Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook.
The list of those who passed away in 2013 includes giants from the worlds of politics and popular culture. The world also said goodbye this year to many people who may have been less noticeable, but whose subtle influences affected our everyday lives — from the inventor of the computer mouse to a legendary “door man” at a prominent Washington music venue. We reflect on the stories of those lost in 2013.
- Matt Schudel Reporter, The Washington Post
- Ann Wroe Obituaries Editor, The Economist
Notable Deaths Of 2013
Nelson Mandela, former South African president and global icon for peace, died Dec. 5, 2013.
Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, died April 8, 2013.
Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas died July 20, 2013.
Former Louisiana Rep. Lindy Boggs died July 27, 2013.
James Gandolfini, best known for playing Tony Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” died June 19, 2013.
Legendary musician Lou Reed died Oct. 27, 2013.
Folk singer Richie Havens, who opened Woodstock, died April 22, 2013.
Former Sen. Harry Byrd of Virginia died July 20, 2013.
Oscar-nominated actress Karen Black, known for her roles in “Five Easy Pieces” and “Easy Rider,” died Aug. 8, 2013.
“Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker died Nov. 30, 2013.
Tandyn Almer, composer of “Along Comes Mary,” died Jan. 8, 2013.
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela died March 5, 2013.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Obituaries have flooded the front pages in 2013. The list of those we lost this year include names like Mandela and Thatcher and Chavez.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut it also includes many men and women who may have lacked the recognition of a Nobel Prize winner or celebrated star of stage and screen but still shaped our daily lives in ways we often overlook, from the inventor of the computer mouse to a legendary doorman at one of Washington's best-known music venues. Joining us this hour to explore the stories behind those we've said good-bye to this year is Matt Schudel. He is a reporter at The Washington Post. Matt, thank you for joining us. Good to see you again.
MR. MATT SCHUDELThank you, Kojo. Good to be here.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from London is Ann Wroe, obituaries writer at The Economist. Ann, thank you for joining us.
MS. ANN WROEIt's a great pleasure, Kojo. Lovely to be on the show.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, what stories from the obituaries did you find the most interesting this year? Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. Matt Shudel, we've spent much of the past few months saying good-bye to people whose faces were so well-known throughout the world, people like Nelson Mandela or, during this most recent week, the legendary actor Peter O'Toole.
NNAMDIBut we also lost people who were part of living or a part of our lives in less obvious ways. And many of them left behind amazing stories. Your newspaper captured such a story when it printed the obituary of Josh Burdette, legendary doorman at the 9:30 Club here in Washington, D.C. What was it about his story that people find so compelling?
SCHUDELWell, Josh Burdette was the so-called bouncer at the 9:30 Club, which is a local nightclub for rock and roll acts. But he hated the term bouncer. He said, I just do security. Don't call me a bouncer. He was a colorful figure known to thousands of music fans, young people, throughout the Washington area and had a striking and unforgettable appearance. He...
NNAMDIHe was a large man.
SCHUDELHe was 6'4". He weighed 340 pounds. He had a bald head, and his almost entire body was covered with tattoos. And he had a lot of studs through his various facial parts, let's say, nose and lips and so on. And -- but he was known as a very gentle figure, too. He lived with his grandmother in the sedate Washington suburb of Kensington, Md. But he was just beloved by all and was a remarkable figure in his own way.
NNAMDIBut this is the newspaper in the nation's capital with an audience that tends to be interested in politics and business and power. How do you explain the resonance of story about that guy at the 9:30 Club?
SCHUDELYeah, that's right, Kojo. And there was just something about it. There was a human story about it. And I also like to think that's a really good example of obituary writing. This was written by Adam Bernstein who is the obituaries editor of The Post. And it was just written in one day. And there was just -- I have to say that a lot of times these figures who are more closely connected with pop culture than with political culture seem to resonate through all levels of society.
SCHUDELThey're not just known to, say, the political elite. But he is someone who'd be known to high school kids or to college kids who come in and to young professionals who like to let off steam and go to these shows at the 9:30 Club. And he was known also to musicians and performers throughout the world. James Brown, the legendary soul man, saw him...
NNAMDIAnd said what?
SCHUDEL..and he said, did he come out of his momma looking like that?
