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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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Peter Moore

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Categories: Actors, Media

pmoore.jpgPeter Moore, London’s official town crier for 31 years, died on December 20. Cause of death was not released. He was 70.
Town criers have a long history of serving the English citizenry with vocal proclamations. The first known broadcast occurred in 1066, when town criers shared news about the Battle of Hastings. Since literacy rates amongst the majority of the populace was low well into the late 19th century, town criers served as “talking newspapers” for the public, announcing the king’s edicts, advertising market days and generally spreading the news of the realm.
Although Moore was raised in central England, he ran away to London as a young man with dreams of becoming an actor. Bit parts came his way, including the role of the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry in the original stage production of the musical “Oliver!” in 1960, but steady acting work eluded him until 1978 when he was asked to serve as a town crier for an event. He took the job and found his niche.
Moore was a familiar sight on the streets of London, where he promoted the city’s attractions to tourists and residents alike. Clad in red and gold robes, white breeches, black boots and a feathered tricorn hat, he was easily recognizable in any crowd. Those who were too busy or distracted to see Moore certainly heard him for he would heartily begin every announcement with a boisterous “Oyez, Oyez” (roughly translated as “hark” or “listen”) and a ring of his bell, which was cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the company that made Big Ben and the Liberty Bell.
Among his many titles, Moore was town crier to the mayor of London, the Greater London Authority, the city of Westminster and the London borough of Merton. He was also a freeman and liveryman of the city of London, deputy macebearer and town crier for the London borough of Southwark and tipstaff and town crier to the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames.
Moore’s motto was: “Have Bell, Will Travel,” and he took it to heart. In his role as the official town crier of London, Moore appeared at hundreds of public events, charity balls, openings and ceremonies in the United Kingdom and in countries all over the world. Friends described him as “larger than life,” “a workaholic” and a “people person,” attributes that served him well as the most recognized town crier in England. When asked about his proudest moment on the job, Moore said it was when he announced the 1982 birth of Prince William of Wales outside the gates of Buckingham Palace.
Although his later years were spent in poor health, Moore had no interest in retiring. He performed his last official engagement on Dec. 19 at a Christmas reception given by the mayor of Southwark. Moore was due to receive a lifetime achievement award during the New Year’s Day Parade in London, which he lead every year since 1987. With Moore gone, parade organizers decided to posthumously honor him with the award.
–Photo by Tony Clarke.

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A Look Back

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Categories: Misc.

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 2009, these 20 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:
* Bea Arthur, a veteran actress and comedian who starred in the TV shows “Maude” and “The Golden Girls”
* Norman Borlaug, an agronomist who won the Nobel Peace Prize for making advances in plant breeding that helped feed millions of people in Latin America and Asia
* Walter Cronkite, a veteran journalist and former CBS anchor who covered such historic events as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, the assassination of JFK and the first man on the moon
* Dom Deluise, an actor, comedian and cookbook author who co-starred in the films “Blazing Saddles” and “Cannonball Run”
* Dominick Dunne, a bestselling author and special correspondent for Vanity Fair who covered the trials of O. J. Simpson, the Menendez brothers, Michael Skakel, William Kennedy Smith and Phil Spector
* Farrah Fawcett, an award-winning actress and pinup beauty who starred in the TV show “Charlie’s Angels”
* Don Hewitt, a veteran journalist and producer who created the “60 Minutes” news program
* John Hughes, a producer, writer and director whose 1980s films (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink”) defined a generation
* Michael Jackson, a singer and dancer — known as the ‘King of Pop’ — who sold more than half a billion albums
* Edward M. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat who served as senator of Massachusetts for 46 years
* Billy Mays, a late-night TV pitchman who promoted Orange Glo and OxiClean and starred in his own reality TV show
* Ed McMahon, a legendary TV personality best known for his work on the “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” and “Star Search”
* Ricardo Montalban, a Mexican-born actor who starred in the TV show “Fantasy Island” and in the film “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”
* Les Paul, a musician and songwriter who pioneered the development of the solid-body electric guitar
* Natasha Richardson, a Tony Award-winning actress and wife to actor Liam Neeson
* Soupy Sales, a veteran comedian who perfected the pie-throwing routine
* Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics and sister of President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy
* Patrick Swayze, an actor and classically trained dancer who was best known for his work in the films “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost”
* George Tiller, one of only a few doctors in America who performed late-term abortions
* Andrew Wyeth, an artist whose paintings provided some of the most popular images of 20th century America
I also lost two unique people this year: my grandmother Terri Carlton and my high school sweetheart Chris Pine. May they rest in peace.

