Sunday, January 15, 2012

All-star obituaries

I meant to write this yesterday but got caught up in the drama of building a mini-greenhouse that I got for Christmas.  There has been much cursing, my friends, and I am sad to report that after two days I still have more to go (hampered by a key piece being somewhat chewed, Harper). I shall report when it is complete.

At any rate, some obits from this week that rate your attention:

Let's start with espionage, shall we?  Loved the obituary for Russian agent Gevork Vartanyan who helped foil a plot to assassinate President Roosevelt during WWII. The story is a bit long to include here, but if you want to know more about the skulduggery behind the Tehran Conference of 1943, I suggest you give this obit a read.

Can you imagine doing work that would save at least 800,000 lives--and counting?  Mary Ellen Avery discovered that premature babies' lungs lack a foamy coating that enables people to breathe.  From that one insight, the survival rate of premies changed. "When Dr. Avery started her work, as many as 15,000 babies a year died from [respiratory distress] syndrome. By 2002, fewer than 1,000 did." Amazing! (Along with being "the first woman to be appointed physician in chief at Children’s Hospital; the first woman to head a clinical department at Harvard Medical School; the first woman to be chosen president of the Society for Pediatric Research; and the first pediatrician to lead the American Association for the Advancement of Science.")

Major Kipper-Ridge saved about 200 lives, which may seem minimal by comparison, but then he was not quite 15.  And a dog.  Which certainly rates an obit in the Telegraph. He held the record for number of mines detected in Somalia, but he also worked in Lebanon and Kenya.  Pretty impressive for a black lab from Wigan.

Finally, I loved the obituary for Lady Rosalind Runcie, widow of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and a wonderful character in her own right, it sounds like.
Her sense of humour was always irreverent. In the 1970s, when Runcie was Bishop of St Albans and the homosexual Labour MP Tom Driberg was employed by Private Eye as a compiler of obscene crosswords, it was noted that on one occasion the prize was won by a Mrs Rosalind Runcie of St Albans.
I wish I could have known her.

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