NNAMDIExactly right. If you live in Washington and you like music, you've probably passed through the 9:30 Club at some point. And if you have, you probably have fond memories of Josh. Ann Wroe, most people would not recognize a man like Doug Engelbart if they tripped over him. But when he died this past summer, he left behind something that continues to be a part of people's daily lives at home, at work. What pulled you into the story of the man who invented the computer mouse?
WROEWell, it's a wonderful story. As you say, it's someone you've never heard of. I have certainly never heard of Doug Engelbart. And suddenly I realized I'm using something that he invented all the time every day, and so are we all. And a little bit of sad story in a way because he never got all the recognition he should have done. He never got many royalties for it after he sold it to Apple. But also, he never really got the recognition in his lifetime. And he wanted the world of computers to become something different.
WROEYou know, he didn't like to see people sitting in their offices on their PCs all by themselves. His idea was for a great big sort of giant computer in which everyone was feeding in their knowledge and getting out knowledge. He wanted the whole world to be linked by knowledge. He had an enormous vision of the betterment of man, if you like, and his contribution to it was to make this funny little creature that we so aptly call the mouse.
WROEBut actually, originally, it was made of two bits of wood and probably looked completely different, a bit like a clamshell thing. But he made this funny little toy, and at the back of his mind, behind this little gadget, was a whole world-changing philosophy which not many people got to hear really because he just wasn't fated as he should have been.
NNAMDIYet the mouse is ubiquitous. Let's take a listen to a recording of Engelbart describing the mouse.
MR. DOUGLAS ENGELBARTI don't know why we call it a mouse. Sometimes I apologize. It started that way, and we never did change it. All right. As it moves up or down or sideways, so does the tracking spot. And the principles for its operation are quite easy to see. Its principle is that there are two wheels that roll on the surface. But since they're at right angles and kind of sharp edges, one will roll and the other slide in one direction. Each of these wheels controls through potentiometer with a voltage output sent by an ADD converter.
MR. DOUGLAS ENGELBARTThe numbers taken in by the computer at sample times is to what the horizontal-vertical confluence are to be of where it should put the tracking spot.
NNAMDIThat, of course, being Doug Engelbart. Your wrote, Ann, that for him this tool in the end was not a ticket to fortune but a key to building a technological world that he could see and wanted to share with other people. Do you think that's the world we now live in?
WROEWell, I think it is by and large, but there is a sense of isolation in this modern world, too, that we're all alone with our PCs at our desks. Or we're all sitting there with our headphones on looking at our Facebook page. You know, and I don't think he liked the idea of that at all, that we've all become so atomized and so individual. He wanted this all to be one giant sharing of knowledge going on.
NNAMDII want to go to the phones now. I think we will start with David. No, David is no longer there. But we can go to Steve in Washington -- Steve in Rockville, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEYes. Thank you very, very much for having this show. I read The Economist. And I loved the obituary about Elmore Leonard. I used to live in Detroit. And, of course, as Ann knows, it was written as if a story -- a crime story. It was great. And what I wondered -- you mentioned six miles from downtown Detroit and so many books, and I wondered about what -- so, again, congratulations on that great obituary. But what kind of research...
STEVE...goes into this? You know, the location, the six miles from downtown Detroit, which is really Highland Park. So that's what I wondered about.
NNAMDIFor those who are not familiar with that obituary, you should know that Ann Wroe wrote the obituary of Elmore Leonard in the style that Elmore Leonard used as a crime writer. Ann, could you respond to Steve's question?
WROEYes. Well, the research, Steve, is just reading an awful lot of Elmore Leonard. I mean, I sat down. I hadn't actually read him before. I have to confess. I sat down and read seven or eight of his books, and then I just thought, I'm going to write it in the style that he would have done it in. And the conceit of the obituary is that he is sitting in some grubby downtown office, and a guy comes to call on him who's called Writerley.
WROEAnd this chap is trying to persuade him to make his writing style more complicated because one of the interesting things about Elmore Leonard, as you know, is that he devised 10 rules for good writing. And all the newspapers cited these, and they're mostly being very succinct, not using adjectives, not using exclamation points, just being quite straight, as straight as his prose.
WROEAnd so the conceit of my obituary was that this man called on Elmore Leonard and tried to get him -- tried to sell him these adjectives and similes and prologues and things that he didn't want. And in the end, Elmore Leonard just blows him away. And I'm glad you haven't made me read it anyway because I can't do the accent, and it would shame it. You know, it would spoil it to try and do it in a London accent.
