Categotry Archives: Extraordinary People


Misao Okawa

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Misao Okawa, a Japanese woman who was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest person, died on Wednesday of heart failure. She was 117.

She went so peacefully, as if she had just fallen asleep,” Tomohiro Okada, an official at the Osaka nursing home where Okawa lived, told The Associated Press. “We miss her a lot.”

Okawa was born in a kimono shop on March 5, 1898. That was the year the U.S. annexed the Hawaiian islands, the first car sold in America and a new soft drink called Pepsi-Cola launched.

Okawa married Yukio Okawa in 1919 and they remained together until his death in 1931. She never remarried. Okawa bore three children, two of whom are still alive in their 90s, and had four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

When asked for the secret of her longevity, Okawa once said it was to “watch out for one’s health.” She also credited a healthy appetite — she loved eating mackerel sushi — and getting plenty of sleep.

The Japanese supercentenarian was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest person in 2013 when Jiroemon Kimura, also from Japan, died at the age of 116 years and 54 days. Okawa was also the fifth oldest verified person ever recorded and the last living Japanese person to have been born in the 1800s.

On her final birthday, an Osaka government official brought Okawa a bouquet of flowers and wished her many happy returns. When he asked how she felt about the past 117 years, Okawa replied: “It seemed rather short.”

The world’s oldest person is now Gertrude Weaver, of Arkansas, who will turn 117 on July 4.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


Betty Jo Simpson

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Betty Jo Simpson, the Instagram sensation known as Grandma Betty 33, died on Aug. 2 of lung cancer. She was 80.

Earlier this year, Zach Beldon, 18, of Jeffersonville, Ind., created an account on Instagram to share pictures of his great-grandmother and her battle with cancer.

“The idea was to start an account for my friends who know Grandma Betty,” Beldon said. “And it turned out to be something everybody started to enjoy.”

Over the course of the next seven months, more than 690,000 people followed the joyful octogenarian, liking and sharing photos of her adventures. From sitting on a motorcycle:

… to dressing up as a clown:

… to sharing her blue-tinted tongue after eating candy:

One of the most popular posts involved Simpson dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song, “Happy”:

Simpson said she enjoyed becoming “the world’s grandma,” but she also hoped her advice would help others.

“You have to love people,” she said. “I mean from your heart out, just not from your mouth.”

On her Instagram page, Simpson described herself as a resident of Jeffersonville, Ind., a cancer fighter and a follower of Jesus. But outside of her fame on social media, she was a member of the Shepherdsville Gospel Church and retired from BRB Plastics. Simpson raised three adopted children, and lost both her husband, Clarence Simpson, and her daughter, Billie Pedigo, to cancer.

As her own condition worsened, family members posted updates about Simpson’s health on Instagram. This prompted thousands of strangers to send cards and share their thoughts and prayers of support.

Devyn Purvis was one such fan. She followed Grandma Betty’s Instagram posts and found comfort from them.

“Whatever you do please never shut down her instagram,” Purvis wrote. “I have looked at it every day for as long as it has been up and everyday it has made me smile. She was an inspiration to me.”

Another fan, artist Dagmara Cielecka, drew pictures of the impish Simpson after having a conversation on Snapchat:

Not surprisingly, word of Simpson’s death was first posted on Instagram. The announcement included a picture of her beloved dog Harley, sitting alone in her rocking chair, and the message: “Although Grandma Betty is no longer physically with us, she will forever be in the hearts of the millions of people she touches every single day. Grandma Betty did not lose her battle to cancer, because her legacy she has left behind will inspire millions of people to #Smile, #BeHappy, and #StayHappy no matter what. The fight has ended. The battle is won.”

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


John Tull

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Law



The number of people in the U.S. diagnosed with the plague each year: 7.

The number of people who’ve had the bubonic plague in New York City in more than 100 years: 2. And that unfortunate pair was John Hugh Tull, Jr., 53, and his wife Lucinda Marker, 47.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the yersinia pestis bacteria is most commonly spread by infected fleas. People can also become infected by having direct contact with infected tissues or fluids, by handling an infected animal or from inhaling respiratory droplets from infected people or cats.

There are three forms of the plague: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. Bubonic causes fever, headache, chills, weakness and swollen/tender lymph nodes. If an infected person is not treated quickly, the bacteria multiply in the lymph nodes and spread throughout the body, causing an often fatal condition called septicemic plague. Untreated plague can also spread to the lungs; when it does, the victims get pneumonic plague. In the 14th century, the plague killed approximately 25 million people throughout Europe.

