This is the time of year when we are supposed to look back and wax nostalgic about people and events that have passed. As I grow older, more and more the great giants, names that accompanied me throughout my lifetime for good or bad, have gone to the other world. Usually there is at least one name each year who influenced me, be it politician or poet.
But this year, there was no such name in the news. After scouring the NYT and Washington Post pages for deceased notables, I could find no one who had much influence on me at all. Sure, there were those who were giants in their industry, but none that made me pause and reflect, including Bin Laden (especially Bin Laden). Be that as it may, there are a few that bear recognition, at least from my perspective. In alphabetical order:
James Arness. How in the world is the world going to be safe without Marshall Matt Dillon? Even today when I need something to fall asleep to, I'll look for Gunsmoke. I enjoy seeing future stars in their guest appearances on the show, like Kurt Russell as a little boy. Countless hours spent as a kid patrolling the neighborhood with my cap pistol ready to stand tall like Mr. Dillon.
David Broder. Pulitzer Prize winner, columnist, pundit. It was my pleasure to meet and share lunch with Mr. Broder on several occasions when he would be a guest speaker at a small college where I worked. I miss his segments on the Bob Edwards Show (XM-NPR). A little more conservative than me, but a really nice guy with a great objectivity and knowledge of goings on inside of the beltway and a great conversationalist over a glass of wine.
Joe Frazier. Heavyweight Champion of the World. Nobody my age can forget the Thrilla In Manilla where Smokin' Joe knocked out Mohammed Ali. No live television back then. We all huddled around the radio hanging on every word. Never met the man and don't know much about him but by all accounts a "nice guy" in a brutal sport.
Steve Jobs. Here's a guy who had influence over me whether I liked it or not. If I never hear another Apple groupie extol the virtues of Macs over Windows again it will be too soon. Those people who rave over how much better Macs are fall into two categories, games and graphics. Those who do business in the real world need an open source operating system that communicates and cooperates with everyone else. Apple never quite seemed to figure that out. But they do make fine toys. I like my iPhone.
Andy Rooney. 'Nuff said. Entertaining and insightful enough to make you sit through ten-minutes of obnoxious commercials to catch his three-minute segments.
Elizabeth Taylor. This obituary surprised me. I thought she was already dead. Few actors have the talent to make you love or hate them like Elizabeth Taylor. An over-the-top primadonna in an over-the-top period, the last of the big budget studio stars. Fell in love with her in National Velvet and hated her in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe. Of course, Cleopatra was one of the great spectacles of all time.
Dan Wheldon. Champion. Indianapolis 500 winner. Died in a horrific crash in the last race of the 2011 Indycar season. Don't know why, but I really liked the guy. The first thing you think is, why did it have to happen to such a nice guy? But then, you have to ask yourself if not him, who? Racing is a dangerous sport, but so is football. Comes with the territory.