NNAMDISteve, thank you...
WROEThat bit, I couldn't infuse into it.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call. I'm a big Elmore Leonard fan myself. Ann, a few writers passed away this year who introduced audiences all across the globe to worlds that may not have been familiar with beforehand, Chinua Achebe's window into Africa, Tom Clancy's window into the American military. While we're talking about writers, what did the passing of Seamus Heaney mean to you?
WROEWell, this was, I think, the greatest loss I've ever felt since I've been writing obituaries because I knew him quite well, in fact. And he was just the most marvelous encourager of other writers and the most wonderful poet also. I think he was the best poet working in English. And his death actually left a terrible void behind it. It left a void in my life and in many other people's and that the end of the obituary that I wrote about him, I said, his going had the shock of a great tree falling.
WROEAnd he'd written of the chestnut tree outside his home being chopped down and how its heft and hush became a bright nowhere. And that's exactly what it felt like with him gone. You felt there was no one remotely who could stand in that space that he'd left. And he was a most unusual man because his background was not that of normal poets who win the Nobel Prize and have an academic career. He'd been a farm boy.
WROEAnd it was this sense of physical hard farm work that informed the poems. And I think he's one of the most irreplaceable things, this contact with the earth that he had.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking about obituaries, people who died in the year 2013. We're talking with Ann Wroe, obituaries editor at The Economist. She joins us by phone from London. And Matt Shudel is a reporter at The Washington Post. He joins us in our Washington studio. And Stephen in Washington, D.C. has a question for you, Matt. Stephen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHENYes. Thank you, Kojo. I wanted to ask Mr. Shudel, sir, I always find your obituaries so informative and descriptive. For example, last week, you wrote one on one of my favorite film noir actresses, Audrey Totter. And it was filled with quotes from her movies, quotes from her life. What I was wondering, when you get an assignment, what are the first couple of steps you take to be creative in writing your obituaries?
SCHUDELWell, thanks for the question first of all. And I have to confess that, before 12, noon, on Saturday, this past Saturday, I'd never heard of Audrey Totter, the film noir actress. But my editor Adam Bernstein was a fan and said, you've got to do her. So I immediately started looking through some biographical records we have. We didn't really have much, but we did have a book on a shelf at The Post. I work on Saturdays, and I was able to pull this out of the shelf. And it was a book about film noir actresses by a film historian named Eddie Muller M-U-L-L-E-R.
SCHUDELAnd he had a long interview with Audrey Totter. And I also watched a few film clips of her, and I've read some summaries of scripts. And she'd given a number of interviews, and she was just this really remarkable woman. She lived to be 95. She did not have -- she portrayed all of these dangerous dames, I think is the phrase I used in the lead of the story -- and was a bad girl in all of these movies. She said that the critics said that she always acted best when she had a gun in her hand, and that's how I closed the story. She herself led a very modest life. She was never in trouble.
SCHUDELShe married a doctor. Had a very calm life. Was a mother and grandmother. But she had these incredible lines in some of her films. In one of them she framed her own husband -- her own jilted husband I might say -- for a murder. And the line was, "If you haven't got enough sense to agree with me then keep your mouth shut."
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. Steven, thank you very much for your call, but you, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Whose legacies do you think are worth reflection or celebration this year? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about obituaries of people who passed in the year 2013 with Matt Schudel. He's a reporter at The Washington Post. And Ann Wroe, obituaries editor at The Economist. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Ann Wroe, your countrymen lived through a bit of history earlier this year when scientists announced they had discovered in a parking lot, the human remains of King Richard III. You decided that an obituary was the best way to capture all that was going on in this story. Why?
WROEWell, because the discovery of the bones of the King was almost like bringing him to life again and then summing up his life and then burying him again. It was very strange, but it was as if he had been resurrected and we all had to sort of think again what we thought about him, which is what obituaries are and that same sort of process. And then we could bury him again. So I thought, well, I'm going to write an obituary for him because I feel I've got to know someone different. And I think it was the shock, partly, of seeing the skeleton and realizing that it did have that severely twisted spine.
WROESo that even those who had thought that Shakespeare had gotten the idea of Richard III wrong and that he wasn't a hunchback, they could see now that he had had that hunchback. And therefore, you know, there was something behind Shakespeare's story of him. And we were going to have to yet again sort of reconfigure this king whose been such a villain sometimes and then presented as a saint by other people. Once again, you've got to add up the pros and cons. And now you have the actual physical disability, which was going to make him, you know, pretty bad tempered or finding that he had difficulty getting on a horse or whatever it was.
