Categotry Archives: Extraordinary People

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Tsutomu Yamaguchi

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person who was ever officially recognized as a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings at the end of World War II, died on Jan. 4 of stomach cancer. He was 93.
Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima on a business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, on Aug. 6, 1945. The 29-year-old oil tanker designer was stepping off a tram when the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped a 13-kiloton uranium atomic bomb on the city. The massive explosion destroyed Yamaguchi’s left eardrum, temporarily blinded and balded him and left serious burns on his upper body. Others were not so fortunate; at least 70,000 people died as a result of the initial blast.
After spending the night in a bomb shelter, Yamaguchi returned to his home in Nagasaki. He spent two days recuperating from his injuries, then covered his body in gauze and went to work. As Yamaguchi was explaining what had happened in Hiroshima to his boss, the U.S. B-29 bomber Bock’s Car released its destructive payload, this time on Nagasaki. According to the Nagasaki City Atomic Bomb Records Preservation Committee, the explosion killed more than 73,800 people.
Yamaguchi survived again.
Twelve years after the war ended, Yamaguchi was recognized as a hibakusha, an explosion-affected person, of the Nagasaki bombing. Certification as an atomic bomb survivor qualified him for government compensation, including a monthly stipend, free medical checkups and funeral costs. It would take another 52 years until the Japanese government officially recognized his presence in Hiroshima.
About 260,000 people survived the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, and many of them suffered the effects from radiation exposure. Yamaguchi’s wife suffered radiation poisoning from the black rain that fell after the Nagasaki explosion; she died in 2008 of kidney and liver cancer. All three of Yamaguchi’s children also suffered from health problems.
After Japan surrendered, Yamaguchi worked as a ship engineer in the local port, a translator for the occupying American forces and a schoolmaster. In the final years of his life, he wrote a memoir and appeared in the 2006 documentary “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” When the film was screened at the United Nations, Yamaguchi spoke to the delegates and called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.

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Ruth Lilly

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Writers/Editors

As an heiress, Ruth E. Lilly could have lived a very comfortable life doing anything she wanted or absolutely nothing at all. Instead, she decided to fund a wide variety of causes and help those in need. And over the course of her nine decades on this planet, she gave away more than half a billion dollars to educational and cultural organizations.
Born in Indianapolis, Lilly was the last surviving great-grandchild of Col. Eli Lilly, who founded the pharmaceutical empire Eli Lilly and Company in 1876. Last year, the company employed over 40,000 workers, earned $21 billion in sales and was ranked #570 on the Forbes 2000 List.
Lilly was still in her teens when she began writing poetry, but it took her nearly 50 years to submit her work, under a pseudonym, to Poetry magazine. Although the influential literary journal rejected her poems, the editors also sent handwritten notes offering critiques of her writing. This left quite an impression on Lilly, and in 1986, she bequeathed $100 million to the magazine. The gift ensured that Poetry would continue publishing in perpetuity. In response, Poetry became a non-profit organization known as the Poetry Foundation, launched the annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which gives $100,000 to a contemporary poet in honor of a lifetime of a achievement, and created five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships for aspiring poets.
“Poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,” said Poetry Foundation President John Barr. “Her historic gift is notable not only for its size — that part of her largesse is known to every corner of the poetry world — but also because it was made with no conditions or restrictions of any kind as to how it should be used for the benefit of poetry. In that, it was the purest expression of her love for the art that meant so much to her as poet herself, and as benefactor.”
Lilly’s quiet generosity also extended to many Indiana-based institutions. She bequeathed a major gift to the Lilly Endowment, the family’s main charitable organization. In 1966, Lilly and her brother, J.K. Lilly III, donated the site of their parents’ estate to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and provided a trust income to maintain it. A health education center, a learning center, a fitness center, a law library and a science library all exist and bear the Ruth Lilly name, thanks to her monetary contributions. Lilly rarely attended ceremonial events, though, preferring instead to have her chauffeur drive her past the institutions she had aided.
In private, Lilly struggled with day to day life. Depression plagued her for decades, and she spent much of her 40-year marriage to writer Guernsey Van Riper in a hospital. The couple divorced in 1981; they had no children. That same year, Lilly’s brother went to court and had her declared incompetent. From that point on, all of her donations had to be signed by an attorney.
Lilly finally found some relief from her illness in 1988, thanks to the invention of Prozac, which was made and distributed by Eli Lilly and Co. The anti-depressant allowed her to live the final years of her life in relative peace. For her many years of philanthropy, Lilly was awarded a doctor of humane letters degree from Wabash College in 1991, from Franklin College in 2003 and from Marian University and Indiana University in 2004.
Lilly died on Dec. 30 of heart failure. She was 94.

