10 People We Lost in 2008 (Who Are Worth Remembering)

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At the end of each year, the media reflects on the famous people who died over the past 12 months. This year's notable losses include Paul Newman, Edmund Hillary, Tim Russert and Arthur C. Clarke. But many others have been ignored by most news outlets. Here are ten more people who passed away in 2008 who are certainly worth remembering, including a Civil War widow, the world's oldest blogger and the man behind the McMuffin.

1. Irena Sandler: Cunning War Hero

During World War II, Catholic social worker Irena Sandler saved some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Disguised as a nurse, she would smuggle them out through the sewer, or in sacks, coffins, suitcases and "“ for one baby "“ a mechanic's toolbox. In 1943, she was captured by the Gestapo and tortured. Her legs and feet were broken, and her body suffered permanent scars, but she refused to identify the children (now living new lives) or her accomplices. She escaped after a guard was bribed, returning to work under a different identity.

Though she later won Poland's highest honor, and was nominated last year for a Nobel Peace Prize (she lost to Al Gore), she still suffered from Oscar Schindler-like feelings of guilt. "We who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes," she said in 2005. "That term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little. I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death."

2. Maudie Hopkins: The Last Civil War Widow

Maudie Hopkins was almost certainly the last surviving widow of a Confederate soldier "“ and as the Civil War came to an end in 1865, it was no small achievement that she made it all the way to 2008. OK, it helps to know that her husband, widower William M. Cantrell, was only 16 when he enlisted. In 1934, 86-year-old Cantrell and 19-year-old Hopkins entered a marriage of convenience, as he offered to bequeath his land and home to her if she looked after him in his final years. He died only three years later, and she lived off his land, marrying three more times. It might have required a 67-year age difference, but Hopkins seems to have been the last surviving Civil War widow "“ and she was born 50 years after the war!

3. Albert Hofmann: Discovered LSD

Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman made an accidental discovery in 1943, while researching the use of lysergic acid derivatives in medicinal drugs. Absorbing a small quantity through his fingertips, he felt the effects on a bicycle ride home, experiencing the world's first LSD trip. Three days later, he deliberately consumed larger quantities of LSD, writing of the "remarkable restlessness" and "extremely stimulated imagination" that it gave him. Though it was used successfully in psychoanalysis, it became popular as a recreational drug in the sixties, as Timothy Leary promoted acid tripping as a spiritual experience and countless rock stars used it for inspiration. Hofmann was unhappy with this, feeling that his discovery was being misused by youth culture "“ and of course, demonized by the authorities for its dangerous side effects. He went on to defend LSD in numerous articles and books, and in an international symposium held on his 100th birthday in 2006.

4. Anita Page: Silent Film Star

anita.jpgEighty years after the first sound movies (or "talkies") were made, there is almost nobody left from the silent movie era. Anita Page was one of the youngest silent movie stars, making her first movie (in a small role) at age 15 in 1925. Over the next few years, she would co-star with such silent screen legends as Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney and Buster Keaton. A very pretty blonde best known for playing lively flappers, Page's fans included Benito Mussolini, who (she claimed) proposed to her several times via fan mail. Page was the last survivor of the original Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, and starred in The Broadway Melody, the first talkie to win an Oscar for best film. She retired from movies at age 26, but made one of the most surprising comebacks in history 60 years later, at age 86, in the obscure thriller Sunset After Dark. When she died at age 98, her last film, Frankenstein Rising, was still in post-production. Not bad for someone who retired in 1936.

So was she the last of the adult silent film stars? You would think so, unless you discover that Barbara Kent, co-star of movies like Flesh and the Devil (1926) and No Man's Law (1927), is still apparently living in Idaho at age 102.

5. Tony Schwartz: The Man Behind "Daisy"

daisy.jpgYou might not know the name, but you probably know some of his work. Tony Schwartz was an advertiser, art director and political consultant whose most famous advertisement was "Daisy," a notorious 30-second spot that helped Lyndon Johnson win the 1964 Presidential election by a landslide. "Daisy" is still remembered today, which is highly impressive because a) it aired 44 years ago, and b) it aired only once during the election. In the days before cable, that's all it took for one powerful commercial to be effective "“ and whether you consider this an amazing work of art or a disgraceful piece of fear-mongering, this ad was certainly powerful. It showed a young girl innocently counting the petals on a daisy, while a narrator counts down. The camera ominously zooms into the pupil of the girl's eye "“ and a nuclear bomb detonates, releasing a mushroom cloud. "These are the stakes," says Johnson's voice, suggesting (convincingly, it would seem) that a vote for his opponent, Barry Goldwater, could lead to ultimate disaster.