WROEBut suddenly, you had more of an insight into the personality of this man. So yes, we did an obituary about 500 years too late.
NNAMDICould you read a little bit of it for us?
WROEYes. Let me see, I could read you the beginning of it here.
WROE"No viper, toad or hedgehog. No unformed bear-whelp, or lump of foul deformity. Instead, the man dug up from the car park of Leicester Social Services in September had, for the most part, an ordinary shape. His height was a little above average for the time when he had lived. His limbs were regular and delicate -- almost feminine, the scientists said. There was no withered arm. There was, however, a severely sideways-twisted spine, the result of scoliosis that had probably emerged in adolescence. It would have put one shoulder higher than the other, making him stand shorter than he was. He might have needed extra cushions in his chairs, and extra tugs when putting on those robes of green velvet and crimson cloth of gold so lovingly detailed in his orders to the Wardrobe. But then a king would get that sort of help anyway." And it goes on from there.
NNAMDIIt says his supporters hope this new Richard can come to replace the old. What did you learn from this exercise about how our collective memories of people who have passed on can evolve or change, even centuries after their death or not change?
WROEWell, they don't change really. That's the thing. You know, you get one camp for Richard and one camp against him. And that's more or less the same as it was on leave of the Battle of Bosworth. And I don’t know whether you going to come on to talk about Maggie Thatcher, but it's absolutely the same as her. That opinion, when she died, was as raw and absolutely, you know, fresh and sharp as it was when she was still in power. And all the old battle lines were redrawn when she died. And there were demonstrations in the streets and there parties to celebrate her death, as well as, you know, state funerals to mourn her and so on.
NNAMDIWhat interested you most about Thatcher's? Because it opened a lot of questions about identity and pride in your country.
WROEYes, it did. I mean my interest in it, from looking at Maggie Thatcher as a woman was -- I was just intrigued by the way she played her womanly image, if you like, so that sometimes she was motherly and sometimes she was like a schoolteacher. Then she realized that if voice was too shrill she had to get it down a bit and appear to be more mature that way, that certain outfits worked and certain ones didn't. And she was very up front about it. You know, she would receive people in her office and she'd have her heated hair curlers in. And she would also sort of chuck her shoe off and just sit on the sofa and tuck her skirt up like a little girl, you know, when people came into see here.
WROEAnd there as a certain kittenish aspect to her that was very unusual. I think you always expected the Iron Lady and all this forceful talk, but she was a woman and she knew how to play all those womanly roles. And when people gave their reminisces to the newspapers, it was often cabinet members, just bring out little details like that about her.
NNAMDIFrom political confrontation to physical, Matt Schudel, we got a caller, David, who couldn’t stay on the line, who said "The most interesting obituary he read was about a gay boxer who killed another boxer in the ring and it turned out that it was because he was taunting him for being gay. It was fascinating, " says David, but I can't remember the name of the boxer." Well, the name of the boxer was Emile Griffith and what drew you to this story?
SCHUDELWell, Emile Griffith was a remarkable boxer in the 1960s. He was from the Virgin Islands and had come to the United States, to New York City, as a young man. Lived in poverty, worked in factories. There has always been a question of whether he was or was not gay. He himself at various times in his life said that he was, that he was bisexual, that he was straight. He was married for a short time. But sports writers made a good deal of his working in a women's hat factory. What he did there is, you know, kind of an open question. I think he really just carried boxes around.
SCHUDELBut in any case there was a rumor, even when he was boxing in the early 1960s, that he was gay. And he had an arch opponent in the ring, a Cuban fighter named Benny "Kid" Paret. They fought three times for the World welterweight title. Their third fight was in 1962 at New York's Madison Square Garden. And in the weigh-in for that fight, Benny "Kid" Paret somehow got behind Emile Griffith, pinched him on the backside and whispered the word maricon, which is a Spanish slur for homosexual. Emile Griffith was enraged. Wanted to fight him right there.
SCHUDELHis trainer was Gil Clancy, who later became famous as a boxing analyst on television. And he said, save it for tonight, meaning save it for the rings. And the fight was brutal from the beginning.
NNAMDIBoy, did Griffith save it.
