Each year, Talk of the Nation reaches out to colleagues and friends at NPR for their help in remembering some of the men and women who died during the previous 12 months. They responded with personal stories about the people who inspired them.
In our sixth annual obituary show, we talk about the lives and careers of remarkable men and woman who did not make headlines when they died, but whose lives still made an indelible impact. NPR's Neda Ulaby, Sonari Glinton and Andy Carvin are among those who share their remembrances.
Paul Epstein, Physician
Remembered by Joanne Silberner
Paul Epstein, who died in November at the age of 67, was a physician who saw the Earth as a patient in need of a good doctor. He went about trying to provide care in a way that was both optimistic and pessimistic, combative and gentle, and brilliant and humble and stubborn.
Epstein started out doctoring to the poor, first in Mozambique and then in Boston. In the early 1990s, he became interested in climate change and co-founded the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. He developed a course on health and climate change that's now given at dozens of universities.
I met him in 2007 while looking for a climate change expert to profile for NPR's Climate Connections series. Other scientists pointed me to Epstein because his focus on human health had added a whole new chapter to the climate change discussion.
So for one exhausting day, I followed him around New York City and listened as he talked to policymakers and legal experts and philanthropists and business leaders. He talked to anyone and everyone who would listen, including the cab driver and the cashier at a coffee shop.
Climate change won't just acidify oceans or displace polar bears, he said. It will hurt people. He offered plenty of examples: Warmer, wetter weather increases the population of infection-bearing mosquitoes and ticks. Hurricanes, floods and heat waves kill people.
It was a scary and disturbing message, and after hearing it repeatedly, I was pretty depressed. But he wasn't.
The past year has been tough for people concerned about climate change — reports of carbon pollution being worse than predicted, accusations of scientific bias, and a poor economic environment for government action. One could easily enough assume Epstein's mission is on the rocks. "No," I can hear him saying with a wry twinkle. "I've trained a lot of students."
Sylvia Robinson, Rap Pioneer
Remembered by Neda Ulaby
Sylvia Robinson was not a rapper herself — she was a hit singer. In 1957 she had Billboard-charting single called "Love Is Strange," a duet with ace guitarist Mickey Baker. The song has been used in movies from Dirty Dancing to Mermaids to Casino.
But after "Love Is Strange," the Harlem-born musician moved to New Jersey with her husband to raise their children. Sylvia and Joe Robinson were ambitious. They built a nightclub favored by boxers and Motown stars, and a recording studio where Robinson began writing songs for other artists.
"I saw this DJ playing music and saying things to the kids," she said in a VH1 documentary about the history of hip-hop. "They would answer him back, and I say, 'That's a great idea.' "
At the time, the conventional music industry wisdom was that the live energy of rap was impossible to capture on vinyl. Nevertheless, one hot August night in 1979 Robinson made her son Joey drive her around Englewood, N.J., looking for rappers.
The Robinsons kept driving around, people kept hopping into the car, and The Sugarhill Gang was born.
" 'Rapper's Delight' was a monumental song. It introduced the world to rap and rhyming," says Grandmaster Caz, of the early rap group The Cold Crush Brothers. In 2004 he told NPR that many New York rappers felt the single misrepresented the scene. "They weren't real emcees," he said. "[They were] a group put together to showcase the music going on."
Robinson fought with her musicians. She wound up in vitriolic lawsuits with many of them, a magazine that accused her of "jerking" it, and other record labels. She sold Sugar Hill in 1994. The original studio burned down eight years later.
But none of the rancor overshadows Robinson's singularity — as a female record producer and the visionary who put rap on the map.
Sylvia Robinson died Sept. 29, 2011, in a New Jersey hospital. She was 75 years old and reportedly suffered congestive heart failure.
This remembrance was first published on NPR's The Record blog.
Harry Wesley Coover Jr., Inventor
Remembered by Amy Blaszyk
In 1942, an accident in his lab made Harry Wesley Coover Jr. one of the most famous people you've probably never heard of. During World War II, Coover was working to create clear plastic gun sights for military firearms. He ultimately gave up on his chemical substance because it stuck to everything it touched.
Six years later, while working on jet cockpits in Eastman Kodak's laboratories, he revisited the extremely sticky adhesive that required no heat or pressure to bond, and cyanoacrylate — best known as Super Glue — was born.
After the adhesive first hit the market in 1958 as Eastman 910, Coover appeared on the television show I've Got a Secret. When asked to demonstrate what the product could do, he used a single drop to connect two metal parts that lifted the show's host off the floor.
Aside from the unintended consequence of gluing one's own fingers together, the uses for this quick-drying, strong-bonding adhesive are numerous. It saved lives by stopping bleeding during the Vietnam War, thereby allowing the wounded to be transported for medical care. Hobbyists use it to repair coral in aquariums. Practical jokers affix quarters to the floor. And after a party I held in high school, I used it for the first time to repair a jewelry box shattered by a stereo playing at full blast (sorry, Mom).
In 2004, Coover was inducted into the National Inventors Hall Of Fame. In 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Medal Of Technology and Innovation. At the time of his death, he held 460 patents. The chemist and inventor was 94 years old.
Hubert Sumlin, Musician
Remembered by Dennis Herndon
It has been said the Hubert Sumlin was often imitated but never duplicated. For more than two decades he was the guitar sideman for Chester Arthur Burnett, aka Howlin' Wolf. When you watch that TV commercial for Viagra and hear "Smokestack Lightning," that guitar sound is Hubert Sumlin.
Both Eric Clapton and Keith Richards played with Sumlin on his Grammy Award-nominated album About Them Shoes. While Sumlin was nominated many times for Grammys, he never won — but he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.
