All posts filed under: Rest in Peace

Remembrances of people – some famous, some family – who touched my life

Wonder

Imagine living 99 years inspired by a sense of wonder. Entering into the world as children, we began with the curiosity and amazement found at the heart of a wonder-filled life. Yet along our journeys, most step out of this sense of wonderment and instead become cautious, cynical, hardened, haughty or any number of other traits designed to protect our egos and allow us to function—or so we believe—in the adult world. In taking that step, we too often lose a generous, more imaginative perspective. Wonder came into my consciousness last week while I was in Charlottesville for the memorial service of a long-time friend, Anne Worrell. I met Anne soon after moving to Virginia in the early 1980s, and over the years I came to know her primarily as a historic preservationist, businesswoman, newspaper publisher, philanthropist, and convener extraordinaire. With her husband Gene she founded their first newspaper, the Virginia Tennessean, in Bristol, and together they grew the company to be one of the largest chains of small dailies in the country. Anne, who …

Toni Morrison, R.I.P.

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author and arguably our First Lady of Letters, passed away last evening, August 5th, at the age of 88. She left this earth as a new book of essays, The Source of Self-Regard, along with a recently released documentary entitled Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, introduced long-time fans and new readers alike to her towering intellect and broad vision. These works could not have come along at a better time. Now that she has died, we will have to rely on the power of Morrison’s words; the clarity of her vision for social justice; the love of art, music, and literature that permeates the meditations in The Source of Self-Regard and the interviews in The Pieces I Am more than ever. At the end of “Peril,” the very first offering in The Source of Self-Regard, Morrison makes the bold statement that, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” And through 350 pages of speeches, essays, and meditations, she shows why. There are 43 pieces in The Source of Self-Regard, …

Remembering D-Day

Seventy-five years ago today, almost 160,000 troops from the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States — including smaller contingents from Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland — invaded Nazi-occupied Europe on the beaches of Normandy.  Over the next three months of fighting, 209,000 Allied troops would die before the Nazis were pushed back across the Seine. June 6, 1944 — D-Day — should never be forgotten. It was a time when the countries of the world came together to combat bigotry, racism, and hatred.  Many men and women made the ultimate sacrifice in that fight. To be in Britain for the 75th anniversary is a reminder of our better natures.  We began to see the remembrances of the anniversary as we stepped off the bus in the small Cotswald village of Chipping Campden last week.  There, in the center of this beautiful High Street, was a small World War I memorial covered with poppies, the now almost-universal symbol of remembrance for those killed in war. This week, …

I.M. Pei, Rest in Peace

Eight days before the revered architect I.M. Pei passed away at 102 years of age, I had the opportunity to visit one of his last—and more remote—commissions:  the Miho Museum in Japan. Standing amidst the Shiga mountains in a protected nature preserve, Pei’s Miho Museum, which opened in 1997, fits in well with the other modern yet very accessible works of this master who left an indelible mark on the world before his passing on May 16th of this year. Pulitzer Prize-winning architectural historian and author Paul Goldberger wrote a lovely obituary for Pei in the New York Times, capturing  the architect’s expansive work and spirit.  When thinking of Pei, my mind naturally turns to the beautiful East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a museum I’ve visited many times.  One feature that always brings a smile to my face wasn’t exactly designed by Pei.  Etched into the stone is a listing of all those who made the East Building possible—politicians, National Gallery leadership, architects, and more.  At one point the beautiful …

Self-Sacrifice

When watching the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars last month, I learned that the French actress Stéphane Audran, who played the title role in the Danish film Babette’s Feast, passed away in 2018.  Babette’s Feast—and Audran’s performance as the chef who moves from Paris to the desolate, western coast of Jutland in 19th century Denmark—are among my all-time favorites.  (Babette’s Feast also ranks as Pope Francis’ favorite movie, but I’ll bet he hasn’t watched Bull Durham.*) Here is a short synopsis (spoiler alert:  you will find out all the basics, but none of the real nuance that makes this such a wonderful film): The movie begins in a small Protestant village that has been led for many years by a very rigid pastor. The beliefs of the congregation are extremely Puritan, making the village a drab, grey place where there is hardly any joy. After the pastor has died, his two elderly daughters are forced into leading the older, dwindling congregation. They had hoped to marry when they were young and beautiful, but their …

Remembering Dr. William J. Murtagh: Keeper of the Register, Preservation Pioneer

(NOTE:  My appreciation of the life and legacy of William J. Murtagh was first published on the Preservation Forum Blog on November 2, 2018.) Bill Murtagh, who passed away on October 28 at age 95, was among the most visible and effective preservation leaders in the middle of the 20th century, when the movement was expanding its focus from historic sites, museums, and teaching to the emphasis on people and community that we recognize today. To those of us who came to preservation in the 1970s and ’80s, Bill was seemingly in the middle of everything. He served two stints at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, first as President Richard Howland’s assistant in 1958, later returning for several years as vice president for Preservation Services. He was a member of the committee that outlined the principles at the core of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. He was a key figure in the establishment and growth of preservation education programs from Columbia University to the University of Hawai‘i. His “Keeping Time: The History and …

Extraordinary People Hidden in Plain Sight

Last week was difficult.  The horrific shooting on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh shook many of us to the core. Coming at the end of a week of attempts at mass political assassinations, it called into question assumptions about our nation’s values. As a historian I know that anti-Semitism and bigotry are as old as our country, in fact as old as recorded history. Thankfully, stories of courageous response to bigotry are just as old, yet often not as well known. The Overlooked Obituary project of the New York Times is designed to recognize extraordinary people overlooked by the editors of the paper in their day. People like Rose Zar, the remarkable mother of my National Trust colleague Howard Zar. Rose Zar’s overlooked obituary appeared in the Times on the anniversary of her death in the Jewish lunar calendar.  That happened to fall during this past week, bringing a story of hope and determination amidst a flood of bad news. When she was 19 and living in the ghetto in Piotrkow, …