SCHUDELHe did. And the fight went on for 12 rounds. At one point Benny "Kid" Paret did know Emile Griffith down, but he came back. And it was on national television. The whole country could see this. And in round 12 Emile Griffith was able to maneuver Paret into a corner and just pummeled him mercilessly. It's almost impossible to tell how many punches he landed. The count I think is 29. There were 18 punches in six seconds before referee could step in. Benny "Kid" Paret slumped to the canvas, never regained consciousness and died 10 days later.
SCHUDELThere was an infamous moment in boxing history, led to Congressional investigations. Many people wanted to ban boxing. The Vatican declared boxing an immoral sport at that point.
NNAMDIAnd Emile Griffith died in the year 2013?
SCHUDELHe did. He actually wanted to give up boxing, but he really had no other skills in life. He went on to become a middleweight champion a few year later, continue to box until he was 39 years old. But like many older boxers really had a life of desperation and lived in poverty. There was an interesting documentary made about him and Paret, in later years, in 2005. And Emile Griffith actually became friends with the son of Benny "Kid" Paret. And they had a certain reconciliation years later.
NNAMDIOne of the stories you chased the hardest this year involved a man few people have heard of for decades, a man who once wrote music that reached audiences in far flung corners of the globe. Let's take a listen.
NNAMDIThat was The Association with "Along Comes Mary," A song written by Tandyn Almer, a once promising songwriter who was friends with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Almer died in McClain, Va. early this year. What did you find when you set out to learn how he ended up here?
SCHUDELWell, this was a real mystery. I don’t know if there is such a thing as an investigative obituary, but if there is this was it. Nothing was known about this man, Tandyn Almer. His first name is spelled T-A-N-D-Y-N, his last name is A-L-M-E-R. That's his real name. He was from Minnesota originally and was a music prodigy as a child. Ended up in Los Angeles as a songwriter in the 1960s. But then he wrote a number of songs, including that very complicated song for The Association, which was their first hit in 1967. And then just disappeared.
SCHUDELI had heard early last year, through a music grapevine that he had died, but no one knew much about him. There were a few thing online. People would send me emails from time to time. There was really nothing about him. He never married. It was really difficult to track down information. So I did dozens of interviews over a period of two to three weeks, maybe even a month before I was able to pull the story together. But he was incredibly promising at one point. He was on a network television show hosted by Leonard Bernstein, in which Bernstein was praising him for the complexity of this compositions.
SCHUDELAnd he was, in fact, one of Brian Wilson's best friends. Brian Wilson said that he learned a lot about composing from Tandyn Almer. In fact, they did compose some music together, including the Beach Boys' song, "Sail On, Sailor," from the 1970s. But Almer had a lot of mental problems and bipolar disorder. He had come to Washington to work on a movie. The move fell through. He had no money and he just stayed. He lived in the backyard of someone's house in a shed for a number of years in return for piano lessons for the children in the family. But in later years, lived mostly in a series of basement apartments in Northern Virginia, surviving on royalty checks for his music.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Matt Schudel. He's a reporter at the Washington Post. And e-book of some of the Washington Post's most fascinating obituaries of the past year is now on sale online. A link to "21 Lives in 2013" you can find at our website, kojoshow.org, if you want to go there. We're also talking with Ann Wroe, obituaries editor at the Economist. Ann, you wrote about a pair of women this year who lived long, adventurist lives in which Washington played an outsized role. The journalist Helen Thomas and former Congresswoman Lindy Boggs, whose daughter Cokie Roberts is a prominent voice at NPR. And whose granddaughter, Rebecca Roberts is a regular guest host on this broadcast. Why did you write their stories together in one piece? What connected those two women for you?
WROEOh, well, and I didn't know the association with the show. That's very nice. Well, it was simply that Lindy Boggs and Helen Thomas, to my mind, represented two completely different ways of getting what a woman might want out of the male establishment of Washington. You know, this very clubby, leather-clad world in which, you know, women had to make their way with great difficulty in 1950s and so on. And Lindy Boggs, as you know, was a congresswoman and then Senator from Louisiana.
WROEAnd she was the first woman to be on the -- well, she founded the Congressional Woman's Caucus. And she was the first woman to preside over the Democratic National Convention in all sorts of ways. She managed, also, to get legislation that was helpful to women through Congress. And she did by simply being all southern charm and ingratiating herself with people and calling everyone Darling, buttering them up, having garden parties. All these sort of soft-shoe stuff, which in the end, translates into real legislation and real progress for women.