Although I am an acoustic blues player, the electric blues belonged to Hubert Sumlin, who was ranked 43rd on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of all times.
Hubert Sumlin died this year of congestive heart failure. He was 80 years old.
Harold Russell, Accountant
Remembered by Sondra Russell
Financial scandals can't happen without an accounting firm or credit ratings agency willing to look the other way. My dad was the managing partner of the Oklahoma City branch of the "Big Eight" accounting firm Arthur Young during the oil boom of the 1980s, and even though one of the largest sources of oil and gas loans, Penn Square Bank, was one of his most important clients, he refused to validate its less-than-sound methods of securing these loans.
The bank found a more lenient accounting firm; more than a year later, it collapsed. Penn Square Bank's failure destroyed our local economy and contributed to the collapse of 139 other Oklahoma banks and the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. — at that time the largest bank failure in U.S. history.
So, Dad was vindicated for that particular tough call. I'm sure he made other tough calls that nobody will ever know about. He died Dec. 6, 2011, at the age of 77.
Merlin Stone, Author And Artist
Remembered by Margot Adler
Merlin Stone was an artist and professor of art history. But she is best known for her feminist book When God was a Woman, published in the mid-'70s. First published in England as The Paradise Papers, Stone believed there was a prehistoric matriarchal religion that was destroyed by patriarchal Indo-Europeans. Her theory was that matrilineal societies in ancient Canaan were suppressed by Judaism.
Mainstream scholars did not accept many of her theories, but she was seen as one of the foremothers of goddess and feminist spirituality in the 1970s and '80s. Her work is cited along with Elizabeth Gould Davis, Maria Gimbutis, Robert Graves and others. Another major book was Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood,which collected the stories and myths of goddesses from around the world.
I met Merlin Stone many times. She was a funny, down-to-earth woman, who sometimes suffered from agoraphobia. We would meet in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village. More than 25 years before her death she wrote a poem that symbolizes her character perfectly: "For When I Pass On."
Here is a bit of it: "Don't grieve over me," she wrote, "I did what I wanted to do, lived as I wanted to, rejected traditions and rules. I let my loves flow; my furies explode, smashing icons and celebrity. I thought rude questions, smashed superficiality and pretense, laughed at established lies, decided that most people were afraid to live. Don't grieve over me. I was blessed with a full measure of the juices of conscious life."
Merlin Stone died in late February 2011. She was 79.
Charles Ka'upu, Hawaiian Chant Master
Remembered by Wilma Consul
Charles Ka'upu is best known as the Hawaiian chanter in the recordings of the popular musical duo HAPA. But in his home in Hawaii, Ka'upu has been a revered master of the oli (chant) and the hula. His family roots come from Molokai and the Big Island of Hawaii. Born on Oahu, he moved in 1993 to Maui, where he taught history, culture and religion at Maui Community College and hosted a radio program on KPOA. To his listeners, he was the charismatic "Bushman." He helped found the annual Celebration of the Arts Festival in Kapalua.
With a mission to preserve the Native Hawaiian culture and traditions, he traveled extensively to other islands and the mainland. In Washington, D.C., he lectured at the National Geographic Society and performed at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Indian.
Loea Hula Charles Kauhi Ka'upu Jr. graduated from the prestigious Kamehameha Schools for children of Hawaiian blood. His sudden death on July 12, 2011, left heavy hearts in Hawaii. His family and friends held two ceremonies to honor his Christian faith and the Hawaiian traditions which he dedicated his life to teaching.
Ralph McDonald, Percussionist
Remembered by Felix Contreras
Ralph McDonald was the first call studio percussionist for countless sessions in the 1970s and '80s. His list of credits reads like a history course on the past 40 years of music.
What McDonald did so well was give recordings a little extra groove by adding just the right rhythm or color from his array of hand percussion instruments.
In fact — you know when you go to concerts and you see the percussionist sitting behind a battery of what looks like drummers' toys? Many drummers credit McDonald with starting that practice when he was playing with Harry Belafonte before he had even turned 20.
McDonald was also a Grammy-winning composer. During a recording session with vocalists Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, he offered them this song he co-wrote with his writing partners. They also wrote the song "Calypso Breakdown" on the soundtrack to the film Saturday Night Fever.
McDonald knew a thing or two about calypso: His father was from Trinidad and was a well-known calypso singer from the island. McDonald's drumming was informed by that family musical background. He mastered Afro Cuban drumming and just about any rhythm that had more than four beats.
My favorite example of his adventurous sense of rhythm is a song he wrote for saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., "Mr. Magic," from his first solo album, The Sound Of A Drum. His solo (at 2:03) could be taught in music schools to illustrate how you construct an intricate and tasteful conga solo.
By nature, studio musicians remain faceless names on album liner notes. I hope you'll now connect Ralph McDonald's face and story to his impressive list of studio sessions and memorable songs.
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Every year, we take time to remember those we've lost over the past 12 months and focus on those whose obituaries may not have made the front page yet whose accomplishments and lives should still be remembered.
We've asked a few of our NPR colleagues and friends to join us. We also want to hear from you. If there's somebody you knew or knew of who died in 2011 you think we should remember, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We got this email from Hilmer(ph), who suggested Barbara Kent, who co-starred with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert in "Flesh and The Devil," died at 103. There are not many actors left who appeared in silent films.
And let's go to a caller. James(ph) is on the line, James with us from St. Louis.
JAMES: Yes, hello. I feel like we should really remember the young adult author Brian Jacques who, through the '80s and '90s, wrote the children's series Redwall, who put the genre on the map before even the Harry Potter books.
CONAN: So he wrote of wizards and witches?