Schwartz made many political ads, mainly for Democrats, but in his long career, he also conceived ads for companies like Chrysler and Coca-Cola.

6. Jo Stafford: "G.I. Jo"

If you've never heard of Jo Stafford, you're probably too young"¦ like most other people. While her death at age 90 went unnoticed by many, she was a huge recording star at her peak, known for her pure, melodic and versatile voice. That peak, however, was the early 1950s "“ so she outlived most of her fans. Starting as a Big Band singer during World War II, she went solo in 1944, recording no less than 93 songs over the years, including chart-topping classics like "You Belong to Me" (1952) and "Make Love to Me" (1954). She also had her own television series and sang for servicemen, who called her "G.I. Jo." But she didn't win a Grammy Award until 1960 "“ and she did it by joking around. After a recording session, she and her husband, musician Paul Weston, did some songs as a truly awful duet called Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, with "Darlene" singing off-key and "Jonathan" playing piano badly. For a laugh, they released a few songs in these personae, winning a Grammy for best comedy album. Silly as it was, it was perhaps Stafford's most influential work. She is now viewed as a pioneer of musical parody.

7. Herb Peterson: Inventor of the Egg McMuffin

herb.jpgMost great inventors are only known for one invention. Herb Peterson, a food scientist, gave the world one very common innovation, enjoyed by millions of people each day: the McDonald's Egg McMuffin, first sold in 1972 at a McDonald's franchise he owned in Santa Barbara, California. A big fan of eggs benedict, he devised the McMuffin as McDonald's answer to this traditional breakfast dish "“ although, to the serious café patron, processed cheese might not hold quite the same appeal as rich hollandaise sauce. Nonetheless, it worked for McDonald's, which soon had a signature breakfast sandwich to complement the burgers. The fast food chain has since earned $4-5 billion from the Peterson's invention.

8. Del Martin: Gay Rights Activist

Del Martin was a pioneer lesbian rights activist, in the days when women in general (gay or straight) struggled to be regarded as equals. In 1955, she and her partner, Phyllis Lyons, co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian political organization in the US (named after a 19th-century collection of Sapphic love poems). Martin was also the first openly gay board member of the National Organization of Women, and helped form the Council of Religion and Homosexuality in 1964, fighting to ensure that homosexuals were accepted in churches. Her hard work was finally rewarded on June 16, 2008, when the law allowing same-sex marriages was passed in California. She and Lyons were legally wed in California's first union of that type. They were just in time; Martin was 87. She died in August, only months before the law was rescinded.

9. Clay Felker: Magazine Pioneer

Just as today's magazine editors worry about the internet, their predecessors of 40 years ago feared losing their readers and advertisers to the growing popularity of television. In fact, Clay Felker is part of the reason there are still so many magazines on the newsstand. As founding editor of New York in 1968, he invented a new style of magazine: chic, energetic, gossipy, civic-minded, cynical and in-crowd. With star writers like Tom Wolfe, Gail Sheehy (whom he later married) and Jimmy Breslin, he pioneered the famous "new journalism." It changed and revitalized the magazine world. Felker would also edit Esquire, The Village Voice, Adweek and other magazines, and helped Gloria Steinem "“ one of his staff writers at New York "“ start the influential feminist magazine, Ms.

10. Olive Riley: World's Oldest Blogger

olive-riley.jpg

Born in 1899 in the Outback mining town of Broken Hill, Olive Riley disproves the idea that older people can't learn to use new technology. She started her blog, The Life of Riley, in 2006. Over the next two years, she would write 70 posts and "“ thanks partly to a documentary about her life "“ accumulated 1.2 million hits. She was even nominated for a Blogger's Choice Award. Though she was probably Australia's oldest woman, she took more pride in the title of World's Oldest Blogger. Inspiring as this was, her posts mainly chronicled her declining health. She also spoke about her love of the environment and the importance of saving energy, encouraging tinkerers and inventors to make energy-saving devices. She posted her last blog in April (though her friends kept readers updated in later installments), and died in July at the age of 108.

Mark Juddery is a Australian writer and historian. His latest book, Busted! The 50 Most Overrated Things in History, is published by Random House.

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December 30, 2008 - 5:10am
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