WROENow, Helen Thomas, too, came up from the ranks, you know, managed to become the first female reporter, really, to cover the White House and to be the president of the White House Correspondence Association. All these important things. But she did it by being utterly abrasive. And we all remember her sitting in the front row at the press conferences, looking absolutely like thunder, you know. Especially when George W. Bush was around because she had not time at all for him. And I think actually she was banned from some of his press conferences. I seem to recall she was by the end of because she was never going to let him get off the needle on Iraq. And so she had a different way of trying to get things for women.
NNAMDIThe final chapter of Helen Thomas' life, however, was not without controversy. How did…
WROENo, it wasn't.
NNAMDIHow did that final chapter affect your wider view of her story?
WROEWell, I thought it was a terrible shame. If you watched the -- there's a YouTube film of that last -- a lot of very unfortunate remarks she makes about the Holocaust and there's no excuse for them, but she sort of tosses them off. And I thought that, yes, they were bad and she should have apologized for them, but that doesn't get in the way of having done an awful lot of hard graft beforehand, to try and get women ahead in journalism, and also to try and keep presidents honest. Which, God know, is not an easy thing to do.
WROEAnd she had fought for that all the time. And it was a great shame that she made those remarks at the end. And it was tricky because I felt she had spoiled her reputation. And yet I didn't think in the end that it should negate what she had done at all.
SCHUDELWe wrote about Helen Thomas here in Washington, of course, and she was very famous for breaking down barriers for women. But one of them she could not do was get into a Bible study class taught by President Jimmy Carter. She was excluded from that when she was told that ladies were not allowed. Her response was, "I'm not a lady, I’m a reporter."
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation on obituaries of people who died in the year 2013, with Matt Schudel of the Washington Post and Ann Wroe of the Economist, and you, those of you who call 800-433-8850. What do you find is the most difficult part of understanding a person's life once they've gone away? Does an obituary or an essay ever helped you with that process? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about obituaries of people who died this year with Ann Wroe, obituaries editor at the Economist and Matt Schudel, he's a reporter for the Washington Post. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I'd like to go to Patrick in Washington, D.C. Patrick, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
PATRICKGood afternoon, Kojo. I'm calling to extend, belated thanks to Ann Wroe for two obituaries she wrote before this last year, the year just ending. One concerned, I believe, was Elaine Kaufman of Elaine's in New York.
PATRICKShe wrote that entirely in the style of "Guys and Dolls" by Damon Runyon.
PATRICKIt was hilarious.
NNAMDIAnd the other?
PATRICKThe other was about an Argentine admiral whose chief seafaring exploits seems to have been throwing the lover -- the husband and his lover over the side of the husband's boat.
WROEI don't remember that one, Patrick. I wonder if someone else did that one.
PATRICKWell, it was a stitch. May I ask you a question, too?
PATRICKWell, preceded by another comment. I very much enjoyed your three-page obituary this week on Nelson Mandela. It's extraordinary for there to be a three-page obituary. Did you also write the leader?
WROENo, and I didn't do the obituary either. In fact, that was the work of the foreign former editor because you may imagine, we've had it around for a while. It was a very good piece indeed, I agree with you. But it wasn't my own handwork, I wish it had been. It's the work of someone who does know Africa quite well. And I think that showed.
NNAMDIPatrick, thank you very much for your call. Matt, one of the men you wrote about this year shaped how people long after him will remember Bobby Kennedy and the day of his assassination. What did you find when you look into the story of one Bill Eppridge?
SCHUDELBill Eppridge was a Life magazine photographer now, for younger listeners. Life magazine was a weekly magazine published in the United States. It was very popular and known especially for its photography. It was a large format magazine and had a staff of incredibly famous photographers, including Gordon Parks and many others, including this guy Bill Eppridge. Anyway, in 1968, he was assigned to cover the presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy.
SCHUDELAnd he was in the hotel in Los Angeles in 1968, the night that Kennedy was assassinated. He had black and white film in his camera. And he was just trailing a few feet behind Kennedy when he heard gunshots ring out in the back of the Ambassador Hotel. Kennedy went down. And Eppridge rushed to the scene, took a picture that is really remarkable. It's a black and white image, so you don't see any gore.
