2016 belongs to the ages now, for better or for worse. (And, mostly, it’s worse.)
It was a year of political turmoil, international intrigue, far too much violence, and epidemic disease. Along with the hearty share of the wretched, the year 2016 also saw the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since 1908, Bob Dylan get a Nobel Prize, and plenty of records set at the Summer Olympics in Rio. Also the movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was released to a global gross of $873 million, so at least you know we’re doing alright on a cultural level.
As inevitably happens with each passing year, so too do many fine men pass away. While the year 2016 saw its share of luminaries from song and screen fade away (including David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, and Alan Rickman), a team’s worth of sports celebrities hang up their proverbial cleats (Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer come to mind), and its share of notable politicians exit the world stage (Fidel Castro, Shimon Peres, and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to name a few), 2016 deaths also included a host of remarkable men who didn’t get the same spotlight as those most famed celebrities, sports stars, or statesmen. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t great men, dammit.
Here, then, is our humble tribute to a few fine gentlemen who left us in 2016 but deserve to be remembered far, far beyond.
Dr. Henry Heimlich passed away in December of 2017, having used the eponymous life-saving technique he had developed in the 1970s twice during his own life. The first time was reportedly as a man choked in a restaurant when Dr. Heimlich was 80 years old. The second time took place in May of 2016, when Heimlich saved a choking woman who was a co-resident of his retirement community. He was 96 years old and still ready to roll. During his long career, this gentleman also developed several life-saving medical devices, such as the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve. You don’t ever want to be on the receiving end of the technique or technology this guy developed, but if you ever have to be, you’ll be glad he was around.
While Dr. Heimlich’s work has affected millions of people on a personal level, the late Dr. Donald Henderson‘s oeuvre had global implications. This brilliant and dedicated man is credited as the main force behind the eradication of the horrific disease smallpox. Smallpox killed hundreds of millions of people in the 20th Century alone, and ended the lives of untold multitudes in all the centuries prior. Leading a campaign that involved inoculation, education, research, data collection and interpretation, and an unfailing dedication to the cause, Henderson helped rid the world of a pestilence that dated back thousands of years.
Before reading the works of Elie Wiesel, countless young men and women had but a vague notion of what the Holocaust truly was, what it was truly like to live through, and to live with after World War II ended. As much as any human could ever have hope to achieve, Weisel brought this darkest chapter of human history to life in his trilogy of books known collectively as The Night Trilogy (they are Night, Dawn, and Day, respectively). Wiesel would go on to serve as a professor of humanities and to champion victims of oppression and injustice in regions ranging from Sudan to South Africa to Central America.
Also lost to us was the quintessential American author Pat Conroy, whose seminal works included The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, and celebrated author and semiotician Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose.
John Glenn first blasted into space when he was 41 years old. (He was the first American to orbit the earth, FYI.) He last flew in space when he was 77 years old. (That’s another record, in case you were wondering.) When not hurtling through space, Glenn served as a pilot during WWII and in the Korean War. He briefly served as a business executive and he was a United States Senator serving from the mid 1970s through the end of the 20th Century. Also, he was married for more than seventy years, only leaving his wife, Annie, in death.
Twelve human beings have walked on the surface of the moon. Seven of them are still alive (the youngest are 81). One died last year. In 2016, astronaut Edgar Mitchell headed off for his last flight, as it were, departing life after a storied career with NASA and a rather strange last few decades of life. He was convinced earth had been visited by extraterrestrials many times and that a shadowy cabal was concealing this truth from the public. Mitchell credited aliens with preventing the Cold War from devolving into a shooting war, among other wild claims. He died 45 years less one day after his Apollo 14 mission blasted off for the moon.