As always, one column at year's end honors some of the admirable people who left us during its passing. And, too, as always, we haven't space for them all.
There's no doubt who comes first. Nelson Mandela died at 95, spent twenty-seven of those years in prison, and emerged smiling, radiating sunlight and non-violence. And oh yes, he founded a country.
On another part of the planet, we lost Patti Page, no stateswoman but the queen of the jukeboxes for many years. 15 million records sold. Can you still whistle "Tennessee Waltz?"
We lost Peter O'Toole, whom many of us remember as Lawrence of Arabia, but he played other parts. We lost Stan Musial, who played 22 seasons in baseball's major leagues, had more than 3000 hits, was Most Valuable player three times. Can't play that game much better than that.
We lost Scott Carpenter, the fourth man in space, and Van Cliburn who could make you think you were in space just by playing the piano.
We lost Margaret Thatcher, who proved the British could breed tough women politicians and David Frost, who proved they breed good reporters too--remember his interviews with Richard Nixon? And Helen Thomas, who proved Americans could cover presidents too.
Vietnam lost Vo Nguyen Giap, who helped his country gain its independence by successfully fighting both the French and the Americans. And some of his troops lost Mikhail Kalasnikov, who designed the world's most famous assault rifle, the AK 47.
We lost Abigail van Buren, better known as Dear Abby, who helped newspaper readers solve their problems, I guess. We lost actor James Gandolfini, who used to cause problems as Tony Soprano.
And finally, on a personal note, I lost a friend and colleague, Jack Germond. He was a legendary political reporter--knew lots of pols, understood what they did and why. Jack was fun on a story. He loved a drink and good food. A friend coming into a restaurant once asked Jack how the ducks were. "Pretty good," said Jack, "I just had a couple."
Hope your holiday meal is yummy too.