Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Patti Abbott, on her excellent blog, recently had a discussion that, in part, included the subject of obituaries.  I myself read them not because I'm fascinated with death, but because I'm fascinated with lives.

     This is also the time of year for lists of  notables who have died during the year.  (The two main conversions these lists bring up : "I forgot he died this year,"  [that's almost everyone on the list, for me]  and, "Gee, I thought he died years ago"  [I'm looking at you, Mitch Miller.])

     The Washington Post Magazine did not do a list this past Sunday.  Instead, they ran eight two-page appreciations of people in the area who passed away in 2010.  The article was titled "People You'd Have Enjoyed Knowing And Whose Lives Made a Mark".  These are the ones they picked:

  • Lt. Brendan Looney, 1981-2010.  A graduate of the Naval Academy, Looney was training to be a Navy SEAL when his best friend and Academy roommate was killed by a sniper.  In his friend's honor, Looney finished his SEAL training and was voted Honor Man of his class.  Looney died three months ago in a helicopter crash.  His young widow, Amy, wanted Looney to be buried next to his friend at Arlington National Cemetery.  His friend, however, had been buried near the family home in Pennsylvania.  Arrangements were made and Looney's best friend, Travis Manion, was reinterred in Arlington, where they now lay side by side, "brothers forever".
  • Ronald Walters, 1938-2010.  A civil rights leader who once dared to sit at a Woolrich lunch counter in 1958 Wichita, and wondered why a one's dignity had to be questioned because of a simple lunch.  Walters organized over three dozen students for a sit-in at the lunch counter at Dockum drugstore.  (Dockum was chosen over Woolworth's because it sat at a main intersection.)  It took only four weeks for the sit-in to have an effect.  Some two years later, Woolworth's lunch counter became integrated.  Walters went on to a distinquished career in academia and becoming a go-to guy on questions of race and politics.
  • Michelle Arene, 1952-2010.  Arene worked for the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador during the bloody, murderous years in that country thirty-some years ago.  Many of her co-workers were killed and she herself was tortured in 1983.  The documentation she had compiled of the atrocities in El Salvador helped support the truth of more than 30,000 civilians deaths in 1980 and 1981.  Arene and her son came to Washington in 1989.  In later years, she would help young Salvadorans cope with their families' tragedies and would tell her story to sixth-graders at St. Anselm's boys school.
  • Jay Youngquist, 1947-2010.  Youngquist loved baseball.  A starting pitcher for the top-ranked UMinnesota team, his chance at the majors was derailed by an injury.  His curveball was amazing.  His love of baseball followed him through his life.  After retiring from a management job, Youngquist enrolled in a tough five-week course to become a professional umpire; as an umpire, he worked his way from Little League to high school to college games.  A private pilot, he would spend $700 for fuel to get to a game that paid $125.  This past April, after logging more that 2000 hours without incident as a pilot, something misfunctioned and Youngquist was killed in the crash.
  • Natasha Pettigrew, 1980-2010.  Pettigrew welcomed challenges.  The child of a single, black mother, she left law school to run for the U.S. Senate.  She walked into the office of the Maryland Green Party and asked for their support.  "Her values lined up with theirs:  social justice, environmental issues, feminism and grass-roots democracy."  The office she was running for was held by Barbara Mikulski, a popular and effective senator with many of the same values, but Pettigrew wanted to provide an option to incumbancy.   Before the election, however, while Pettigrew was bicycling, she was hit and killed by a car.  With Pettigrew's death, her mother stepped into the election in her place and garnered over 1 percent of the vote.
  • Donald Woodruff, 1946-2010.  A 1964 head-on collision with another drunk driver ended Woodruff's partying days and left him paralyzed from the neck down.  As part of his rehabilitation he received a paint by number kit.  He was able to make slight left-to-right and up-and-down motions with his right arm.  Painting and drawing became a passion for him.  From 1974 to 1984, he worked as an insurance adjuster, while selling his work locally.  He fathered a daughter, got married, and continued his art.  He spent the last six years painting a mural on a fence while also doing commission work.  He died before finishing the last scene on the fence, and with him he took a secret.  He never told anyone about the scenes on this mural until they were completed, thus the final scene will remain a mystery.
  • Joan Shih Carducci, 1933-2010.  She started her own cooking school at age 41.  She published a cookbook at age 67.  It was a long time coming.  She was cut off by her family because she married a non-Asian, non-doctor from Rochester, New York.  After she had children, she reached out once again to her parents, and they finally responded.  Wanting to be able to cook and prepare feasts for her family, she enrolled in a cooking school in Taiwan.  She returned to the D.C. area to begin teaching adult education courses.  She later put herself through MIT, paying the tuition with her cooking school earnings.  Her family grown, she went to work for the National Institutes of Health, retiring to return to teaching cooking.  Her daughter said that Carducci was "indomitable".  She was that, and determined.
  • Manute Bol, 1962-2010.  Bol, probably the best-known of the eight persons the Post profiled, was one of the best blockers in professional basketball.  His 7' 7" frame made it near impossible for an opponent to throw a ball past him.  The rest of his basketball game was mediocre, but his blocking was superb.  He was the only professional basketball player to block more points than he scored.  After his retirement in 1994, Bol devoted himself to improving conditions in his native Sudan.  He raised money (and spent much of his own) to feed refugees and to build schools.  He died after contracting a skin disease while visiting Sudan.

     In addition to publishing these reminences, the magazine's advertising department published a four-page In Memorium, many of which included pictures.  Some of the ones that struck me were Cynthia Webster Fitts, aged 39, looking strong and confident in a police officer's uniform, and Anna Marie Price, 94, beaming with her lavender church hat, and Theodore B. Johnson, 78, who -- from the expression in his picture -- is looking down from Heaven to make sure you are toeing the straight and narrow.  And there's Col. George Juskalian, 96, who served in World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, and had two Silver Star Medals, The Legion of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals, the Air Medal, the POW Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Infantryman's Badge with star, and the Parachutists Badge.  The pictures in this section show so many smiling faces, serious faces, pensive faces...and all of them special and loved.

     All of these are people I would have enjoyed knowing -- people I wish I had known.  I honor their lives, every one of them.

     Your assignment for today:  Read the obituary page and pick one person you would like to have known, and think how much better you life might have been if you had known him or her.


  1. My longest-term friend's life comes close to paralleling Carducci's, and I wonder what killed Pettigrew so young...the loss of a real Greeen is always mourned by me.

  2. She was run down by a Cadillac, Todd; the driver evidently didn't realize he had hit anyone until he got home. As far as I know, the case is still under investigation.

  3. It's indicative of how things are going today that my eye skipped over that phrase in the obit. Also, my computer hates your blog's comment configuration.