Lives They Led: Examples of America's Best

Bert Stern;  October 3rd, 1929 - June 26th, 2013.
Bert Stern; October 3rd, 1929 - June 26th, 2013.

People die all the time. We catch their passing in obituary notices or in big headline obituaries, especially if they’re famous and noted, a lot or a little. People die in the last breaths of old age, in their sleep, in hospitals and hospices, or more dramatically and summarily, in accidents, in shocking murders, en masse and singly, or after suffering too long, or in the midst of disasters, as heroes or victims, and sometimes both. The news of their passing make up a late-night announcement, news tickers on TV screens, blips on the Internet, e-mails in your inbox, or more personally, the three-in-the-morning phone call no one wants to pick up.

The Shock of Numbers: 19 Firefighters in Arizona

The stunning news late Sunday night of the death of 19 firefighters was a huge, gut-grabbing shock. They were nearly all the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite group of firefighters battling an out-of-control 8,000-acre wildfire at Yarnell Hill, northwest of Phoenix, Ariz., which has experienced triple-digit temperatures for a number of days. The hotshot crews are considered to be a highly trained, elite group of forest firefighters.

Among the dead, according to a recent CNN report, was the superintendent of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, Eric Marsh. The other 18 victims have not been identified yet, but from a grayish picture on the net, they appear to confident, young, look-you-in-the-eye, high-spirited and cohesive.

According to local fire and national park officials, a wind shift caused the group to become trapped and surrounded and forced them to use emergency-tent shelters as a last-ditch survival tool.

President Barack Obama, responding to news of the deaths, called the firefighters “heroes, highly skilled professional who, like so many across our country do every day, selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives and property of fellow citizens they would never meet.”

The shock of so many deaths is permanent, because the people seem in a moment’s time or more, to have become irreplaceable, from far away, and in the empty spaces they leave among peers, families and loved ones.

The tragedy and number of deaths is the largest number of firefighters to die in a wildfire since 1933, when 29 firemen died in a Los Angeles fire.

In a Place Far from Home: Andrew Pochter

Andrew Pochter, a 21-year-old student at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, was in Egypt on a summer internship to teach Egyptian children English, which seemed the continuation of a young life focused on bringing people together, learning about and living with others.

Pochter, who was from Chevy Chase, Md., was, according to news reports and his parents, a young Jewish man dedicated to bringing people together, especially in the Middle East, where conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, civil war among Arabs and a politically volatile Arab Spring make the region a dangerous place to visit and in which to live.

Pochter went anyway. On Friday, he went to observe, as thousands gathered in Alexandria, Egypt, to protest against the government of Mohamed Morsi. Similar violent and intense protests were taking place in Egyptian cities, including Cairo. Pochter, who was observing the demonstration in Alexandria, died after being stabbed by a protestor.

When he died, Pochter was working for America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, Inc., a non-profit training organization, better known as AMIDEAST.

Not Quite Famous, but Not Forgotten: Bert Stern

Bert Stern, who achieved considerable acclaim as a photographer who did some of his best work by changing Madison Avenue’s approach to advertising, will probably be remembered more for a series of revealing photographs of Marilyn Monroe, shot at the behest of Vogue Magazine in 1962 at the Hotel Bel Air in Hollywood only weeks before she died at the age of 36.

The photographs, many of which were of America’s greatest movie sex symbol in the nude, showed her at her most attainable, accessible, frisky, unabashed, natural and high energy. The result of the photographs were 2,571 images, part of which became a book, until all were published in another book in 1982, called “Marilyn Monroe: The Complete Last Sitting.”

While his connection to Monroe was enduring, Stern, who died at his home June 25 at the age of 83, accomplished quite a bit otherwise, including using dramatic, often sly and highly stylish images for Smirnoff Vodka. He also produced a documentary film in which he shot footage of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island, where such legends as Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, Chuck Berry, Gerry Mulligan and Louis Armstrong played.

Like the Marilyn Monroe images, the result, a film called “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” is enduring.

Country Meets the Blues: Slim Whitman, Bobby Bland

It’s hard to imagine more different singers and musicians than Slim Whitman and Bobby “Blue” Bland, but both Whitman and Bland were influential performers who left legacies.

Whitman was described as a country crooner and yodeler, a combination rarely if ever seen today in any genre. Here’s a list of some of his big hits—he ended up selling 70 million records: “Indian Love Call,” “Secret Love,” “Danny Boy” and a number of others. He somehow married his voice to echoes of country drawls, love songs, sentimental Irish music and operetta sweet somethings.

Because his voice, and presumably his musical thoughts, were pure, he ended up singing on “Grand Ole Opry” and “Louisiana Hayride.” According to reports, his version of “Indian Love Call” was used in Tim Burton’s sci-fi film “Mars Attacks!” to repel the invaders.

Whitman died at the age of 90 this month.

Bobby “Blue” Bland sang the blues with an underlying sweetness, but he was at heart a big-time-rhythm and blues singer who was right up there with the likes of Ray Charles and B.B. King, and in terms of influence, standing really tall and close.

He had lots of hits, most of which were remembered and worked their way into the playing, singing and music of people like Eric Clapton, Van Morrison the Allman Brothers, Rapper Jay-Z , and lesser known blues players like Little Milton, Z.Z Hill and Artie “Blues Boy” White.

Bland, who was born in Memphis, is in the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Bland died June 23 at 83 of heart failure, which would seem astonishing for a man whose heart never seemed to fail him musically.

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Sun, 21 Dec 2014 21:08:06 -0500

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