SCHUDELAnd there's just a little bit of light illuminating the side of Kennedy's fallen face. And his arms are outstretched, almost as if it were a scene of the crucifixion and a young hotel worker is leaning over the body, looking up at the camera. It's shocking and touching at the same time. And Eppridge himself was so affected by this, he spent a lot of time with Kennedy over that year. But after that he could never cover politics or conflict again.
SCHUDELHe took some time off to photograph nature in the mountains of the west. And then after that he retreated from the world of politics and conflict altogether and focused on photographing sports. And he said that he wanted -- if you want to photograph a politician, he said, you want someone you can trust. That was Bobby. And I could not find another Bobby.
NNAMDII wanted to get back to your obituaries, Ann Wroe, on Helen Thomas and Lindy Boggs because we always try to look from over here to understand what the political culture in Britain is like. To what extent doing and linking those two obituaries tell you more than the average person they know about Washington's political culture?
WROEWell, I suppose it -- they tell something of the culture and the pulse certainly and how difficult it was for women to get along there. And...
NNAMDIYes, they were in the pre-gridlock years, weren't they?
WROEThey were. Well, yes, maybe those were the good old days. I mean, we do seem to look back to that times sometimes and think, you know, where are all those little Republicans women, right-wing Democrats, interesting people who could actually cross the aisle occasionally. But, no, I think it was just that particular obituary just a fascinating chance to compare two ways of getting your own way, if you like.
WROEIt was more that than -- I looked on it as an obituary of Washington. I think it was more an obituary about female wiles or at least that was how I saw it myself.
NNAMDIAt that point in history, I'm looking at Margaret Thatcher, prime minister in the 1980s. Does that tell us anything about the political culture in your country today?
WROEWell, it was all so extraordinarily different under Thatcher. And as I say, she was an incredibly divisive woman. And she really did put the country into two camps. And she -- most of her ideas, I think, were good ones and she did want the state to be strong and she wanted free enterprise to be allowed to be completely untrammeled. But what that went along with was a really severe attitude towards the poor.
WROEAlthough she couldn't keep up. And she famously said there's no such thing as community. She was an absolutely hard-nosed woman about that. She would not have any sentimentality. She would not have any sort of socialist wishy-washiness. And in the end, I think, it became a rather nasty country. And it became one certainly where there was war going on between, say, the government and the trade unions, for example.
WROEAnd the unions, yeah, the labor unions have certainly not recovered from Thatcherism. Her shadow is still very long in the British politics. You know, I don't think the country has recovered from her at all. And sometimes in a good way in that we can recover that sense of enterprise. And sometimes in a bad way, you know, that she sort of neglected little parts of society and they still haven't managed to catch up.
WROEAnd there's still a sense, I think, there's also a sense in the States that the haves have got more and more and have nots have got less and less. And the income inequality is getting more acute as each year passes. So, in a sense, you know, we haven't got over the feel of Thatcherism at all, in good ways and in bad ways too.
NNAMDIFrom politics to the military, here is Len in Frederick, MD. Len, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
LENHello, Kojo. I want to comment on two military figures, two generals who both fought in very controversial wars. And the first of these is General Giap who was the leader of the north. But after the war, he actually became a moderating figure who was marginalized by the communist elite in north Vietnam. And that really didn't come out until his death. The other figure is Paul Aussaresses, a French general who fought in the Algerian War.
LENUsed torture and execution against the rebels and was unapologetic. And I think it's very ironic, given now how we talk about the effectiveness of torture, it was not effective.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Those are both obituaries that I am sure a lot other people appreciate it. Thank you very much for your call, Len. Now to sports. Art Donovan, Matt Schudel, may have made his living from what set him apart from ordinary people. He was by any standard a massive human being who the Baltimore Colts counted on for boot strength on the football field. But in many ways, what made Donovan such a hero to working class people in Maryland the country was the every man in him.
NNAMDILet's listen to Art Donovan talking to David Letterman about he, Art Donovan, was once reprimanded during his time in the military for stealing, are you ready for this, for stealing Spam.
MR. ART DONOVANSo I go up and cite your name, serial number, rank. PFC Arthur J. Donovan. He says, Donovan. He says, where are you from? I said, New York. Any relation to fight referee Arthur Donovan? I go, uh-oh. I said, yeah, he's my father. He said, Donovan, I'm going to give you a break. I'm going to make you eat that case of Spam in a week or you're (bleep) going to the brig. I took the case back.
