Categotry Archives: Extraordinary People


Maudie Hopkins

No comments yet

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.


Sandy Allen


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.


Randy Pausch


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.


Dianne Odell


Categories: Extraordinary People

Dianne Odell never let her poor health get in the way of a fulfilling life.
Born in Jackson, Tenn., Odell was only 3 years old when doctors diagnosed her with “bulbo-spinal” polio. At the time, no vaccine was available, and the medical profession believed her only chance of survival would involve being confined to an iron lung, a 7-foot-long metal tube that forced air in and out of her lungs. While most polio patients switched from iron lungs to ventilators, Odell was unable to to do so because of a spinal deformity.
So for 58 years, Odell lived inside a 750 lb. machine, breathing in and out with the assistance of technology. Her life was spent on her back, with only her head exposed. She made eye contact with visitors using an angled mirror and operated the television by breathing into a blow tube.
But Odell didn’t just exist in that cylindrical chamber. With the help of her family and home health care aides, she graduated with honors from Jackson High School. Odell then took several courses in psychology at Freed Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. Although she didn’t graduate, the college awarded her an honorary degree in 1987.
Later in life, Odell became politically active. She volunteered for local campaigns, and even made phone calls to voters, urging them to support several state senators. Using a voice-activated computer program, Odell also penned “Blinky,” a children’s book about a wishing star, and began writing her autobiography. For her “Sassy 60th birthday,” Odell was transported inside the iron lung to The Southern Hotel in Jackson, Tenn., where hundreds of guests honored her with a 9-foot birthday cake.
Life in an iron lung costs about $60,000/year, yet her mother, Geneva, and father, Freeman, refused to institutionalize her. Keeping Odell at home, however, was a financial hardship for the aging couple. To help the family, the West Tennessee Healthcare Foundation and the Campbell Street Church of Christ established the Dianne Odell Fund. In 2001, more than 1,000 people, including former Vice President Al Gore and actor David Keith, attended a gala to raise money for her care. James Keach, producer and director of “Walk the Line,” and his wife, actress Jane Seymour, befriended Odell as well, and helped raise money for her medical expenses.
Odell died on May 28 after a thunderstorm knocked out the power to her home and shut down the iron lung. When the family’s emergency generator did not start, her father manually pumped the machine. Weakened by small strokes she suffered in previous months, Odell was unable to keep breathing, and resuscitation efforts failed to revive her. She was 61.


Vicki Van Meter


Categories: Extraordinary People

Victoria Louise Van Meter, a record-setting young pilot, committed suicide on March 15. She was 26.

Born in Meadville, Pa., Van Meter discovered a passion for flying following a visit to the local airport in 1992. After taking several flying lessons, she made national headlines a year later for piloting a plane across the United States with only her flight instructor on board. The sixth grader, who encountered strong headwinds and turbulence on the five-day flight from Augusta, Maine to San Diego, Calif., set a record as the youngest girl to cross the nation.

She was just 11 years old.

In 1994, Van Meter took the controls of a single-engine Cessna 172 and flew from Augusta, Maine to Glasgow, Scotland. The trans-Altantic flight allowed the pre-teen to set yet another aviation record. Congress banned record-setting attempts by unlicensed pilots, however, after 7-year-old Jessica Dubroff, her father Lloyd Dubroff, 57, and her flight instructor Joe Reid, 52, were killed in a Wyoming crash.

Van Meter’s high-flying achievements took her to Washington D.C., where she received a guided tour of the White House by Vice President Al Gore. In 2003, she was featured in “Women and Flight – Portraits of Contemporary Women Pilots,” a book by Carolyn Russo and a traveling exhibit highlighting 47 female pilots that’s now at the Smithsonian Institution. Van Meter also co-authored “Taking Flight,” a children’s book about her flying exploits.

Although she planned to become an astronaut when she grew up, Van Meter stopped flying after her trip to Europe. As an adult, she earned a criminal justice degree from Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, and spent two years in the Peace Corps, serving in Moldova. Van Meter later worked as a surveillance investigator. In her spare time, she cared for her two dogs and cat and enjoyed sky diving.

According to the coroner, Van Meter died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. She suffered from depression and opposed taking medication.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 24 25