HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
December 25, 2006, Herald Journal

People are the key

By IVAN RACONTEUR

As we prepare to go to press for the final edition of 2006, it seems appropriate to take stock of some of the changes that we have seen during the past year.

Rather than focusing on the events of 2006, I would like to mark the passing of some of the people who have cashed in their chips during the past 12 months.

Some of these people died while they were still quite popular.

Others had been off of the radar for years, and the news of their demise came as a surprise.

“I didn’t realize he (or she) was still alive,” was my first thought in some cases.

Following, in no particular order, is my list of people whose time above ground ended this year.

There was Ed Bradley, who died in Manhattan Nov. 9 at age 65.

Bradley was a first-rate journalist, and by all accounts, a first-rate person.

He held several positions of national prominence, including his work on “60 Minutes,” which started in 1981.

Over a span of decades, Bradley proved that dedication and talent transcend all barriers.

Another barrier-crasher was Susan Butcher, who died in Seattle Aug. 5.

Butcher was 51.

She was a champion sled dog racer, and won Alaska’s gruelling 1,152-mile Ididarod race four times, more than any other woman.

I remember watching a documentary on her many years ago.

The show included footage of her preparing for, and participating in, the race, which is run in some of the harshest conditions, and roughest terrain on the planet.

Her dedication to the sport, and above all, to her dogs, was unmistakable.

I have always had a special fondness for Alaska, and while I still want to go there, Butcher convinced me that I don’t want to go by way of dogsled.

She was a tough person.

Mike Douglas also checked out during 2006.

Douglas fit into the category of those that I did not know was still around.

He gets special recognition for being a celebrity by association.

He interviewed a broad variety of people on his talk show, which ran from 1961 to 1982, ranging from politicians, to celebrities, to emerging talent that had yet to be discovered.

His popularity was based not on his talents, but on his ability to showcase the talents of others.

We also lost 81-year-old Don Knotts this year.

Knotts deserves recognition because he does not fit the mold.

If this skinny, goofy-looking guy could headline movies and television shows, there is hope for anyone.

Knotts’ five Emmy awards for his portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” are a testament to his popularity.

The bumbling, highly-strung characters he played would have been annoying to be around, but they seemed to strike a chord with audiences.

We have to give honorable mention to Al Lewis, who died in New York City Feb. 3 at age 82.

Lewis ran an unsuccessful campaign as the Green Party Candidate for governor of New York in 1998.

His campaign seems to have been based solely on the fact that he played the role of grandpa on “The Munsters” television series a couple of decades earlier.

One can’t help but admire his eccentricity.

Another honorable mention goes to Arthur Winston.

Winston missed only one day of work in his 72-year career as a transportation worker in Los Angeles (that was the day his wife died, in 1988. One hopes his employer understood his absence).

Winston retired the day after his 100th birthday (and three weeks before his death).

We can learn a couple of things from Winston.

First, he showed that, if one is committed to something, one does not need to make excuses.

Second, he demonstrated the importance of making the most of every day, because it would be incredibly sad to work 72 years at a job, putting off things until retirement, only to drop down as soon as one stepped out of the traces.

One hopes he really enjoyed his job.

The final person on my list is Aaron Spelling, who died June 23 at age 83.

Spelling had “the golden touch,” and produced more than 200 television series and movies.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Spelling was responsible for the dumbing-down of America.

His masterpieces included “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat,” and “Fantasy Island.”

It may not have been art, but Spelling clearly found a formula that worked for the average couch potato.

The thing that all of the people on this list have in common is that they stood out from the crowd.

Their accomplishments were varied, but they each found something that they loved, and were able to be successful doing it.

Meeting the people behind the stories is the best part of working in journalism.

Their infinite variety, and their ability to educate and entertain us, make all people special.

They may not all be celebrities, and their names may not be recorded in the history books, but the people one meets on a daily basis are a big part of what keeps life interesting.

There is sadness in remembering those who are no longer with us, but one can’t help but experience a hint of enthusiastic expectation when looking forward to the interesting new people we will meet in the months ahead.