JAMES: Actually, he wrote of warrior mice and otters and little evil rats and ferrets.
CONAN: He was a little bit out of my range as a young adult, so I have to say I'm not familiar with his work.
JAMES: He was an older writer. He actually was from Liverpool, England, and he wrote the stories originally for an institute of blind children. So they were - you know, he was a radio host for the BBC and felt that this was a group of kids that were kind of neglected at the time, and his books ended up really becoming loved by millions.
CONAN: James, thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it. NPR's Neda Ulaby joins us here in Studio 3A. She covers arts, entertainment and cultural trends for NPR. Many will reflect on the lives of artists like Amy Winehouse today. Neda remembers musician Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, better known by her stage name Poly Styrene, who made hits like "Good Time Girl."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD TIME GIRL")
POLY STYRENE: (Singing) I don't want to be, I don't want to be a good-time girl, a good-time girl, (unintelligible)...
CONAN: And Neda Ulaby is with us here in Studio 3A. Poly Styrene, with a name like that, I suspect convention was not her strong suit.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Antiestablishmentarianism was her strong suit. She called herself Poly Styrene because she said it's plastic, it's disposable, that's what pop stars are meant to be, and I thought I might as well send it up. And sending up expectations and - of what a pop star was supposed to be, what a woman was supposed to be and what a punk rocker was supposed to be was what she did, and she did it very well for 53 years.
CONAN: I was going to say disposable, that's a long career.
ULABY: Well, you know, I wish it had been longer. She started, though, when she was just a teenager. She went and saw the Sex Pistols when she was 18 years old, decided to start her own punk band, and, Neal, she did - she was almost the opposite of how you might imagine a punk rocker in Britain in the 1970s.
You know, you might imagine like a skinny, white guy wearing bondage gear with really bad attitude and teeth to match. She was half-Somali, half-English, chubby. She liked to wear bright, Day-Glo jumpsuits that she would often make herself, and she wore braces.
CONAN: And we should note that yes, a long career but died just as her new album, "Generation Indigo," was being released. And, well, her sound also changed over time.
ULABY: It did.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STYRENE: (Singing) (Unintelligible). I'm just a little bit kitsch, a little bit kitsch.
CONAN: A little bit kitsch.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ULABY: She - consumer culture was one of the things that she would take on in her music, and in that album, she wrote about a lot of things that were important to her: veganism, spirituality. She had a crazy life.
After she started this band, the X-Ray Specs, which was really an important early punk band, she - the band broke up. She became a Hari Krishna. She battled terrible mental illness for much of her life, and she got run over by a firetruck.
ULABY: Yeah, and she released three solo albums. That was the last one. And it came out the day after she died.
CONAN: Wow, so Poly Styrene, does she leave a legacy?
ULABY: She absolutely does, and, you know, I love all of her - well, not all of her albums, definitely that one, the most recent one. Robert Christgau in his NPR review said that she always says what she means plainly, winningly and tunefully. And on "Generation Indigo," that album, those meaning are moral.
And the legacy she leaves, she helped influence The Riot Girls. I think one of Kathleen Hanna's - one of the - Kathleen Hanna is one of the founders of Bikini Kill, and she said that she doesn't know a single musician who wasn't influenced by her, by Poly Styrene.
CONAN: Thank you very much, Neda, appreciate your coming in today.
ULABY: Thank you.
CONAN: And Happy Boxing Day.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: NPR arts and entertainment reporter Neda Ulaby, kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. And again, we'd like to hear your suggestions on those we ought to remember who died this past year, 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. Let's go back to the phones. Mark(ph) is on the line with us from Jackson, Wyoming.
CONAN: Hi, go ahead, please.
MARK: Yes, I would like to see if everyone could remember Norma Zimmer from "The Lawrence Welk Show." She passed away in May of this year, and I believe that she should be remembered. She was just such a nice, wholesome person who had a lasting impact on lots of people for many years. She was The Champagne Lady on "The Lawrence Welk Show."
CONAN: The Champagne - I remember well enough to go a-one and a-two. What did The Champagne Lady do?
MARK: Oh, she was a - she was a featured singer on the Lawrence Welk program for many years. I just remember watching Lawrence Welk's show when I was a child, and I was like you and so many others, you tend to forget a lot of these things. And then years ago, I was living in Park City, Utah, and ran into her son (unintelligible) and meet her and her husband, hang out with them for a few hours on her (unintelligible).
And that was quite a lovely experience to be able to (unintelligible) that in person and be hosted in her home and just see what a nice, normal, down-to-Earth person she was.
CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for the story, appreciate it.
MARK: Yeah, you bet.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Pam(ph), Pam with us from San Diego.
PAM: Hello there. I was calling to remember Sister Rosemary Lynch, who died after being hit by a car at the age of 93, and that was just about a year ago, on January 9. And Rosemary was the co-founder of the faith-based resistance to nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada test site and also worked to form a Franciscan Pace e Bene, which was a service in nonviolence and cultural resistance.
Rosemary was - she brought peace by living peace. She was a spiritual resource to we demonstrators but also the test-site workers and to the law enforcement officers who - anyone who met her just fell in love with her, and she lived a life in the spirit of Saint Francis.
CONAN: Well, Pam, thanks - did you know her personally?
PAM: Yes, I did, I did, and you could call her up any time, and it was just like she had been waiting for your phone call.
CONAN: Pam, thanks very much. Let's go next to - this is Charlie(ph) - excuse me, Charlotte(ph), Charlotte calling us from Tucson.
CHARLOTTE: Hi, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
CHARLOTTE: Thanks. I wanted to remember Gabe Zimmerman, who was the aide who was killed in the shootings in Tucson.
