I was saddened to wake up the morning of July 4 and learn that Richard Mellon Scaife, Pittsburgh billionaire, conservative philanthropist extraordinaire, and spearhead of Hillary Clinton’s ominous “vast right-wing conspiracy,” died at age 82. How appropriate that this patriot bid goodbye on July 4. It’s fitting, too, that his death comes within a year of the deaths of his two principal lieutenants at his foundation, Dan McMichael and Dick Larry. Together, these three men established numerous conservative programs, institutions, and even individuals. They made a huge impact.
The death of the leader of a family clan marks the ending of an era. The big family clan –– held together by forceful personalities and connected across states and theologies and basketball rivalries and socioeconomic divides –– is rare anymore, but it is so important. One of the earliest condolences we received after the death of my husband’s older brother, J.B. Crouse, said, “A great tree has fallen.” I can think of no better description of how we feel as we mourn the loss of a great leader who is also –– first and foremost to us –– our dearly loved brother.
The shade of that big tree fell on all of us; that tree — a focal point in our whole extended family –– covered our lives and interactions with his personality, presence, and prayers.
Cliff Richard had a rough week. On Wednesday, Morrissey cancelled his American tour in which Sir Cliff had secured the opening slot. A day earlier, Rik Mayall, who had played a Cliff Richard-loving student activist in The Young Ones—its title and theme song paying ironic homage to the British pop-star—died of a heart attack at 56 after a morning jog.
The uninitiated get a sense of Mayall’s humor by reading his autobiography, or at least the title: Bigger than Hitler, Better than Christ. The funnyman, in a coma for five days after a 1998 four-wheeling accident on Holy Thursday, often invoked the similarities between his and Christ’s resurrection for comedic effect—just as he crossed taboos to use the German anti-Christ to elicit laughs.
Children of the ’80s knew Rik Mayall best as “Rick,” a pain-in-the-ass, high-strung, left-wing poseur in The Young Ones, which MTV picked up after its 12-episode BBC2 run.
When I learned that former major league pitcher Bob Welch had suddenly passed away of an apparent heart attack at the age of 57 the first person I thought of was our editor Wlady Pleszczynski.
Just over two years ago, I wrote an obituary for Bob Welch, the former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, after he took his own life. After I submitted it, I received an e-mail from Wlady. A lifelong Dodger fan, when he first saw the title of my e-mail he thought I was referring to the man who struck out Reggie Jackson to end Game 2 of the 1978 World Series. I assured Wlady that I wasn’t. Sadly, two years later, I can no longer make those assurances.
Editor’s Note: Joseph Shattan, who died on Saturday, was a great friend to this magazine, writing for it since 1979. He also served his country as key speechwriter for everyone from Jeane Kirkpatrick at the UN, Elliott Abrams at the State Department, and Vice Presidents Quayle and Cheney, among others, including President George W. Bush. The kindest and most decent of men, he will be eternally missed.
Joe Shattan and I used to meet from time to time, chat, talk, finish each other’s sentences. It was like that; most lately, when he was at the Heritage Foundation, we usually met downstairs, went out to get a snack or two, went back into the building where he worked and took our snacks up to the roof and sat on deck chairs, ate, talked, drank coffee. A couple of aging Jewish guys eating and talking and enjoying each other’s thought, jokes, references. He had a lot of those; you learned a lot talking to Joe.
Maya Angelou, an author more revered than read, passed away at 86 on Wednesday. She is survived by her seven autobiographies.
In addition to Angelou playing Boswell to Angelou’s Johnson, Angelou acted, wrote poetry, danced, and sang. Was she an actress, poet, dancer, or singer? People liked her politics, and, out of ideological solidarity, reflexively praised her talents in multitudinous endeavors. At her most irresponsible, she embraced Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, and Bill Clinton—a mistake for a lady of any age.
“I’m not modest,” Angelou explained last year to the AP. “I have no modesty.” She got to know herself, apparently, after getting to know poetry and politics and songs and stage. She usurped her parents’ privilege by renaming herself after finding “Marguerite Johnson” not quite arresting enough. In this spirit, she insisted that others call her “Dr. Angelou” though she never obtained a college degree.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker was internationally renowned within the economics profession, but was not nearly as well known among the general public as he deserved to be. More important, his path-breaking ideas, including his analysis of the economics of racial discrimination, deserved to be much more a part of the many discussions of that subject.
More than half a century after Professor Becker’s landmark work on the economics of discrimination, most controversies on that subject, both in the media and in politics, go on in utter ignorance of his penetrating insights. So do laws and policies that make discrimination worse.
As someone who has written about racial discrimination within the framework of analysis that Becker created, I am especially indebted to him, and wish only that more people were aware of that framework, which could spare us much rhetoric and offer some useful understanding instead.
At a time when there are so many occasions to lament that Milton Friedman is no longer with us, when his knowledge and wisdom are needed more than ever, now we must also lament that the same is true of Gary Becker.
Black journalist Chuck Stone was one of those people whose passing makes us think, “We shall not see his like again.”
He was passionately interested in racial issues but he was never a race hustler. He followed nobody’s party line but called the issues as he saw them.
Chuck Stone was a three-dimensional man, not like the cardboard cutouts with standard-issue liberal talking points that we see too often in the media today.
He was with the liberals on many issues, but he did not hesitate to advocate the death penalty, and he said: “We have got to stop apologizing for the self-destructive little savages in our communities.” He called the defense of such people “committing genocide against ourselves.”
Journalism was just one of his careers. At various times and places, Stone was a navigator for the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, and later an official of CARE, distributing food to the hungry in India. With a Master’s degree from the University of Chicago, he sometimes taught at colleges.
Newsweek called Chuck Stone “an unpredictable political pundit and modern-day Renaissance man.”
Jeremiah Denton was the greatest American I ever personally knew. When the former admiral, prisoner of war, and U.S. senator died on Friday at 89, America lost not just a profoundly brave man but a profoundly good one.
Most readers know the basics of his story as a POW: shot down and badly wounded; tortured mercilessly; leader within the prison camp in keeping up discipline and morale among his mistreated fellow POWs; ordered by his captors to testify on camera against his own nation, but instead defended America while using his eyes to blink the word t-o-r-t-u-r-e in Morse code; eloquent in word and gesture when finally released after seven-and-a-half years in captivity.
If you haven’t already, please do read his memoir of that experience, When Hell Was in Session. It will make you weep — and it also will make you rejoice at the human capacity for endurance, faith, and especially redemption.
An American hero—a real hero, by old standards, before the word “hero” became overused—was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 17. Those who celebrated the life of Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert James Eitel paid homage to the best of what this nation produces.