Fontella Bass 1940 to last Wednesday
So imagine that your life is falling apart – you’re cold ‘cause your furnace broke down, lonely ‘cause your phone’s been cut off, and homebound cause your car got repo’ed. Then, like a bolt from the blue, you hear your own voice on the radio pitching American Express cards. And you look back on your life and realize how proud you are of your #1 single, Rescue Me, and how nobody’s paying you royalties for that ad. You take your pride and the $50,000 dollars you won in your copyright infringement lawsuit and return to recording and performing and even net yourself a Grammy nod. If that were you, you’d be Fontella Bass and would leave behind the many motion pictures that feature Rescue Me–including that sweet scene in Sister Act where Whoopi has to do all those chores while in her new black habit.
Beate Sirota Gordon 1923 to Sunday
Beate rescued her starving parents from an internment camp in post-war Japan. Also, she fixed women’s rights in the Japanese constitution. Here’s the story: Beate was born to Russian Jewish parents in 1923 Vienna. Her papa, a renowned concert pianist, was invited to teach in Japan. He brought the whole family. Beate left the Land of the Rising Sun for college in America in 1939 and–with the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor–was cut off from her parents. After graduating college in 1945, Beate found that–as a civilian–she had an ice-cube’s chance in hell of getting to Japan. So, eager to search for her six-year-lost parents, she enlisted in the army and ended up as a translator on General MacArthur’s transitional-government staff. An expert in Japanese from her 11 childhood years in Tokyo, she found herself the only woman on the committee entrusted with drafting the post-war Constitution. At 22 years of age, she drafted “language that gave women a set of legal rights pertaining to marriage, divorce, property and inheritance.” And she found her folks. She leaves behind these rights that still remain enshrined as a model for women’s rights around the globe.
(h/t Jason Welle)
John Sheardown 1924 to Sunday
Sheardown was the Canadian diplomat in Iran who sheltered six Americans who escaped from the besieged American embassy in 1980. To hide the six–whose discovery would likely cost their lives plus those of his wife and himself–he shopped for food at a half-dozen different markets and took his trash to work. He leaves behind the safety and gratitude of those six Americans and great odds for a Best Picture Oscar for Ben Affleck.
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. 1934 to last Thursday
You could say that Stormin’ Norman rescued Kuwait. You could also say he rescued confidence in the American military. Under his leadership, the first Gulf War was the anti-Vietnam: a six-week routing of an enemy that had occupied a weaker power, undertaken with broad international support, its battlefield supremacy broadcast live into the living rooms of Americans. In doing so, H. Norman rescued the presidency of Bush the Elder (at least for a while), rocketing his approval rating to 89 percent. Of course, sometimes spectacular rescues don’t fix the underlying problem: Saddam Hussein remained in power in Iraq and a powerful recession forced lip-defying new taxes. He leaves behind these lessons about quick fixes.