CONAN: Oh yes.
CHARLOTTE: In January. He was a personal friend of mine, as well as just an incredible, incredible person. He could take an angry constituent and turn him around in about five minutes, and they'd be friends for life.
CONAN: We had Mark Kelly on the show I think a couple of weeks ago, and obviously Gabe figures in the book that Mark and of course Gabby wrote about her life and their lives together.
CHARLOTTE: Yeah, I haven't picked it up yet, but I'm looking forward to reading it.
CONAN: What did you - what about him most impressed you?
CHARLOTTE: He could keep his cool in any situation. He was just so professional. I worked with him through a local solar company for a few years, and we became friends, and it was just amazing to watch him work. He was obviously born to work with people, so it's a shame, and we miss him every day.
CONAN: Yes, I think we can all agree on that. Charlotte, thanks very much for the call.
CHARLOTTE: Thank you, have a good day.
CONAN: Much too young, Gabe Zimmerman. Let's go next to - this is Terry(ph), Terry with us from Montrose in Colorado.
TERRY: Hello. Yes, my father, Edward Pauls, invented the NordicTrack and just passed away in October. He also invented the Alpine ski boot and binding system called the Rosemount binding and also the slip-ski outrigger for disabled Alpine skiers.
CONAN: Now, I'd heard a story, I remember an obit of your father when he passed away about the invention of the NordicTrack because he was so frustrated by other devices.
TERRY: Well, actually, he was frustrated by running on dark and icy streets in Minnesota at about 5 o'clock when it would get dark in the fall and winter. So he originally invented it for his own purpose, to train for a local ski race. But then he got laid off for a second time and needed to make some money, and a friend suggested that he actually sell it.
CONAN: And did it do well immediately?
TERRY: Well, it doubled every year, which is the type of growth most small business owners would kill for. So he was very successful, but on something this small, it continues to be small for a while, even while it's doubling. So it wasn't until about 1984 that people who I would just meet on the street would actually recognize the name NordicTrack, but it obviously became quite popular and successful.
But the thing that impressed me about my dad is that although he had that success, he was never a workaholic. He always prioritized the family, and so we did a lot of fun, outdoor activities together. But there's one particular story that demonstrates his character.
When I was 37, he sent me a pogo stick, and inside, he had written the instructions for it and also said that he was successful at using his pogo stick and that my brother had one, and his grandson had one. And at the end he said: Keep the kid in you alive.
CONAN: That sounds like good advice for us all: Keep the kid in you alive. Terry, thanks very much for the call.
TERRY: Thank you.
CONAN: Clarence Clemons, who played sax in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, died in June of this year. He was known as one of rock's most beloved side men for his friendly, onstage presence and his soaring sax. This is "Lights of the City," Clarence Clemons with Springsteen at the E Street Band. More in a minute. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. We're remembering some of the remarkable people who died this past year, like Harry Coover, Junior. NPR's Amy Blazyk remembered him for our website: Coover stumbled upon a miraculous substance while working to create clear plastic gun sights for military firearms.
The stuff stuck to everything. Years later, what we now call superglue hit the market. Coover was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
If there's somebody you knew or knew of who died in 2011 you think we ought to remember, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
The Arab spring dominated headlines this year. Many died across the Arab world during armed battles, protests and riots. One Libyan citizen-journalist who lost his life was Mohammed Nabbous, who lived in a livestream channel to update the world about what was happening in Libya.
MOHAMMED NABBOUS: If you can hear me, hello. (Unintelligible) I have seen it myself with my own eyes. Right now, I was in an area called (unintelligible). I'm hear from the (unintelligible). That area has no nothing, I mean not even a camp, nothing. I can't talk much. I'm waiting for the battery to charge, and then I'm going to go live from here. I mean, this is just not good anymore.
He has to be - he has to be stopped. I mean, I just don't know...
CONAN: From Mohammed Nabbous' last livestream broadcast. We apologize for the poor audio quality. Andy Carvin is with us. He manages social media for NPR and followed Mohammed Nabbous' updates before his death and joins us now from his home in Maryland. Andy, good of you to be with us.
ANDY CARVIN, BYLINE: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: And in some ways, you say Mohammed Nabbous embodied the ideals of citizen journalism.
CARVIN: Well, in many ways he was the first true journalist to come out of Libya in over a generation. He didn't have a journalism background. He was a technologist by training. But he also knew how to install satellite dishes, and so when the revolution started and became a full-blown civil war, he managed to set up a satellite connection, and using a live-streaming system, he started broadcasting to the world, telling people who was going on.
And he quickly developed a reputation as being one of the best sources for information as to what was going on, even before Western reporters got inside the country.
CONAN: An advocate or a reporter?
CARVIN: In his case, he was both. He focused really hard on getting factual information out as best he could, and you could see him struggle with it live sometimes when he'd get contradictory information. But at the same time, he was a civilian. He was literally in the crosshairs. He knew that his city was about to be bombed, and he wanted to make sure that he could document what was going on.
And so if there was any question about a ceasefire violation, the world would know about it, and ultimately he ended up dying several hours before the NATO bombing raids started and as he went out one last time to try to document the ceasefire violation.
CONAN: Did he know - that intervention was the turning point of the Libyan uprising, from that moment on NATO intervention weighed heavily on the side of the rebels, perhaps the outcome was inevitable from that point on. But was he aware that that turning point had started?
CARVIN: He was aware that something was happening because the U.N. Security Council had already voted at that point. And if you listen to some of the final videos, you can actually hear him essentially cursing the U.N. Security Council for not taking action faster, like what more evidence do you need. I'm out here. I'm showing footage of bloody pillows and holes through people's homes. What else do you need?
