Categotry Archives: Extraordinary People


Cara Dunne-Yates


Categories: Extraordinary People, Sports

Cara Dunne-Yates was blinded by cancer, but that didn’t stop her from obtaining an Ivy League education, raising a family or winning several medals as a Paralympic athlete.
Born and raised in Chicago, Yates was less than a year old when she was diagnosed with retinal cancer. Although she lost both her eyes to the disease by the time she was five, Yates still learned to ride a bike and ski on her own. Using a team skiing technique, however, Yates was able to participate in competitions by following the sound her of sighted partner’s skis. In 1988, she won a bronze medal in alpine skiing at the Paralympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
With a guide dog by her side, Yates became president of her class at Harvard University and earned a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies. After graduation, she worked as a volunteer ski instructor at a school for the disabled in Utah. Yates was training for an upcoming winter event when cancer returned — this time in her cheekbone.
After a year of treatment, she enrolled at UCLA Law School. Yates joined the university’s cycling team and competed as a tandem racer with her sighted partner Scott Evans at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics. There she won a silver medal in the mixed tandem kilometer race and a bronze medal on the 200-meter sprint. She also met Spencer Yates, the sighted partner of another blind cyclist. They wed in 1998.
Yates had just finished competing in the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, when she was diagnosed with cancer for a third time. While undergoing chemotherapy, she received the 2002 True Hero of Sports Award from Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. She served as co-president of the New England Retinoblastoma Family Foundation and recently began writing her memoirs.
Yates died on Oct. 20 of cancer at the age of 34. She is survived by her husband and two young children.


Virginia Muise


Categories: Extraordinary People

Virginia Muise, who was believed to be the oldest New England resident, died on Nov. 2. Cause of death was not released. She was 111.

Listed by the Gerontology Research Group as the 31st oldest person in the world, Muise was born in Nova Scotia on July 27, 1893. During the 1917 ammunition ship explosion in Halifax, she was temporarily trapped in her home when the ceiling caved in. The incident eventually killed 2,000 people, injured another 9,000 and blew out windows all over the city.

Muise immigrated to Boston in 1923 and worked as a cook and housekeeper. She later served as the manager of the former Boston Lying-In Hospital cafeteria, where she remained until her retirement in 1958. Muise’s husband, Charles, was a blacksmith; he died in 1977 at the age of 94.

A lifelong baseball fan, Muise frequently took advantage of the ticket discounts offered to women at Fenway Park. She kept a Red Sox cap in her bedroom and was thrilled to see her favorite team win the World Series last month.

On Muise’s 110th birthday, New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson proclaimed July 27, 2003 to be “Virginia Muise Day.” The supercentenarian is survived by four children, 18 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.


Christopher Reeve


Categories: Actors, Extraordinary People, Heroes, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

creeve.jpgChristopher Reeve, a veteran actor who was best known for playing Superman, died on Oct. 10 of heart failure. He was 52.

The native New Yorker was only nine years old when he first tread the boards at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., during a production of “Yeoman of the Guard.” After graduating from Cornell University, Reeve played the evil Ben Harper on the CBS soap opera “Love of Life.” He studied at The Juilliard School (his roommate was Robin Williams), and landed his first Broadway role in “A Matter of Gravity,” a play starring Katharine Hepburn.

Although he was relatively unknown at the time, Reeve’s handsome face and athletic, 6-foot-4-inch body made him the ideal choice for the title role in the 1978 movie “Superman.” He performed most of his own stunts and portrayed the Man of Steel in three sequels. Not wanting to be typecast as a superhero, Reeve next portrayed a time-traveling playwright in the 1980 romance “Somewhere in Time,” a bumbling actor in the 1992 farce “Noises Off…,” an American politician in the 1993 Merchant Ivory period piece “The Remains of the Day,” and a famous war reporter in the 1994 political comedy “Speechless.”