Tull and Marker were walking their dogs near their home in Eldorado, N.M., when they were bitten by fleas infected with bubonic plague. Then on Nov. 1, the couple visited New York City, where they had planned to watch the marathon, tour the Metropolitan Museum and visit with friends. Within 48 hours of their arrival, however, those plans were scuttled by illness.

At first, Tull and Marker thought it was something simple, like too much food and liquor, or maybe a bug. They certainly seemed to have flu-like symptoms, including fevers, headaches, exhaustion and swollen glands. But when Tull’s condition worsened, they called Ronald Primas, a travel doctor who was familiar with esoteric diseases. His first thought: Bubonic plague. At Beth Israel Medical Center North, doctors confirmed Primas’ diagnosis, and the couple became known as New York City’s first plague case in more than a century.

Although Marker responded well to the large doses of antibiotics doctors gave her, Tull did not. He developed septicemic plague and was given a 1 percent chance of survival. Tull was put on dialysis, hooked up to a respirator and spent the next 90 days in a medically-induced a coma. When gangrene set in, doctors were forced to amputate both of his legs below the knee. Throughout the horrific ordeal, Marker remained by Tull’s side.

“How do you tell someone you love that he has been in a coma for over two months, that he missed Thanksgiving and Christmas, that it is a new year and he no longer has legs?” Marker wrote in Salon. “He could not speak or move. His first words to me, mouthed in a faint whisper, ‘Rub my feet.’ I told him then, on my own, what had happened as I gently massaged what remained of his legs.”

Dealing with the plague wasn’t the couple’s only difficult experience in New York. Because they became ill so quickly after arriving in the city — and just 14 months after the September 11th terrorist attacks — Marker and the hospital staff were interviewed by officials from the CDC, the FBI, New Mexico and New York health officials as well as dozens of media outlets. With the city in a panic, authorities investigated the couple’s backgrounds and searched their N.M. home before determining they were neither the victims nor perpetrators of bio-terrorism. Despite the invasion of their privacy, the couple’s view of the city never soured.

“Love to all and we shall return to this fine city soon,” Marker wrote in a blog that kept friends and family updated about Tull’s condition. “Thank you for taking care of us.”

During the nine months Tull spent at Beth Israel, setbacks were faced with grim determination and small improvements were celebrated, both in person and online. At one point, the hospital staff even took to wearing “Free John Tull” buttons to encourage his progress.

The couple returned to New Mexico on Feb. 10, 2003, but Tull was still too sick to go home. Yet upon his arrival at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, he was met by dozens of loved ones carrying signs and singing corny songs. After learning that Tull’s medical bills would eventually exceed $2 million, their friends launched the John Tull Recovery Fund.

The road to wellness was far from smooth. Once out of his coma, Tull suffered from numerous debilitating infections and countless painful sessions of physical therapy to regain basic motor skills like swallowing and breathing on his own. Yet throughout his long recuperation, Tull and Marker maintained a positive attitude: “We are not going to bemoan our fate, but celebrate our life, our victory over the plague, our health, and our friends. We are going to get a lot of caviar, a lot of ice-cold vodka, and give thanks for all that life has given us.”

Tull graduated from the University of Texas and South Texas College of Law. Prior to his illness, he worked as an attorney in both Texas and New Mexico, and served as the head of New Mexico’s state insurance fraud bureau. He was also general council for the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

The Amarillo native enjoyed reading, telling jokes and stories and volunteering with the Atalya Search and Rescue. Although the couple, who wed in 1998, did not have children together, Tull had three from previous marriages, and seven grandchildren.

Ten years after contracting the plague, Tull was retired and receiving disability pension. With the help of prosthetic legs, the tough and athletic Texan was able to hike, bike, drive and attend an annual fishing trip with friends.

“When life knocks you to your knees as it is bound to do with most of us at some point in time, we will go through what we must go through to survive or we will perish,” Marker wrote. “God knows John and I have gone through every imaginable device, vice, shrink, exercise, heart-to-heart discussion, argument, emotion, exertion of pure will and attempt to deny, but it all finally comes down to facing, accepting, and embracing the fact that life has changed. Period.”

