‘Visionaries don’t get things done,” Thomas M. Menino once observed. Boston’s longest-serving mayor was explaining his pragmatic approach to governing a city he knew intimately and loved deeply. His death in October prompted an outpouring of admiration for the so-called “urban mechanic,” who unquestionably knew how to get things done and who made the Hub a more humane and livable place, quite a legacy for any elected official to leave.
Boston strong in every sense, Mayor Menino leads a lengthy list of notable figures who passed from the scene in 2014, men and women whose contributions to politics, world affairs, science, medicine, business, sports, the arts, education, and other human endeavors will long be remembered by generations — and visionaries — to come.
The sudden death of a person still vibrant in the public spotlight is always shocking. The world of entertainment was staggered twice last year with the deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. An improv comedy genius, Williams dazzled film and television audiences with his blazing wit while excelling at more serious roles. The Oscar-winning Hoffman was among his generation’s most venerated actors, earning plaudits for his portrayals of Truman Capote and Willy Loman, among other career-defining roles.
The late Mike Nichols was honored with Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards during a stellar career directing such films as “The Graduate” plus acclaimed stage and television productions. His death followed those of onetime child stars Shirley Temple Black, who enjoyed a resounding second act as a globe-trotting diplomat, and Mickey Rooney, a durable show-business pro whose film and stage career spanned seven drama-filled decades.
Other glowing obits were penned for actor-director Richard Attenborough; comedians Joan Rivers and Sid Caesar; actresses Ruby Dee, Lauren Bacall, and Elaine Stritch; actor-filmmaker Harold Ramis of “Ghostbusters” fame; actors Eli Wallach and Maximilian Schell; and “Maverick” star James Garner, who played tough guys with a sly sense of humor.
Americans also paused to honor the lives of public servants who demonstrated the wisdom and fortitude needed to sustain a functional democracy. Former White House press secretary James Brady survived an assassin’s bullet to become a powerful voice for gun control legislation. Longtime senator and vice presidential nominee Howard Baker served his country in several high-level capacities, as did the former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, prosecutor and judge Lawrence Walsh, and Democratic Party leader Robert Strauss. Bravery was a hallmark, too, of civil rights attorney John Doar and war hero Louis Zamperini of “Unbroken” fame.
Around the globe, Israelis saluted their former prime minister Ariel Sharon, a hawkish military commander who became a peace-seeking centrist. Also extolled overseas were Protestant leader Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland; Ghanaian women’s health advocate Efua Dorkenoo; Polish physicist and human rights activist Zbigniew Romaszewski; Irene Fernandez, who championed the cause of Malaysia’s migrant workers; and Eroni Kumana, whose rescue of a young US Navy officer named John F. Kennedy during World War II changed the course of history.
The world of letters suffered significant losses this past year as well, as readers around the world paid homage to Maya Angelou, poet, novelist, actress, teacher, and author of the moving memoir “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” and to Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a master of magical realism, whose novels include “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
Eulogies were delivered, too, for South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel-winning novelist and antiapartheid activist; Amiri Baraka (born LeRoi Jones), poet, playwright, critic, essayist, and leading figure in the Black Arts literary movement; author, adventurer, naturalist, and Zen master Peter Matthiessen; mystery writer P.D. James, known fondly as the Queen of Crime Fiction; Pulitzer-winning poets Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, Maxine Kumin, and Claudia Emerson; biographers James MacGregor Burns and Justin Kaplan; and beloved children’s author Norman Bridwell, creator of Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Journalism can be a perilous profession, especially in corners of the world besieged by war and terrorism. In 2014, many brave individuals — among them, journalist-video reporter James Foley, journalist Steven Sotloff, and photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus — lost their lives covering stories they wanted the world to know about.
Back home, tributes were typed for Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, a stylish taskmaster whose leadership during the Watergate scandal helped elevate his paper to national prominence. Also remembered for their service were broadcast journalists Garrick Utley, Bruce Morton, and Richard C. Hottelet, news executives Edward Joyce and David Burke, Time Inc. chief Ralph Davidson, and Boston Globe editor Michael Janeway and film critic Jay Carr.
For music lovers, 2014 marked the passing of dozens of artists whose recordings, compositions, and live performances will forever be cherished. Folk music icon Pete Seeger, for one, was a banjo-strumming troubadour, songwriter, and social activist who hammered away against prejudice and injustice. Pop music’s Phil Everly, for another, was one half of a brotherly duo that made heavenly harmonies.
Classical music buffs applauded the final notes of Christopher Hogwood, a harpsichordist and early-music scholar who founded the Academy of Ancient Music; violinist-composer Lorin Maazel, who directed several major orchestras; and Italy’s Claudio Abbado, whose mastery of operatic and symphonic repertories made him one of Europe’s leading maestros.
Also bowing out were Brit rocker Joe Cocker, singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester, bluesman Johnny Winter, rock bassist Jack Bruce, sax whiz Bobby Keys, disc jockey Casey Kasem, jazz giants Charlie Haden and Jimmy Scott, opera stars Magda Olivero and John Shirley-Quirk, and Maria von Trapp, last of the singing von Trapp siblings.
Many sports luminaries passed into the history books last year, fans tipping their caps to such bygone heroes as Jack Ramsay, a Hall of Fame basketball coach and broadcaster revered by hoops fans; Tony Gwynn, a prolific hitter and perennial all-star who exemplified baseball’s very best; Major League Baseball lifer and former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer; and pitcher Jim Brosnan, author of “The Long Season,” a sports-lit classic.
They were joined in athletic immortality by hockey legend Jean Beliveau, boxer Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, pro football coach Chuck Noll, baseball slugger and broadcaster Ralph Kiner, surfer Ricky Grigg, and dozens more whose feats belong to sports history.
