Nelson Mandela dead at 95

Nelson Mandela, the revered South African anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in prison, led his country to democracy and became its first black president, died Thursday at home. He was 95.

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Latin American author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982, died Thursday. He was 87. Garcia Marquez, the master of a style known as magic realism, was and remains Latin America’s best-known writer.

His novels were filled with miraculous and enchanting events and characters; love and madness; wars, politics, dreams and death. And everything he had written, Garcia Marquez once said, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old.

Chilean novelist Ariel Dorfman says Marquez’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech was one of the author’s most important messages to the world.

“Garcia Marquez is speaking about all the people who are marginal to history, who have not had a voice,” Dorfman says. “He gives a voice to all those who died. He gives a voice to all those who are not born yet. He gives a voice to Latin America.”

Read our full appreciation here.

Image via See Colombia

Obit of the Day: The World’s Oldest Person

Besse Cooper was born on August 26, 1896, the same year as F. Scott Fitzgerald. President Grover Cleveland was finishing his second term in the White House. The Wright Brothers were making bicycles, not airplanes. Women would not vote for 24 more years.

When Mrs. Cooper passed away on December 4, 2012, she was the oldest person in the world, at 116 years and 100 days, according to Guinness World Records. She had held the title since January 2011 when she was more than 114 years old. (In May of that year Maria Gomes Valentim of Brazil was discovered to be older, and for 45 days Mrs. Cooper was second. When Mrs. Valentim died, Mrs. Cooper regained the title.)

Growing up in Tennessee - in a log cabin - she attended what is now East Tennessee State University and was certified as a teacher. She moved to Georgia after graduation to find a job. (She did and earned $35 per month.) In 1924, she married Luther Cooper. He passed away in 1963. She never remarried.

The Coopers had four children who are all still living: Angeline (1929), Luther, Jr. (1932), Sidney (1935), and Nancy (1944). At the time of her death she also had 12 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

Mrs. Cooper, who joined the women’s suffrage movement years before the passage of the 19th Amendment, voted in every election beginning in 1920, except for two. (She and her husband did not vote for Gov. Thomas Dewey in 1948 because they assumed that he would easily defeat President Truman. She did not vote in 2012 either.)

Asked last year by Guinness for her secret of long life she replied, “I mind my own business, and I don’t eat junk food.”

Note: Upon the death of Mrs. Cooper, Dina Manfredini of Des Moines, Iowa, became the oldest person in the world. She is 115 years old and will turn 116 in April 2013.

Sources: The Walton Tribune, CNN, Huffington Post, and Wikipedia

(Image of Mrs. Besse Cooper from February 2011, just after she was named the oldest person in the world is copyright Dan Goldman/AP and courtesy of The NY Daily News.)

Some other supercentenarians featured on Obit of the Day:

The Oldest Man in the United States

The World’s Oldest Pediatrician

The World’s Oldest Leap Year “Baby”

The World’s Oldest Sitting Judge

The Last Veteran of World War I

The Last Combat Veteran of World War I

More Obit of the Day: Facebook, Twitter, Google+

Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I’d like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he’d like? —Carol
Dear Carol: Nevermind what he’d like, give him a tie.

Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 ½-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 ½-pound baby be this premature? —Wanting to Know
Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it. 

Here, 13 of Dear Abby’s best zingers.

Obit of the Day: “The Only Woman in the Room”

Beate (pronounced “bay-AH-tay”) Sirota Gordon was trying to find her parents. That was her goal. And while successful, Mrs. Gordon had a far greater influence on women’s rights in Japan, while helping to write its post-World War II constitution - at age of 22.

Mrs. Gordon was born in Vienna and moved to Japan when her father, noted pianist Leo Sirota, was invited to teach at the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo. Moving there when she was five, Mrs. Gordon would stay in Japan for over a decade before leaving for Mills College in California when she was just sixteen.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, contact with Japan became impossible and Mrs. Gordon had no idea whether he parents were safe. While she continued to worry, Mrs. Gordon volunteered for the war effort. Fluent in Japanese, she was assigned to the United States War Information Office in San Francisco to listen in on Japanese radio communications. (Mills College allowed her to skip classes and simply take exams.)

In May 1945, Mrs. Gordon became a U.S. citizen and also graduated from college. Her parents still unaccounted for, Mrs. Gordon flew to Washington, D.C. to volunteer as an interpreter. She was assigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s staff.