And he was dead a couple hours after that, and several hours later, the bombs started to fall from NATO.
CONAN: And the first real journalist out of Libya in, what, the 40 years that Moammar Gadhafi was in control there because it was not until there was a safe zone where rebel forces were in command, in the eastern part of the country, in and around Benghazi, that people could afford to work, and obviously that was risky in and of itself.
CARVIN: And that's precisely what happened. As soon as Benghazi was taken over by the rebels, he was able to set up and maintain a single satellite connection near the Benghazi courthouse, and volunteers would even try to protect him to make sure that no one could come near the entrance of the building because it was so important that they kept that single feed going.
And that ended up becoming Libya Alhurra TV, as they called it, or essentially Free Libya TV. And for exactly one month, from February 19 to March 19, he broadcast that way every day, until he died on the morning of March 19.
CONAN: Andy Carvin, thanks very much for being with us today.
CARVIN: Thanks for having me on, Neal.
CONAN: NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin, remembering Mohammed Nabbous, a citizen-journalist who died in Libya earlier this year. If you can find remembrances written by our colleagues across NPR, and contribute your own, if you'd like, at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Let's go next to Laura(ph), and Laura's on the line from Pittsburgh.
LAURA: Hi, I just wanted to remember my grandpa, Jack Harmody(ph). He's from Indianapolis. He was a World War II veteran and one really interesting story about when he was serving was that he was named mayor of a small town in Germany. He was one of the few soldiers who spoke German. So he was able to do that.
And he made sure to give a proper burial to, like, all the victims of, like, some of the terrible acts that occurred there. And the thing that I really love about him is although he saw so many terrible things happen in World War II and how inhumane some people can be, it just encouraged him to be even more loving and care about people even more.
And he's never bitter about it, or he never was bitter about it, so - he was a pretty awesome guy.
CONAN: What did he do after the war?
LAURA: After the war, he was a dentist in Indianapolis, and pretty much everyone that I've - like, so many people that I talk to when I'm visiting know him and just say, like, what a great person he is, and you just hear the same thing from every person, that he was just so friendly, and, you know...
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Laura, appreciate it.
CONAN: Here's an email from Randall(ph) in Mountain View, California: I'd like to remember the life of Dennis Ritchie(ph), a noteworthy member of the 20th Century computer science community. Mr. Ritchie was instrumental in the development of the UNIX operating system that's still a key element of the World Wide Web, cloud computing and every Macintosh made in the past decade or so.
He was also the inventor of the C-programming language, which was used in UNIX, LINUX, Microsoft Windows and an enormous range of other software for the past 30-plus years.
Let's go next to Ray(ph), and Ray's with us from Sanibel in Florida. Ray, are you there?
RAY: Yes, I am.
CONAN: You're on the air, go ahead, please.
RAY: Yeah, I just read this weekend that Lynn Samuels, the New York City radio talk show host, died. Probably people in the country don't know her, but if anybody lived in or around New York City, she was the epitome of a New Yorker: loud and just a wonderful lady.
She was on I guess WABC for many years, and she was host of WBAI, which was a left-wing radio station in New York back in the '70s, and it's just sad to see her go. I live in Florida now, so I haven't heard her in maybe 10 or 15 years, so that's who I just wanted - I just noticed she died a couple days ago.
CONAN: I knew Lynn to say hi to, I'm sorry to hear she's passed away. Thanks very much for the call, Ray.
RAY: OK, thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Point of personal privilege, Dave Creagh, producer of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED when I arrived at National Public Radio back in 1977, 1978, Dave Creagh died this past month, too. We'd like to remember him for his work at KLON and WJHU, as well.
Let's see if we can go next to - this is Doug(ph), Doug with us from Boise.
DOUG: Yes, hi. I'd like to remember my mother-in-law, Helen Trabercolson(ph) who passed away this year. She touched many children's lives as a junior high counselor in a tough suburb of Denver and then went on to spend many years helping children as far as CASA, which is Court Appointed Special Advocates.
CONAN: Court Appointed Special Advocates?
DOUG: Yeah, it's an organization in Denver that helps children who have kind of gotten into the court system and needed help.
CONAN: Why did she care so much about it?
DOUG: You know, she just had a great love for children. You know, it's just - she just - it's just beyond anything you've ever seen before. She - her willingness to give anything that she could to help these children find a better life was just unbelievable, and she's not internationally or nationally known, but she's kind of a hero around Denver and a hero in our family.
CONAN: Of course, thanks very much for the call. This an email from Sevee(ph) - excuse me, this is an email from Dina(ph) in Berkeley, California: This is a personal one, but my 54-year-old brother died on December 12. He was an inspirational middle school science teacher who influenced many of his former students to become scientists. That makes him worthy of remembering. And his name was Rick Watson(ph), and he lived in Placerville in California.
NPR's Sonari Glinton is with us. He's a reporter who focuses on the auto industry, and he joins us to remember Esther Gordy Edwards, an influential figure in Motown. He joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Sonari, nice to have you with us today.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: It's good to be here.
CONAN: And people usually attribute the founding of Motown with Esther's younger brother, Berry Gordy, but I gather she played an important role too.
GLINTON: Yeah. I'd like to think of it in this way, that in the beginning of Motown, Esther Gordy was the business and Berry Gordy was the show. So she did about everything that you could think of behind the scenes. She helped run - ran the business. She did the books. She ran the talent agency. And she's sort of responsible for this idea of getting the performers into term school and dance classes, making sure that they were really polished when they went out on the stage.
CONAN: So that choreography that we associate with The Miracles and The Temptations, she was, in some way, responsible for that.