Last month, Tull was diagnosed with cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, a disease that doctors believe was unconnected to his bout with the plague. He died on June 25. He was 65.

At the time of Tull’s death, the couple was writing a memoir, “The Plague: One Couple’s Journey To Hell and Back.” Marker intends to finish it.


Vugar Gashimov

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Uncategorized

Vugar Gashimov Vugar Gashimov began playing chess when he was only 6 years old. He would eventually represent his country in four Chess Olympiads and become a grandmaster by the time he was 16.

Gashimov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital city (although the region was still part of the Soviet Union in 1986). Chess was incredibly popular at the time, due to the victory of Baku-native Garry Kasparov against Anatoly Karpov at the World Championship in 1985.

In the Gashimov family, chess was a way of life. Gashimov’s father, a retired army colonel who served at the Defense Ministry of Azerbaijan, taught Vugar to play the game. His older brother Sarkhan, a solid chess player in his own right, served as his manager.

Like many young boys, Gashimov enjoyed playing sports and watching movies, but he always knew he wanted to become a competitive chess player. After he defeated all of the other children in his age group, Gashimov’s family hired international master Anar Allakhverdiev and Russian grandmaster Vitaly Tseshkovsky to coach him.

Gashimov won a silver medal in the under-10-years-old division at the World Youth Championships in 1996, and became an international master just three years later. However, after winning the 1999 Kasparov Trophy at 14, Gashimov was diagnosed with epilepsy and forced to step away from the game. He underwent three surgeries on his brain before launching an amazing comeback.

By 2002, Gashimov had earned the title of grandmaster, the highest honor for world-class chess players.

A bold competitor and online blitz specialist, Gashimov was known for changing many players’ view of the Modern Benoni opening. He won the Athens 2005 Acropolis International and the 2005 Abu Dhabi International Chess tournament; he took top honors at the Cappelle la Grande tournament and tied for first in the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in 2008. Next, Gashimov won the 2010-11 Reggio Emilia tournament, Italy’s oldest and most renowned chess competition, on a tie-break from Spanish grandmaster Francisco Vallejo Pons.

Alongside Teymur Rajabov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Rauf Mammadov and Gadir Guseinov, Gashimov helped the Azerbaijani team become a powerhouse competitor at international championships, including the Chess Olympiads of 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.

“Vugar was certainly the soul of Azerbaijani team. He was a very cheerful person. He lifted us even when we were losing. Besides, he shared his knowledge and really helped to develop. And he shared it with pleasure, and many times helped me personally in preparation for games; he did everything for the team,” Guseinov said.

In fact, it was Gashimov who lead the team to a gold medal victory in the 2009 European Team Chess Championship in Novi Sad. At that point in his career, he was listed at #6 in the FIDE World Rankings and declared the top chess player in his country.

Gashimov was excluded from the Chess Olympiad team in 2010 over a conflict with the national chess federation and Zurab Azmaiparashvili, the team’s former coach. Without his contribution, the Azerbaijani team finished in 12th place.

Gashimov was ranked #10 in the world in 2012 when health problems again prompted him to step away from the competitive circuit. Subsequent testing revealed a brain tumor.

Gashimov died on Jan. 10 while receiving cancer treatment in Germany. He was 27.

“[Gashimov] was a nice person, an excellent friend, and a good fellow in the team. You could always rely on him. He was always ready to help, and he helped,” Azerbaijani grandmaster Gadir Huseynov said. “He was a kindhearted, cheerful and positive person. It is a great loss for us. I cannot still believe it. It is very painful to perceive that one of my dearest friends has died.”


In Memoriam: A Look Back At The People We Lost in 2013

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Categories: Actors, Extraordinary People, Government, Hollywood, Media, Politicians, Politics, Writers/Editors

hourglass.jpgSome people view obituaries as morbid stories, but in truth only one line of an obit deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people lead. In 2013, these 13 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:

* Helen Thomas, reporter, columnist and dean of the White House Press Corps

* Abigail Van Buren, advice columnist

* Roger Ebert, movie critic

* Elmore Leonard, author

* Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the first black president of South Africa

* Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Britain

* Ed Koch, former New York City mayor

* Gary David Goldberg, TV producer

* Ray Harryhausen, special effects pioneer

* Tom Clancy, author

* Peter O’Toole, actor

* James Gandolfini, actor

* Jean Stapleton, actress

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