Setting foot in Japan for the first time in four years, Mrs. Gordon immediately set out to find her mother and father. They were being held in an internment camp and she was able to have them released and brought them back to Tokyo to nurse them back to health.

In February 1946, Mrs. Gordon and the rest of General MacArthur’s staff were ordered to write a new constitution for Japan. They had seven days.  Even with no experience in law or politics Mrs. Gordon was asked to handle the sections dealing with women’s rights.  Mrs. Gordon found herself wandering through the ruins of Tokyo looking for libraries with copies of constitutions from around the world.

When the constitution was finished she had written two articles:

Article 14

All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.


Article 24

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of the both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equalities of the sexes.

These two passages gave women an equality not seen in Japan’s history.

When the constitution was formally published in March 1946, Mrs. Gordon and the other Americans who wrote the document went unacknowledged. It was important for the new Japanese government that they be given the credit for the constitution. Later Mrs. Gordon felt that he age and gender would only fan flames as conservatives in Japan attacked aspects of the document.

She took her rightful place in Japanese history with the publication of her memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, in 1995. (It was published in the U.S. in 1997.) Mrs. Gordon detailed her involvement in the formation of the constitution and instead of outrage she was fêted and praised. The Japanese government awarded The Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1998 and she was the subject of a play and a documentary.

Beate Sirota Gordon passed away on December 30, 2012 at the age of 89. She was the last surviving member of the American group who wrote the constitution.

Sources: New York Times, Japan Times, and The Gift from Beate

(Image of Mrs. Gordon’s War Department identification is courtesy of

Christopher Lee had become a walking folk memory of popular cinema: an actor of muscular intelligence and grace with a staggering career, who pulled off the difficult trick of surpassing his great early role without ever needing to be embarrassed by it.

Back in the 1960s, when teenage girls in America and England fantasized about romance with their favorite Beatle, Cynthia Powell Lennon held the position so many girls dreamed of — she was married to John.

The two shared a working-class background. They met in art school in 1957 and were married in 1962, just weeks before The Beatles recorded “Love Me Do.” But as The Beatles became a sensation, Cynthia had to pretend like she wasn’t married to John.

“If … the main man in the group, John, was found to be married, then it might take away from that particular success,” Cynthia told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 1985. “So I walked around pregnant for quite a long time, hiding it. I’d wear very big, blousy clothes. In fact, I was asked many times if I was John’s wife and I had to refuse and say, ‘No, no. I’m somebody else.’”

Cynthia Lennon died Wednesday of cancer. She was 75.

Obit of the Day (Historical): Mr. Rogers (2003)

February 27, 2013 marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of a children’s television icon: Fred Rogers. Better known to generations of children and parents as Mr. Rogers, his PBS show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was on the air for thirty-four seasons.

Mr. Rogers, who graduated from Rollins College (FL)*, had plans to become a minister but instead found himself in television in New York. In 1954 he returned home to Pennsylvania and began working on children’s programming. His first show was titled The Children’s Corner where he not only hosted but developed his puppets including “Daniel” and “King Friday XIII.”

After hosting several shows for kids including the Canadian show, Misterogers, he returned to Pittsburgh (WQED) and on February 19, 1968 the first half-hour episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood premiered. The show would end, after 486 episodes, on August 31, 2001. Over that time Mr. Rogers would talk to “Trolley,” lead viewers on visits to “The Land of Make-Believe,” welcome various visitors to his home including “Mr. McFeely”^ (“Speedy delivery!”) and Chef Crockett, all while teaching important lessons on myriad topics including fear, real versus make believe, and the arts.

Mr. Rogers, who opened every show singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” while changing into his zippered sweater and sneakers, would consider his show as a ministry for children. (He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1964.)

Fun note: Many of his sweaters were knitted by his mother. One hangs in the Smithsonian Institution.

He would earn four daytime Emmys over his career. In 1997 he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. President George W. Bush awarded Mr. Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. On November 5, 2009 the city of Pittsburgh honored him, unveiling a statue of Mr. Rogers which is officially called “A Tribute to Children.” He was 74 years old when he died.

Sources: NY Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (also check out their full coverage from 2003),, and Wikipedia

(Image of Mr. Rogers and “Trolley” is courtesy of

* Mr. Rogers attended Dartmouth College for one year and then transferred to Rollins.

^ Mr. Rogers’ middle name was McFeely.

Here are Obit of the Day’s posts on other childhood icons:

Dr. Seuss

Captain Kangaroo

Maurice Sendak

And an added bonus: PBS Digital Studios’ fantastic “Remix”