Learn from our losses in the new year

We were reminded during the second half of this year of the importance of public service, and had the opportunity to look back at a time when governing represented the art of compromise, a period when opinions were valued and decisions were reached only after thought and deliberation.

Sadly, those lessons came through the deaths of two of the political greats of our time, one — George H.W. Bush — a former president, and the other — John McCain — a senator for more than 30 years who fell short in his attempts to become president.

Both believed they had a duty to serve — both were naval aviators, Bush in World War II and McCain in Vietnam — and both were willing to face certain risks. Both were shot down, and while Bush was rescued at sea, McCain was captured and held as a prisoner of war, enduring torture and refusing to be released early, spending instead five-and-a-half years in captivity.

Their deaths in 2018 were among those of the men and women who have helped to shape our culture, a list that includes Bush’s wife Barbara, who died in April.

We lost other heroes as well, including astronauts John Young and Alan Bean. Both were among the handful of those who have walked on the moon.

While many entertainers left us during the past year, Aretha Franklin certainly stands out. The life of the Queen of Soul was remembered during a funeral in August in her hometown of Detroit that included top entertainers from around the world and former presidents. The Motown sound lost another voice with February’s death of Dennis Edwards, a former member of the iconic group the Temptations.

The Rev. Billy Graham, who became the most widely heard Christian evangelist in the world, left us, as did Linda Brown, who was at the center of the hallmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended racial segregation in schools.

Our region lost a couple of all-time greats in Bruno Sammartino, the Pittsburgh resident who transformed professional wrestling, and Marty Allen, also a Pittsburgher, whose bug eyes and wild hair styles made him a popular star of game shows, talk shows and variety shows.

Also leaving us in 2018 were Mort Walker, who created “Beeetle Bailey”; Harry Anderson, who played an off-the-wall judge in “Night Court”; Adrian Cronauer, whose antics as a radio commentator inspired the film “Good Morning, Vietnam”; Burt Reynolds, who starred in “Deliverance” and “Smokey and the Bandit”; author Tom Wolfe, who made white suits a fashion statement; playwright Neil Simon; comic book icon Stan Lee; country music legend Roy Clark; actress Nanette Fabray; and Penny Marshall, who brought to life the legendary character of Laverne DeFazio on “Laverne and Shirley” and became a top director and producer.

We also lost the man who taught us about the mysteries of space, time and black holes — Stephen Hawking, the man who co-founded Microsoft — Paul G. Allen and the man who created “SpongeBob SquarePants” — Stephen Hillenburg.

From the world of sports, the play-by-play call of “Whoa, Nelly!” was silenced with the death of the legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson.

While all of those celebrity deaths had an impact on us, it’s important to remember that we’ve all been touched by personal losses in the ranks of family and friends. Those are the ones to keep in mind going forward, for they are the people who shaped our lives here.

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