MR. ART DONOVANThere were six five-pound cans of Spam. I ate the whole (bleep) case in five days. That's the only medal I ever got. They gave me a knife and a fork.
MR. DAVID LETTERMANAnd you really think that was better than going to the brig, Art?
DONOVANOh, yeah, I like Spam.
LETTERMANOh, okay. All right, all right.
NNAMDIMatt, you wrote about Donovan this year. What was it about him that you feel people grew so attached to over the years?
SCHUDELWell, you alluded to the every man quality about him. And that's true. Today, athletes make millions of dollars and lead lives that are really kind of beyond those of their ordinary fans. But Art Donovan was really one of the people. He had jobs in the off season and stayed in Baltimore, by the way, and owned a country club. But it wasn't a fancy place. He was there in the back washing the pots and pans himself and painting the walls and so forth.
SCHUDELAnd there was just something so modest and unassuming and working class about him, people forget what a great football player he was. He was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts, the same Colts team that won the 1958 Pro Football Championship, NFL Championship, the so-called greatest game ever played. Teammate of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and some other great Hall of famers.
SCHUDELBut he was so funny. He was always breaking up people, even on the field. There was this one legendary moment when they were playing, I believe it was the Detroit Lions, and the opposing quarterback was Bobby Layne who is notorious for his high living. And Donovan tackled him behind the line of scrimmage, you could smell liquor on his breath and said to him, Bobby, you must have had quite a night last night.
SCHUDELAnd he said, what do you mean last night? I had a couple of pops during half time. That's the way the NFL was in those days and Art Donovan was a big part of it.
NNAMDISpeaking of Baltimore, a lot of people around here also lost a hero this year when former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver passed away in January. What was it about Weaver that you feel people around here felt connected to? This was a man who stood 5'7" and got kicked out of nearly 100 games. So let's give a listen to why.
NNAMDIThat's what Earl Weaver considers a conversation.
SCHUDELWell, that's right. And you didn't want to be on his wrong side, especially if you're an umpire. Earl Weaver was a scrappy guy, but he was also called the Little Genius. He was a baseball marvel. He managed the Baltimore Orioles for many years and it happened to be right at the time when Washington senators moved away to Texas and droves of fans moved up to or drove up to Baltimore and became fans of the Orioles in large part because, well, they were winning and they were winning because of Earl Weaver.
SCHUDELHe was a small guy, but he had a great ingenuity about baseball, all sorts of things about platooning players, but he was so quick with the quip. There was one pitcher named Mike Cuellar and his later years he just couldn't win a game and Earl Weaver said, I gave Mike Cuellar more chances than I gave my first wife. And another time, a pitcher was not doing well and Earl Weaver went out to the mound and said, if you know how to cheat, start now.
NNAMDIThat was Earl Weaver. Ann Wroe, we had a call of course who asked you about the obituary on Nelson Mandela that you did not write. But tell us a little bit about how Mandela's story is now claimed by people all around the world.
WROEOh, can I do that? I think the great appeal of Mandela has to be the fact that he was very forgiving and, you know, that his time in prison and all the difficulties and horrors that he went through seems to not to have marked him at all. He was simply able to hold his hand out to the opposition and the other side. And I was most impressed when I read about him to see how he had visited members of the opposition.
WROEAfrikaner people, how he visited them when they were sick and how he visited their wives. And so when he was leading South Africa, how he had on a personal level, just being kind in general to these Afrikaners and gradually sort of won them over, man by man almost, one by one. And that is really the most impressive thing to do. It takes your breath away. And in other ways, Mandela obviously was simply a human being.
WROEAnd if you look at his family life, it's often rather scrappy and untidy and not very caring and as often the lives of great men are on the domestic front. But he was able politically to be so forgiving and conciliatory and forgetting in a right way. You know, he would forgive and he would forget in the right way, and yet he would always keep his vision in mind of his country becoming great and united again.
WROEAnd, of course, everyone wanted to claim that they can -- they can do that themselves. You know, that that is a model that they are going to follow. But I can tell you, there will be very few Mandelas in the world.
NNAMDII think that's absolutely correct. Ann Wroe is obituaries editor at the Economist. Ann Wroe, thank you so much for joining us.
WROEThat was a great pleasure, Kojo, as ever.
NNAMDIMatt Schudel is a reporter at the Washington Post. Matt, thank you for joining us.
SCHUDELThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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