaimed books as her 1962 novel “The Golden Notebook.” Author and Oscar-winning screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala gracefully explored themes of class and ethnicity. Cuban-American novelist Oscar Hijuelos wrote movingly of immigrant lives and cultural adaptation. Crime novelist Elmore Leonard and Tom Clancy, master of the military thriller, produced page-turners filled with crackling dialogue and clever plot twists.
Fans of pop culture gave their thumbs-up to notable figures such as Roger Ebert, the first film critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize; actor James Gandolfini, whose mesmerizing portrayal of mob boss Tony Soprano made for must-watch television; and Jonathan Winters, the rubber-faced wizard of improv comedy. Euglogized, too, were actor Peter O’Toole who galloped to fame in the epic “Lawrence of Arabia;” Emmy-winning actress Jean Stapleton, who breathed life and spunk into Edith Bunker in the TV sitcom “All in the Family;” Julie Harris, versatile and radiant star of stage and screen; and Esther Williams, the Hollywood “mermaid” who swam to stardom in the 1940s and ’50s.
Sounding their final notes in 2013 were a remarkable collection of musical artists whose recordings and performances thrilled listeners of every taste. Country music legend George Jones sang of heartache and hard living with gritty authenticity. Classical pianist Van Cliburn’s victory in Moscow’s 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition made him a Cold War-era cultural icon and audience favorite. Indie-rock pioneer Lou Reed’s bleakly lyrical songs spoke to generations of alienated hipsters. Folk singer Richie Havens, singer-songwriter J. J. Cale, and pop crooner Patti Page enjoyed large and devoted followings, too, as did jazz pianist Marian McPartland and drummer-bandleader Chico Hamilton.
Their deaths inspired heartfelt tributes last year, as did that of ballerina Maria Tallchief, whose association with choreographer George Balanchine catapulted her to international fame; music producer Phil Ramone, a studio maestro who won 14 Grammys; and audio pioneer Ray Dolby, who revolutionized the recording industry with his eponymous noise-reduction system.
Ideas matter, whether universal in scope or profoundly personal. In that vein, glowing obits were penned for David Frost, the suave broadcast journalist and artful celebrity interviewer; Dear Abby columnist Pauline Phillips (a.k.a. Abigail Van Buren), who dished out salty advice with a spoonful of kind-hearted sugar; mass-media psychologist Joyce Brothers, who counseled millions on relationship issues in her columns, radio broadcasts, and TV chats; and researcher-therapist Virginia Johnson, who revolutionized the way people talked, and thought, about sex.
Conventional wisdom was likewise challenged by a pair of unorthodox clergymen who passed away in 2013. Andrew M. Greeley was a maverick Roman Catholic priest who also wrote scores of popular books, some of them steamy best-selling novels. Baptist minister Will D. Campbell fought racial injustice while publishing critically acclaimed works of autobiography and historical fiction. In journalism circles, glasses were raised to New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, a legal expert and First Amendment zealot, and to trailblazer Helen Thomas, a sharp-tongued presidential inquisitor who served as unofficial dean of the White House press corps.
The world of sports observed a moment of silence for, among others, Baseball Hall of Famers Stan Musial, the gifted St. Louis Cardinals batsman, and feisty Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver. Also hailed were Boston Celtics great Bill Sharman, who excelled as both a player and coach; Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, whose teams captured 10 NBA titles; NFL lineman Deacon Jones of the L.A. Rams’ Fearsome Foursome unit; and Harvard crew coach Harry Parker, whose heavyweight varsity oarsmen captured eight national titles.
Nobel Prizes in science and medicine signify the highest achievement in those fields. In 2013, the world lost many such prize winners, among them biochemists Frederick Sanger and Christian de Duve; physicists Robert Richardson, Donald Glaser, Heinrich Rohrer, and Kenneth Wilson; economists James Buchanan, Ronald Coase and Lawrence Klein; chemists John Cornforth and Jerome Karle; Robert Edwards, in-vitro fertilization pioneer; and neuroscientist David Hubel, all of whom advanced the frontiers of human knowledge.
Toasted for their lasting contributions to style, fashion, publishing, technology, and the arts were preppy clothing designer Lilly Pulitzer; New Realist painter Jack Beal: visionary eco-architect Paolo Soleri; news executive Al Neuharth, creator of USA Today; toy and game inventors Andre Cassagnes (Etch A Sketch), Allan Calhamer (Diplomacy), Chuck Foley (Twister), and Al Fritz (Sting-Ray bike); and John Karlin and Douglas Engelbart, whose inventive talents led to, respectively, the touchtone telephone and computer mouse.
The local scene lost some of its luster last year with the passing of many who made the city and region a livelier, more interesting place. Memorials were held for television cowboy Rex Trailer of “Boomtown” fame; writer, philanthropist, and literary muse Joan Parker; engineer Charles Vest, president of MIT for 14 dynamic years; champion yachtsman, sailmaker, and boat designer Ted Hood; actor Jeremy Geidt, founding member of the American Repertory Theater; Katharine Kane, Boston’s first female deputy mayor; Kenneth Edelin, who dedicated his medical career to women’s health care; and, Idene “Ma Siss” Wilkerson, Dorchester matriarch and beloved humanitarian.
Never to be forgotten, too, are the men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate price in service to their country; the first responders who sacrificed their own lives to protect others’; and, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Sean Collier, victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and its aftermath, whose promising futures were cut short by an act of violence that left many with heavy hearts in the year just passed.
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.