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Maudie Hopkins

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Maudie Celia White Hopkins, one of the last known widows of a Confederate soldier, died on Aug. 17. Cause of death was not released. She was 93.
Born in Baxter County, Ark., Hopkins grew up in the Ozarks during the Great Depression. One of 10 children, she did laundry and cleaned houses to help her family put food on the table. One of her clients was William M. Cantrell, an elderly Confederate veteran and widower.
Cantrell was only 16 when he enlisted in the Confederate army to fight in the War Between the States. Assigned to Company A, French’s Battalion, of the Virginia Infantry, he was captured by the Yankees at Piketon in Kentucky, and sent to a prison camp in Ohio. Cantrell was eventually exchanged for a Northern prisoner, and sent home to Arkansas.
Despite their 67-year age difference, Cantrell offered his hand in marriage. If Hopkins agreed to care for him in his final years, he would bequeath his land and home to her. In 1934, she consented to the marriage of convenience with “Mr. Cantrell,” whom she described as a respectable man.
The couple lived off his Confederate pension of $25, which arrived in the mail every two to three months. When he died from a stroke in 1937, the pension benefits ended. Cantrell was true to his word, however, and gave his wife all of his worldly possessions, including 200 acres, some chickens and a mule named Kit. Hopkins survived by planting a vegetable garden and living off the land. The chickens provided enough eggs to sell, and she used the money to buy sugar and make jelly.
Hopkins wed three more times, and bore three children, two daughters and a son. A member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, she enjoyed sitting on her porch, attending religious services and making fried peach pies and applesauce cake.

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Sandy Allen

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Categories: Extraordinary People

At 7 feet, 7 1/4 inches, Sandra Elaine Allen stood out in a crowd. Heads turned in her direction when she entered a room, and they all had to look up just to see her face. Allen’s height separated her from the rest of society, but it also made her distinct. Over time, she embraced her stature and used it to teach children about accepting others who were different.
“I’m very proud of being tall. And what I try to do — if I can help even one person in my lifetime with their attitude toward life, then it’s all worth it,” Allen once said.
The Chicago native was only 6 1/2 pounds at birth. A tumor caused her pituitary gland to produce an excess of growth hormone, and by the time she was 10, Allen had reached a height of 6 feet 3 inches. She surpassed 7 feet in her late teens, and underwent an operation in 1977 to stop further growth.
Allen’s school years were quite difficult because few of her peers would socialize with someone so tall. Since no stores sold clothing in her size, she had to make all of her own outfits. Allen purchased her shoes from a king-sized men’s store (size 16EEE) and set her desk on blocks in order to write or type. Such are the trials of people with gigantism. They struggle to fit in, even when nothing seems to fit them.
Recognition by the Guinness World Records in 1975 as the tallest woman on the planet changed everything. Allen cast off her shyness and did guest appearances on numerous television shows. She appeared in the Academy Award-winning film “Il Casanova di Federico Fellini” and made several appearances at the Guinness Museum of World Records.
In 2001, her life story was chronicled in the book, “Cast a Giant Shadow: The Inspirational Life Story of Sandy Allen ‘The Tallest Woman in the World’” by John Kleiman. She was also immortalized in the Split Enz song “Hello Sandy Allen.”
The final decade of Allen’s life was spent at the Heritage House Convalescent Center, dealing with various health issues related to her size. The Shelbyville, Ind., nursing home is also the residence of Edna Parker, 115, the world’s oldest person.
Allen, 53, died on Aug. 13 from complications of diabetes and blood infections. She was buried in a custom-made, 8 foot 5 inch casket that will occupy four burial plots.

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Randy Pausch

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Categories: Education, Extraordinary People

Randolf Frederick Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor whose final lecture about the importance of achieving one’s childhood dreams became an Internet sensation and best-selling book, died on July 25 of pancreatic cancer. He was 47.
The Baltimore native wanted to do many things with his life. As a child, he wrote a list of the dreams he hoped to someday achieve including: walk in zero gravity, write an entry in the World Book Encyclopedia, win stuffed animals, be like Captain Kirk and become an Imagineer for Disney. Pausch accomplished all but the Star Trek-inspired dream, though he did get to meet William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk. “It’s really cool to meet your boyhood idol,” Pausch once said. “But it’s even cooler when he comes to you to see what cool stuff you’re doing…That was just a great moment.”
Pausch graduated from Brown University and earned his doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon. After teaching at the University of Virginia, he joined the faculty of Carnegie Mellon in 1997. For the next decade, Pausch taught popular classes in computer science, virtual reality and world building. He also helped launch the Alice project, an innovative 3-D environment that teaches computer programming through stories and games.
Pausch first came into the public eye in September 2007 when he gave his final lecture at Carnegie Mellon in front of 400 students and colleagues. Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow wrote a feature article about “the lecture of a lifetime,” and a video version of the inspirational speech soon appeared on YouTube. Millions of people sat in front of their computers and watched the 76-minute lecture, then shared it with others in e-mails and blogs. Pausch later gave an abridged version of his speech on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” ABC News named him as one of its three “Persons of the Year,” and Time magazine listed him in its “100 Most Influential People” issue.
At the urging of his wife, Jai, Pausch decided to compile his advice into a book, titled “The Last Lecture.” He didn’t want the writing process to take away time spent with his three children, however, so he dictated the chapters to co-author Zaslow while riding his exercise bike each day. Fifty-three bike rides/conversations turned into a manuscript, which was published this spring.
In March, Pausch spoke before Congress on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Network. He shared a picture of his family and urged lawmakers to help fund research needed to fight pancreatic cancer, which is considered by the medical community to be the most deadly form of the disease. Pausch was diagnosed with it in August 2007. Although doctors predicted Pausch had about six month to live, he made it five months past that deadline.
Pausch’s final lecture shall serve as his true obituary:


Read the chapter left out of Pausch’s book.

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