GLINTON: Yeah. She wanted Motown performers to not only just - not only be representatives of Motown, the organization, but Detroit, the city, and for black people in general, that they should have the sophisticated - that they should be sophisticated representatives of the community. She was an incredibly sophisticated woman.
CONAN: Hmm. Motown, of course, relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles. Did Esther Gordy go along?
GLINTON: No, she didn't. She stayed in Detroit, and she was really, really, sort of, involved in the life of Detroit. But the big thing she did in Detroit was she looked at all the dreck that people - things that people thought were dreck: the leftovers, the old costumes, the, you know, old drum kits. And she said, you know what, this is going to be meaningful in the future.
And she was collecting the stuff as - you know, during the course of the years, and she started in 1985, the Hitsville USA Museum - the Motown museum, that is. You know, I can't imagine Detroit without, you know, being able to go down Grand Avenue and look at the building and see, like, man, that is where it all started. And that was her idea. She helped bring the company about, and she helped cement this legacy by giving us a place to look at, to see where all this great music was created.
CONAN: And, inevitably, as time goes on, the Motown memory will never be in Los Angeles.
GLINTON: No, no, no. There's nothing LA about Motown except the headquarters.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CONAN: Except the headquarters. Maybe some of the bank accounts.
GLINTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That too.
CONAN: And what did she do these last several years?
GLINTON: Well, she got - she was really involved in encouraging women to get involved in the civic life of the city. So she was on several boards, including - she was on Detroit's recorder of deeds board. Her husband was a State Rep. So she was always, sort of, in the social life of Detroit. And she was a really big booster and preservationist - I mean, in the worst of, you know, times. You know, 1985 was probably as bad as it could get for Detroit - until later...
CONAN: Until later.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GLINTON: Until later. She was opening this museum, and, you know, she was 91 when she passed away in August. But she was really so important to the life of the city and of Motown, and this incredible Gordy family that, you know, we think of Berry Gordy as just the beginning, and you're like, something Gordy was going to happen. You know, they come from a really, really rich - rich in wealth, but also in, sort of, entrepreneurial spirit - family, and you knew that something was going to come out of this family, and it happened to be, probably, the greatest music label of the 20th century.
CONAN: Sonari Glinton, thanks very much for your time today.
GLINTON: You're welcome.
CONAN: Sonari Glinton joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago to remember Esther Gordy Edwards. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
An email from Rhea(ph) in Portland, Oregon: I want to remember Lynn Margulis, one of the original creators of the Gaia hypothesis with James Lovelock. She was an amazing biologist, and her writings will continue to inspire us toward seeing the Earth as alive. Also James Hillman, one of the founders of depth psychology, a pioneer in the work of listening to the soul and recognizing the need, not to heal our problems, but to understand them as part of our essential neighbor - essential nature, excuse me.
Let's see if we go next to - this is Joan, Joan with us from San Francisco.
JOAN: Hi. I wanted to talk about Warren Hellman. He was a billionaire, financial man, who gave so generously to our city and the whole area. He was on the board of the San Francisco Foundation for a long period of time. But most important, probably to the people in this area, is he founded and supported completely the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which happens here every September.
He was a banjo player, and this is one way to get a venue for your band, obviously, but it was way more than that for Warren Hellman. He was a runner. He completed the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, and his name is just really well-known in this area. He and his wife donated generously to the San Francisco Ballet. So he's all over the arts environment and all of the good things. He'll be sorely missed.
CONAN: I remember seeing his picture in the paper - yes, the philanthropist sitting there with a banjo.
JOAN: Exactly. He - I think just before he died, I didn't know - and very few people probably did - that he had leukemia that he was battling for quite a while. But he was sitting there with his banjo, and he did a recording, actually, that's probably available now. But it was - he was an amazing man, you know, one of these rare people in the world. He was 74 years old. That's not very old these days.
CONAN: Joan, thanks very much for the call. Email from Kara(ph): I'll fondly remember Tom Keith, the longtime sound effects man for Minnesota Public Radio's "A Prairie Home Companion." He gave many people the gift of laughter week after week. He had a skill that has become very rare, using just his voice to create realistic and hilarious sound effects, from elk to helicopters to bubbles. Another one of our radio brethren who's gone away. Well, harking back to our conversation with Sonari Glinton about Esther Gordy, some Motown music to take you to the next break. A kid named Stevie Wonder. I think he might make it in this business.
We'd like to hear your suggestions for people we should remember who died this past year. 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLAME IT ON THE SUN")
STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) I'll blame it on the birds and the trees. I'll blame it on the day that ended once too soon. I'll blame it on the nights that could not be, but my heart blames it on me.
CONAN: We're talking about the people we lost in 2011, the ones whose deaths may not have made a media splash but who led remarkable lives all the same. Sondra Russell, one of our colleagues here at NPR remembered her father Harold for our website. My dad was the managing partner of the Oklahoma City branch of the Big Eight accounting firm Arthur Young during the oil boom of the 1980s.
Even though one of the largest sources of oil and gas loans, Penn Square Bank, was one of his most important clients, he refused to validate its less-than-sound methods of securing these loans, she writes. And when Penn Square Bank failed, she continues, he was vindicated for that particular tough call.
If there's somebody you knew or knew of who died in 2011 you think we ought to remember, we'd like to hear from you. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to NPR.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. This is from Tom in Little Rock by email: The swashbuckling, brash, charismatic, throwback, Spanish golfer, Seve Ballesteros. In this age cookie-cutter, academy-generated golfers, he was one of a kind. And win or lose, he was always a thrill to watch and to root for.