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Chanel

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Categories: Misc.

chanel.jpgChanel, a dachshund mix who held the official record as the world’s oldest dog, died on Aug. 28. Cause of death was not released. She was 21, or about 147 in dog years.
Born May 6, 1988, Chanel was only 6 weeks old when Denice Shaughnessy adopted her from a shelter in Newport News, Va. Although the puppy was meant to be a companion for her daughter LaToya, Chanel immediately took to Denice. Over the next two decades, the pair were nearly constant companions.
Life wasn’t always easy for the family. Their house once burned down, though everyone survived. Financial difficulties required Denice and LaToya to sell their only form of transportation and live on macaroni and cheese — which they shared with Chanel. Long-distance moves from Germany to upstate New York to California would have taxed any animal, but Chanel never left their side. And when Denice married Karl Shaughnessy, the entire family settled on Long Island.
In her youth, Chanel was a bit of a rascal. She’d steal sticks of butter right off the kitchen counter and hide them inside the living room sofa. She also enjoyed eating chocolate, which is usually considered toxic to dogs, and once devoured an entire bag of peanut butter cups. But she kept her girlish figure by exercising daily, often walking several miles with Denice.
In her later years, Chanel’s blond hair whitened. She developed cataracts, and wore tinted goggles (called doggles) to protect her eyes. She also chilled easily, and donned T-shirts in the summer and woolly sweaters in the winter to stay warm.
On her last birthday, officials from Guinness World Records certified Chanel as the world’s oldest dog during a private birthday bash at the New York Dog Spa and Hotel in Manhattan. To celebrate her longevity, Chanel ate a peanut butter cake specially prepared for dogs, and made an appearance on the “Today” show.

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John Keel

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Categories: Writers/Editors

John Alva Keel, a prominent Fortean author who shed light on the Mothman sightings, died on July 3 of congestive heart failure. He was 79.

Born Alva John Kiehle and raised in Hornell, N.Y., he developed an early interest in magic and mysterious phenomena, and was only 12 years old when he published his first story in a magician’s magazine. In his teens, Keel changed the spelling of his surname and the order of his initials, and hitchhiked to New York City to become a professional writer. Over the next decade, he created comic book scripts, edited Poets of America magazine, worked as a freelance writer and produced several radio programs, yet a passion for stories about the unusual, strange and unexplained soon became his professional focus.

During the Korean War, Keel was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Frankfurt where he worked on the staff of the American Forces’ Network. After leaving the service, however, he traveled through Europe, Asia and the Middle East seeking out the truth behind outlandish tales of myth and legend. Investigating these controversial topics was not the most lucrative career move, but Keel supported his efforts by writing ad libs for Merv Griffin and contributing scripts to shows like “Get Smart” and “Lost in Space.”

Keel published numerous books on the supernatural over the course of his four-decade career, including “Our Haunted Planet,” “UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse,” “The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings” and “Strange Creatures from Time and Space.” But his biggest claim to fame was the 1975 book, “The Mothman Prophecies,” which was turned into a major motion picture starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney in 2002. The book chronicled Keel’s 1966-1967 investigation into reported sightings of a strange creature in Point Pleasant, W.Va.

Known as the Mothman, the creature was described as being 7 feet tall with grey skin, red glowing eyes and large wings. Its origins were unknown, but theories abounded. Some believed the Mothman was a mutant spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Others theorized that it was either an extraterrestrial or the result of an Indian curse. Eyewitnesses claimed it screeched like a rat, ate farmers’ dogs, destroyed area fields, caused cars to stall and interfered with TVs, radios and telephones.

Although the creature was known for scaring people — particularly couples sitting in parked cars — Keel wrote that the Mothman may have tried to telepathically warn people that the Silver Bridge was going to collapse into the Ohio River. It did so in 1967, killing 46 people.

Keel’s coverage of the Mothman phenomenon turned Point Pleasant into a tourist attraction, and sparked the launch of the annual Mothman Festival. A Mothman Museum, containing props from the movie, eyewitness accounts of Mothman encounters and other curiosities, also opened on Main Street. Keel last visited Point Pleasant in 2003 when a stainless steel statue of the Mothman was unveiled.

Keel’s final years were often spent in an self-imposed isolation. He did few interviews, distanced himself from family and friends and struggled with both health and financial issues.

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