The advancement of human knowledge depends in part on boundary-pushing scientists and medical researchers. Among such luminaries who passed away in 2014 were surgeon and author Sherwin Nuland, whose book “How We Die” helped demystify death; Nobel Prize winners Gerald Edelman (neuroscience), Dale Mortensen (economics), and Martin Perl (physics); orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe, who performed the first career-saving Tommy John surgery; physician, journal editor, and health care advocate Arnold Relman; and physicist Gerald Guralnik, part of a team that discovered the Higgs boson, or “God particle.”
Followers of fashion and high society were saddened by the loss of celebrity clothes designer Oscar de la Renta, who outfitted some of the world’s most fashionable women; Eileen Ford, who revolutionized the modeling industry, setting new beauty standards in the process; heiress and arts patron Bunny Mellon, a paragon of unostentatious luxury; and fashion doyenne Marilyn Riseman, a colorful fixture on the Boston social scene for decades.
Locally, a city and region proud to have known and learned from them bade farewell to TV news anchor Chet Curtis, “Car Talk” co-host Tom Magliozzi, Huntington Theater Company artistic director Nicholas Martin, mountaineer Barbara Washburn, Episcopal bishop M. Thomas Shaw, Red Sox executive Dick Bresciani, and Patriots superfan Sam Berns, the public face of progeria.
Everyday life would be far duller without the inventors and innovators whose products fire the imagination. Those who passed away this year include George Heilmeier (liquid-crystal display), Ralph Baer (home video games), Stephanie Kwolek (Kevlar), Donald Stookey (CorningWare), Guinter Kahn (Rogaine), Hobie Alter (surfboards), Ken Forsse (Teddy Ruxpin toy bear), Donald Levine (G.I. Joe figure), Edmund Abel (Mr. Coffee machine), Will Radcliff (Slush Puppie), and Sy Berger (Topps baseball cards)
Finally, candles were lit in 2014 for the men and women in uniform overseas, and for first responders everywhere, who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their fellow citizens. May they rest in peace at the dawn of a bright new year.
Luminaries in arts, politics, sports were mourned during the past year
Other notables who died in 2014
Larry Speakes, presidential spokesman
Joan Mondale, arts advocate
James Jeffords, senator
Jeremiah Denton, senator
Philip Crane, congressman
Frank Mankiewicz, political aide
Jane Byrne, Chicago mayor
Marion Barry, Washington, D.C., mayor
Jeb Magruder, Watergate figure
Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet foreign minister
Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haitian president
Adolfo Suarez, Spanish prime minister
Chen Ziming, Chinese dissident
Anne Heyman, humanitarian
Wojciech Jaruzelski, Polish prime minister
Ahmed Seif, Egyptian rights activist
Mavis Gallant, short story writer
Jonathan Schell, author, essayist
Joe McGinniss, author
Farley Mowat, author
Thomas Berger, novelist
Bel Kaufman, novelist
Alastair Reid, poet, essayist, author
Jeremiah Healy, suspense novelist
Dorothy Salisbury Davis, suspense novelist
Walter Dean Myers, children’s author
Virna Lisi, actress
Bob Hoskins, actor
Richard Kiel, actor
Paul Mazursky, filmmaker
Gordon Willis, cinematographer
Alain Resnais, filmmaker
Frank Yablans, studio executive
Herb Jeffries, singing cowboy
Saul Zaentz, producer
Television & radio
David Brenner, comedian
Don Pardo, radio and TV announcer
Jan Hooks, actress, comedian
Polly Bergen, actress-singer
Ann Davis, actress
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., actor
Russell Johnson, actor
Ralph Waite, actor
Margot Adler, NPR journalist
Theater, dance, & opera
Marian Seldes, actress
Geoffrey Holder, actor, dancer
Mitch Leigh, composer
Jean Babilee, dancer
Ivan Nagy, dancer
Donald Saddler, dancer-choreographer
Mary Hinkson, dancer
Bunny Briggs, tap dancer
Licia Albanese, opera star
Morrie Turner, comic strip artist
Rene Ricard, critic, painter, poet
Nancy Holt, artist
Otto Piene, artist
On Kawara, artist
Ultra Violet, artist, film actress
Charles Barsotti, cartoonist
Curtis Bill Pepper, journalist, author
Arthur Gelb, editor, critic
Kenneth Tomlinson, media executive
John Seigenthaler, journalist
Tony Auth, editorial cartoonist
Al Feldstein, Mad editor
Richard Mellon Scaife, publisher, philanthropist
Robert Sherrill, journalist, author
Richard Eder, journalist, critic
Marilyn Beck, columnist
Michel du Cille, photojournalist
Paco de Lucia, flamenco guitarist
Gerry Goffin, songwriter
Sean Potts, Chieftains cofounder
Bobby Womack, R&B artist
Tommy Ramone, punk rocker
Paul Revere, rock keyboardist
Paul Horn, New Age musician
Jerry Vale, pop singer
Teenie Hodges, soul man
Bob Crewe, songwriter, producer
Jerry Coleman, baseball player, broadcaster
Fuzzy Thurston, football player
Bob Welch, baseball player
Jim Fregosi, baseball player
Alvin Dark, baseball player, manager
The local scene
Robert Quinn, House speaker, attorney general
Joseph Jordan, police commissioner
Robert Havern, senator
Walter Sullivan, Cambridge mayor
Douglas Petersen, agricultural chief
Richard Hayman, Boston Pops arranger
Lennie Sogoloff, club owner
Ray Santisi, jazz pianist, teacher
Dale Dorman, disc jockey
Little Joe Cook, R&B singer
Anne Wyman, Globe journalist
Gail Perrin, Globe journalist
Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at email@example.com.