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Gene Allen

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Categories: Politics

Eugene Allen, a former White House butler who worked for eight presidents, died on March 31 of renal failure. He was 90.

Allen was born on July 14, 1919, in Scottsville, Va. His childhood occurred during a time when the state was strictly segregated. Blacks were forced to ride in the back of buses and attended poorly funded “colored” schools. They were not permitted to use public bathrooms or enter retail establishments that were reserved for white patrons. Interracial marriage was illegal and anyone with a trace of non-white blood was required by law to pay a poll tax in order to vote.

Like many blacks, Allen became a service employee, working as a waiter at whites-only resorts and country clubs. In 1952, he landed a job at the White House as a “pantry man.” The position paid him $2,400 a year to wash dishes, stock cabinets and shine silverware, but it also allowed him to witness many historical events of the 20th century.

For 34 years, Allen catered to the needs of Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, James Carter, Ronald Reagan and their families. He never missed a day of work, and always performed his duties diligently and discreetly.

As a member of the White House domestic staff, Allen met civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and numerous entertainers, including Sammy Davis Jr. and Elvis Presley. Eisenhower gave him a painting. Nixon took Allen on a trip to Romania aboard Air Force One. Ford celebrated his shared birthday with Allen, and First Lady Nancy Reagan invited him and his wife Helene to attend a state dinner for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After Kennedy was assassinated, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy asked Allen to attend the funeral, but he volunteered to stay at the White House to help with the meal after the service. She later gave him one of the late president’s ties.

By the time he left 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 1986, Allen had been promoted to the position of maître d’hôtel, which is the most prestigious position among White House butlers. And on Jan. 20, 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn in as the nation’s first African-American president, Allen attended the inauguration as a VIP.

“I never would have believed it,” Allen told The Washington Post. “In the 1940s and 1950s, there were so many things in America you just couldn’t do. You wouldn’t even dream that you could dream of a moment like this.”

Although Allen often received offers to write a tell-all book or give speeches about his interactions with American leaders, he always declined. However, a Hollywood picture about his life is currently in the works. Laura Ziskin, the film’s producer, said the movie would act “as a portrait of an extraordinary African-American man who has lived to see the world turn.”

Allen and Helene were married for 65 years; she died the night before the 2008 election. He is survived by his son, Charles, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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He Pingping

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Categories: Extraordinary People

He Pingping, the world’s shortest man, made a big impression on everyone who crossed his path.
Born in Huade County in Wulanchabu, China, He was afflicted with a form of primordial dwarfism. People with this very rare condition are born at extremely low birth weights and generally grow into a smaller but proportional body size. Their bones are very thin and they face numerous health risks, including scoliosis, heart issues and aneurysm. Few primordial dwarfs live past the age of 30.
He stopped growing when he turned 18, after reaching a height of 2 feet, 5.37 inches. In 2008, the Guinness World Records officially named him as the shortest man in the world. Over the next two years, He traveled to the U.S., Japan, Britain and Italy to take part in photo shoots and TV shows, and appeared in the documentary, “The World’s Smallest Man and Me.”
Privately, He enjoyed watching TV, listening to music, smoking and spending time with cats. His home included several features adapted to someone of diminutive size, including lowered doorknobs and a special chair that allowed him to eat from a table. When he wasn’t on the road, He helped out at his sister’s cafe in Inner Mongolia.
“From the moment I laid on eyes on him I knew he was someone special — he had such a cheeky smile and mischievous personality, you couldn’t help but be charmed by him,” Craig Glenday, editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, said. “He brightened up the lives of everyone he met, and was an inspiration to anyone considered different or unusual.”
He died on March 13 of a heart condition at the age of 21. Khagendra Thapa Magar, who is 22 inches tall, is likely to claim the record for world’s smallest man later this year.

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Donald Goerke

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Categories: Business

Donald Edward Goerke, the “Daddy-O of SpaghettiOs,” died on Jan. 10 of heart failure. He was 83.
Born in Waukesha, Wis., Goerke served in the Army Air Force during World War II, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Carroll College and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin. He started his career in marketing as a researcher for the Blatz Brewery before landing a marketing analyst job at the Campbell Soup Company.
During his 35-year career with Campbell’s, Goerke introduced more than 100 products, including Chunky Soup, a hearty ready-to-serve soup that “eats like a meal.” This product was a radical departure from the company’s traditional line of condensed soups, which require the addition of either milk or water.
But Goerke was best known for inventing SpaghettiOs, a reheatable pasta covered in a sweet tomato and cheese sauce. In the early 1960s, he and his team began brainstorming ways to make canned pasta more appealing to children. After considering various shapes, including stars and rocketships, Goerke decided to keep it simple and sell pasta that looked like a tiny “O.”
The product was an instant hit with American families when it launched in 1965 with the catchy commercial jingle, “Uh-oh, SpaghettiOs.” Parents and children both liked the fact that the food was “spoonable,” easy to make and fun to eat. Today, more than 150 million cans of SpaghettiOs are sold each year. SpaghettiOs now come in five variations (original, pasta with meatballs, pasta fortified with extra calcium, RavioliOs and pasta with sliced franks) and two other shapes (A to Zs and fun shapes).
Although he left the company in 1990, Goerke came out of retirement five years later to help promote the 30th anniversary of SpaghettiOs on “The Today Show” and “What’s My Line?”
Goerke was described by friends and family as kind, even-tempered, outgoing and loyal. He was active in community affairs and served as the former president of the Merchantville, N.J., school board. The husband, father, grandfather and avid golf player was also an active member of the Riverton Country Club in Cinnaminson, N.J.

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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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