2014 has begun. Its twelve fresh months ahead present us with so many possibilities, tempting us away from backwards glancing. History was not made by living in yesterday, we say. But a respectful pause is indeed necessary. Remembrance must be given to the notable few who departed from this world in 2013 – those whom history itself will never forget, being as they were part of its own 20th Century.
Never to be forgotten is Nelson Mandela, that great soldier against apartheid. Madiba, as many called him, passed away December 5th, aged 95. Imprisoned nearly three decades, winner of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, President of South Africa from 1994-1999, and a statesman whose morality of forgiveness and truth won him a global following – Mandela was a man, as President Zuma commented, in whom was seen “what we seek in ourselves”. In 2002, Mandela himself said, “I can rest only for a moment; with freedom comes responsibilities […] I dare not linger, for my long walk has not yet ended”. May he rest peacefully now.
From progressive liberty (and the death of controversial politicians Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez) to the bounds of sea and sky: US astronaut and aquanautical explorer Scott Carpenter, member of the Mercury space mission, died in October, aged 88. More terrestrial losses came in December with pioneering sports broadcaster, David Coleman’s passing, aged 87, and the world’s greatest tightrope walker, Henri Réchatin’s death at 81.
From physical feats to those of mind: poet Seamus Heaney departed August 30th, aged 74. Winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature, Heaney’s death was called a loss of part of Ireland’s soul by Liam Neeson. Techno-thriller writer Tom Clancy died October 1st, aged 66, and pre-feminist author Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, died a month later, aged 94.
From written to spoken word: actor Richard Briers shuffled off his mortal coil last February, aged 79, and “The Sopranos”’ James Gandolfini followed in June, aged only 51. Peter O’Toole departed December 14th, aged 81. Blue-eyed “Laurence of Arabia”, O’Toole was renowned for hard-living. Commenting on his lifestyle, he said, “I need to feed on [trouble] in order to inform myself about [characters]” – a particular method acting. Actress Joan Fontaine died two days later, aged 96, another Hollywood star extinguished.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks”. So on to great British composer John Tavener, who died November 12th, aged 69. Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar, followed a month later, aged 81. English soprano, Rae Woodland, a favourite of Benjamin Britten, died the same month, aged 91. And rock’n’roll singer-songwriter Lou Reed died October 27th, aged 71.
To note all who passed away would take a book’s worth of space. This selection is merely a subjective cherry-picking of names and insufficient summaries. But may it prompt readers’ own reflections, recognizing how tomorrow cannot but be informed by these lost greats of yesterday; fleeting footprints in the sand, washed away by the tides of time.