Reeve’s professional and personal life took an unexpected turn in 1995. While riding in an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Va., he was thrown from his horse. The accident fractured the top two vertebrae in his neck, damaged his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. Determined to walk again, Reeve endured years of operations and physical therapy. He eventually regained sensation in his index finger, his left leg and areas of his left arm.

Reeve then went to Washington, where he lobbied Congress for better insurance protection of catastrophic injuries. He campaigned for an increase in funding for stem cell research in the hope that scientists may one day develop treatments and cures for paralysis. With his wife Dana, he opened the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a facility in Short Hills, N.J., that teaches paralyzed people how to live more independent lives.

Reeve also returned to show business. He made his directorial debut in 1997 with “In the Gloaming,” an HBO film that received five Emmy nominations and won four Cable Ace Awards. The following year, Reeve acted in a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Rear Window,” a performance that earned him a Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. He shared his life story in the books “Still Me” and “Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life”; the audio versions, which Reeve narrated, received Grammy nominations. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.

Reeve was receiving treatment for a severely infected pressure wound on Oct. 9 when he suffered a cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. He is survived by his wife and three children, Matthew, 25, Alexandra, 21, and Will, 12.

Listen to a Tribute From NPR

Listen to an NPR Interview With Reeve

Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections On a New Life (Unabridged) Download “Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life”


Irene Bale


Categories: Extraordinary People

For Irene Bale, life was literally a three-ring circus.
The London-born vaudeville dancer and acrobat married Col. Trevor Bale, a former tiger trainer and ringmaster with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. For the majority of her life, she worked as an animal trainer, flew through the air on the trapeze and performed the ”iron jaw,” an aerial stunt that involved hanging from a leather and metal apparatus by her teeth.
The Bale family’s circus roots go back 350 years, and continue to this day. Two of Irene’s daughters, Gloria and Bonnie, currently perform a horse act with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus; her daughter Dawnita stepped out of the spotlight a few years ago to care for Bale during the final years of her life. Bale’s son, Elvin, was paralyzed from the waist down in 1987 while performing a human cannonball act. He now works as director and vice president of operations at the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. In 2003, the Bales were inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame.
Bale died on Sept. 2 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 87.


Gordon Cooper


Categories: Business, Extraordinary People, Military, Writers/Editors

gcooper.jpgGordon Cooper, one of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, died on Oct. 4 of natural causes. He was 77.
Born in Shawnee, Okla., Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr. flew his first plane when he was just seven years old. His father, an Army colonel, took him for a ride in a J-3 Piper Cub and let him take the controls. A love of flying was instantly forged.
Cooper served in the Marine Corps and attended the University of Hawaii before receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army. He later transferred to the Air Force and earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Cooper was flight-testing experimental aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California when he was selected for the Mercury program, the United States’ first manned spaceflight project.
The space pioneer piloted the final flight of Project Mercury in 1963. Inside the ”Faith 7” spacecraft, he orbited the planet 22 times in 34 hours and 20 minutes. He was the first American to sleep in space and on the launch pad, and the last astronaut to fly in space alone.
Two years later, Cooper served as command pilot of the Gemini 5 mission. He and Charles Conrad spent eight days establishing a space endurance record; they traveled 3.3 million miles in 190 hours, 56 minutes, thereby proving that humans could survive in a weightless state for the amount of time it would take to travel to the moon. Only three Mercury astronauts remain: John H. Glenn Jr., the former senator from Ohio; Walter Schirra Jr.; and Scott Carpenter.
Cooper retired from the Air Force in 1970 and delved into numerous business ventures. He received many honors during his career, including the Air Force Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal. A school and a library were named in his honor.
When his autobiography, “Leap of Faith: An Astronaut’s Journey Into the Unknown,” was published in 2000, the book sparked a bit of controversy for revealing Cooper’s interest in UFOs and his belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life. He also was immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Right Stuff” and in the 1983 movie of the same name.
Astronauts Mike Fincke and Gennady Padalka, who are currently living on the International Space Station, honored Cooper’s memory by ringing the ship’s bell three times.

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