Chris Claremont is an award-winning comic book writer, and he joins us to remember the lives of two influential figures in that business who died this year, Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson. Chris joins us by phone from Redding, Connecticut. Chris, nice to talk to you. Welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.
CHRIS CLAREMONT: How are you, Neal? Merry Christmas, belatedly.
CONAN: And a Happy Christmas to you, too. Certainly hard to lose not just one, but these were two of the towering figures.
CLAREMONT: Well, two of the foundation figures, absolutely. I mean, in Joe Simon's case, you've got the creator, with Jack Kirby, of "Captain America." And I think one of the really apt things is that before his death he got to see the character he created become a success on screen, as well as in the comics. And, you know, the regret from my end is that he didn't – won't get a chance to see it all culminate in the "Avengers" next year, but that's a totally different story.
CONAN: When we saw his obit published we realized - of course, "Captain America" created for Timely Comics - and featured Adolf Hitler on the first front cover.
CLAREMONT: Well, if you've got a bad guy, you might as well put him up there with your hero. And one has to say that Hitler was about as classic a villain as he could come - as he could get in any - by anybody's standards. And pulp fiction has lived off the Nazis for 70 years since then. But the other thing to bear in mind with Joe is that it wasn't just "Captain America." I mean, in later years with DC, he created a "Sandman," which Neil Gaiman turned into a modern success back in the '90s; and "Manhunter," which Walt Simonson and an Archie Goodwin revolutionized back in the '80s.
CONAN: Same thing, too, with Jerry Robinson. Yes, a contributor to the golden age, but a crucial figure in a silver age.
CLAREMONT: Yeah. You know, the point was that none of these guys stayed in place. They did the work that they were paid to back in the day. But as time went on, they evolved with the time and, in Simon's case, went on to other things and came back to comics. Jerry was an - a major figure in building an artist representation company, effectively, agency, you know? So they all - they evolved as brilliant creators too, you know? It's not staying in place and doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. And that's what keeps comics alive and, I think, what keeps the work fresh.
CONAN: Did you get a chance to work with them?
CLAREMONT: No. I mean, they were mostly DC guys by the time I came in.
CONAN: As mostly a Marvel guy.
CONAN: And so they worked for brand eck(ph) as they used to say.
CLAREMONT: Well, it's - yeah. It was a - it's two sides of the table, you know? You've got the good guys on side, the evil empire on the other. It just depends on which side you're affiliated with as to who gets tagged with a label. But as I said with Joe, the work he created inspired brilliant work by successive creators down the line. I mean, Neal's career was, in part, founded on the classic work he did with Sandman. And that grew out of Joe's original inspiration. Again, Archie and Walter's work on "Manhunter"; I read those books with a passion because they were reinterpreting this idea in a modern setting, much as writers have been doing with Captain America all along.
CONAN: We'll find him frozen in one of those icebergs sooner or later.
CLAREMONT: Well, it's not so much that it's frozen on an iceberg. It's that each generation that comes along recreates them according to the - I mean, when you go back and look at Steve Englehart's work in the '70s, it was a very - the Cap he was writing was a very passionate, occasionally left wing sort of American patriot who was horrified by the excesses of the Nixon White House. So he found himself going down lines in the comics that put him against the establishment. And it was redefined again in the '80s and the '90s, so it's - nothing stays in place, especially when you've got an icon as fundamental as Cap.
CONAN: And just a couple of years ago, weighing in on the civil liberties debates of the Bush administration too, so...
CLAREMONT: That too, but I think the important part was, you know, he was - Cap reached out and gathered in a black colleague. So, you know, it was an expression of the rising racial consciousness of the time and who knows how it lead, you know, might have helped in it's own small, absurd way to the societal change or evolution that allowed for the election of a black president.
CONAN: Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson both died this year, great contributors to comics. Chris Claremont, thanks very much for your time.
CLAREMONT: Thank you for asking me.
CONAN: Chris Claremont, an award-winning comic book writer. He joined us from Redding, Connecticut. Let's see if we can get another caller in on the line. Let's go to Angie, Angie with us from Scott Depot(ph) in West Virginia.
ANGIE: Yes, hi. I am calling because I wanted to remember a friend of mine whose name is Abby Kinne and she was the founder of Home Birth Midwifery Service in Central Ohio, and Abby was among the pioneers of a midwifery credential called the Certified Professional Midwife. She held certificate number one. And she was known for her attention to detail, her organizational skill. I met and served with Abby as part of the leadership of the Midwives Alliance of North America, where I felt a bit intimidated by her despite my admiration.
And I was fortunate enough to stay at her home in the spring of 2011. She died in the fall of 2011. I remember her home being a sanctuary for her retirement, which she really never fully accomplished. And it was also home to a widowed swan, who was very aggressive and chased her visitors around her pond and back into her house.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ANGIE: And my personal memory reflecting on her death has been in the empowerment in birth of so many women who attribute their success in their major right of passage to midwives like Abby, and how many midwives have been trained by Abby as well and have been inspired as midwives and professionals and community leaders in her community.
CONAN: Thank you very much for the call, Angie.
ANGIE: Thank you.
CONAN: Email from our colleague, Kelly Crossley in Boston, who writes to remember Kip Tiernan of Boston, the founder of Rosie's Place, the first shelter for homeless women in the United States. Let's go next to - this is Christine. Christine calling from Portland.
CONAN: Hi, Christine. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, I was calling to remember Hazel Dickens. She was a pioneer in bluegrass, a pioneer for women in bluegrass country music, and died this past spring.
CONAN: Hazel Dickens, I remember hearing an obituary broadcast on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED about her.
