Thursday, September 03, 2009

Five Non-Kennedys Who Died in August

Death may be the great equalizer, but not in the world of mass media. It always puzzles me (and often dismays me) to see which deaths get noticed and which don't, and end-of-the-year obituary roundups invariably include a few that that make me say, "I didn't know so-and-so had died!"

So here are five notable people who left us in August, whose passings deserve more attention:

1. Kenneth Bacon, August 15, of melanoma. Journalist, spokesman, philanthropist. Ken spent almost 30 years as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, which is how I met him; he covered banking during the shift to nationwide branching. One of the kindest men I ever met in Washington, he took pity on a baby flak (me) and invited me to lunch one day early in my career. It was typical behavior, I learned; I was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of young people in Washington with reason to thank Ken Bacon for helping us feel as if we belonged. He went on to become the spokesman for the Defense Department and later to run Refugees International, which will hold a memorial service for him on September 9. I knew him only in a professional capacity, but admired him more than I can say, and feel a personal loss at his passing.

2. Dominick Dunne, August 26, of bladder cancer. My guess is that Dominick Dunne would have been amused that Ted Kennedy's death left his own virtually unreported; for the second half of his life, at least, Dunne was always the man with the notebook rather than the man being reported on. Anyone who doubts the possibility of second acts need only look at Dominick Dunne's hard-won redemption, at the way he reinvented his life at the age of 54.

3. Rose Friedman, August 18, of heart failure. The widow of Milton Friedman, she was a brilliant economist in her own right, and co-wrote the two essential texts Free to Choose and The Tyranny of the Status Quo. Free to Choose was the bible of Reaganomics, for better or worse. I read it in a high school economics class, and seeing the name "Rose Friedman" made me wonder whether economics might be a suitable career for me, too. (I later came to my senses, or at least discovered that you can't be an economist without basic mathematical abilities.) She and Milton Friedman were married for 68 years, and liked each other so well at the end of their lives that they co-wrote a memoir called Two Lucky People. A life to envy.

4. Elmer Kelton, August 22, of natural causes. I am tired of hearing crime fiction and romance authors talk about how their genres get ghettoized; if you're talking about an under-respected genre, Exhibit A is the Western. In 1995, the Western Writers of America voted Elmer Kelton the greatest Western writer of all time, for a body of work that included more than 60 books (most written after working hours, because he worked full-time as a reporter). I'm embarrassed to admit that I've only read one -- The Day the Cowboys Quit -- and now need to go back to read more. It shouldn't have taken his death to bring him to my attention.

5. Sheila Lukins, August 30, of brain cancer. If Julia Child taught my mother's generation to cook, Sheila Lukins taught me. The Silver Palate Cookbook is one I still use all the time; if you've ever been to one of my dinner parties (and sadly, it's been years since I gave one), you've eaten a recipe Sheila Lukins created. Lukins was the culinary force behind the Silver Palate phenomenon, and made good, simple, homemade food accessible to a generation of career-obsessed young women. I might even make her bruschetta recipe this weekend.

Feel free to add more names to this list in the comments section.


Anna said...

I didn't know about four out of the five! As you know, I'm a huge fan of Dunne and I admired his tenacity, kindness and dedication when it came to supporting families of victims and the need to see justice done. All that PLUS he always knew the great gossip that I wanted to know! Was surprised about Sheila Lukins - I have all of her books and really liked her style.

Jack said...

Since when did YOU lack "basic mathematical abilities"?!

AnswerGirl said...

Hey, I flunked Mihalic's Algebra I and had to repeat it in summer school.

Jack said...

Well, considering he wore a jock strap and see-through white pants, it's a wonder anyone could pass. You either had to go through class keeping your eyes closed or your lunch down.