CHRISTINE: Yeah, she was definitely a unique figure. She was definitely - she sang about, you know, about real life in rural West Virginia. She sang about non-union coalminers. She was kind of a reluctant feminist role model as well and is still one of the only female role models in bluegrass music.
CONAN: Reluctant feminist, how come?
CHRISTINE: I think that she - there was a quote when she sing some of her earliest songs that were about, you know, from a women's prospective, which wasn't really anything that anyone was writing bluegrass music about. Some people have had heard it and said, well, that's a nice song but no one will ever sing it. And I think she felt that she wanted to stay away from being just kind of a novelty woman's act and really singing music that was, you know, important and about real people.
CONAN: Christine, thanks very much for the call.
CHRISTINE: Thank you.
CONAN: This is from Rebecca in Takoma Park, Maryland. I'd like to remember my friend and neighbor, Gary Kettler(ph). Gary passed away in Christmas Eve from brain cancer. If you could say one thing about Gary beside the fact that he was a devoted husband and loving father, it would be that he loved to keep up with current events. He was an avid reader of The New Yorker and any newspaper he could get his hands on, other than USA Today, except when on vacation and it was the only thing he could find. We will all miss him terribly.
And this is from Sherrie(ph) who emailed us to say: I would like to remember visionary artist Robert Venosa. I got the honor of knowing Robert as a member of my community in Boulder and beyond. Robert was not only an amazing artist but a true seeker of wisdom and a stellar example of an evolutionary being. We're remembering lives lost in 2011. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we go next to Scott, and Scott is with us from Detroit.
SCOTT: Hi. I'm calling today to remember David Blair. David Blair was a poet and an urban folk musician, and I had the pleasure of being a member of the Detroit Poetry Slam Team the year we won the National Poetry Slam. And the way David could move an audience was just unbelievable, and the way he can make people feel comfortable to express themselves was also priceless. He toured the United States extensively and Europe as well and touched a lot of people. I know, and we all miss him here.
CONAN: Do you happen to remember any of his lines?
SCOTT: No, I don't. I barely can remember my own lines all the years later after winning. So I do know that he did a piece about learning opera when he was a young child, when he was a 4-year-old, that we used to close the final night that clenched to victory. And he literally had people crying in the audience in a very moving piece, and he had that talent of just moving people, which is remarkable, so...
CONAN: Thanks, Scott, for the call. Appreciate it.
SCOTT: Yeah, bye.
CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Katie, Katie with us from St. Augustine.
CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Katie.
KATIE: Great. I wanted to remember Stetson Kennedy.
CONAN: Of course.
KATIE: He - I had the privilege of seeing Stetson speak several times. He spent his last (unintelligible) years in St. Augustine, and he is such a – just an inspiring humanitarian and human rights advocate, I think most well known for his infiltration of the KKK during our - maybe during the '60s.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. He was awfully - what was it like to listen to him speak?
KATIE: Oh, it was amazing. He was just a really - I don't know the word, just really (unintelligible) down-to-earth guy. The times that I saw him, he was well into his 90s and pretty hard of hearing, so his wife always there to let him know what the audience's questions were, hut he was always just a pleasure to see. I always love to know that he was close friends with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston, who are my favorite writers. And the last, the - one of the really cool things I thought that he did, when the Florida (unintelligible) was planning to burn Qurans maybe last year, Stetson pledged to go and perform a citizen's arrest on him because he, of course, didn't think that was right. So he was just kind of inspiration, a really, really cool guy to get to see walking around town and to hear speak.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Katie.
KATIE: Thank you.
CONAN: This email from Christina. I'd like to remember my mother-in-law, Betty Roberts, who passed away this year. She was the first woman to run for Oregon governor, the second to run for the Senate, and the first woman on our state's Court of Appeals and the first woman on our Supreme Court. She was the recipient of many, many awards, not the least of which was the ABA's Margaret Brent Award and an honorary doctorate from Portland State University. Let's go next to Linda, and Linda is with us from southern Illinois.
LINDA: Hi. It is so good to talk to you.
CONAN: Thank you.
LINDA: In the last six years I have lost both my parents. I have lost lots of aunts and uncles. But I lost - we lost our oldest cousin in our generation, Phil Stout(ph). Phil Stout of Indianapolis, who was born in Wabash, Wabash County, Indiana. He was an elementary education - he was an elementary school teacher and a substitute teacher, and he taught for a while in Kuwait. He was a monster walker. He set a 2,000-mile walking record at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway.
CONAN: Just walking around and around the oval?
LINDA: That's correct. And he did volksmarches all the time.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LINDA: I walked with him sometimes...
CONAN: Hard to keep up with somebody like that.
LINDA: ...when we visited. That's correct. And he racewalked, you know, the proper - the formal racewalking gets you faster - gets you there faster.
CONAN: It does. Linda, thank you so much.
LINDA: Well, and he was a dedicated, loyal son to his parents who - his mother just died at the end of 97 two and a half years ago, and he was so - he was the point man for both of his parents in their advanced age.
CONAN: A dedication we should also remember. Thank you for the call.
LINDA: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's get one last email. This is from Sarah in Madison, Wisconsin. My brother Andy Nelson was 59 when he died October 23 in Springfield, Illinois; he lived in a group situation with other developmentally disabled men. His eight siblings miss his deep and joyous laughter and keen social observations. He continued his helpful spirit in unexpected ways, through giving organ donations. His corneas, muscle tissue, bone and beautiful, unwrinkled skin will extend the quality of life for countless others. Thank you.
We'd also like to remember Charles Ka'upu, the Hawaiian chanter who died this time last summer. Thank you to all of you who wrote and emailed us and contributed on our website to remember those who we lost in 2011. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.