I’m Mary Tillotson.
And I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Program, People in America. Today we tell about six important Americans who died during the past year.
Remembering the many famous and important Americans who died during the year is difficult because there are so many worth discussing. There is not enough time to remember everyone. However, we will tell about several Americans whose involvement in society was important and valuable.
We begin with the person likely to be missed most by young Americans. Millie Benson wrote books for young people. The main character in each of her books is a sixteen-year-old girl named Nancy Drew who solved mysteries. These books were extremely popular for many years. They gave teenage girls the idea that they could do anything that boys could do. This was especially important at a time when women were struggling for equality with men.
Millie Benson began writing the "Nancy Drew" books in nineteen-thirty. She wrote twenty-three of the first twenty-five stories in the series under a false name, Carolyn Keene. This was because Mizz Benson signed an agreement with her publisher promising never to make public her identity. For more than fifty years, she was never officially recognized for writing the books.
This changed in nineteen-eighty during a court case against the publisher. Mizz Benson was permitted to tell the world she was the true writer of the Nancy Drew series. The Nancy Drew mysteries have sold more than two-hundred-million books in seventeen languages.
Millie Benson was also one of the first female newspaper reporters. She wrote for newspapers for more than sixty years. She was also a pilot and an adventurer. She made many trips to the jungles of Mexico and Central America to study archeology. Millie Benson was ninety-six years old when she died.
Stephen Jay Gould was an important American scientist. He worked as an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mister Gould studied fossils, the ancient remains of animals that lived during earlier periods in history. This permitted him to better understand how different animal groups, or species, developed over time.
Mister Gould was a strong supporter of the evolutionary theory developed by Charles Darwin in the eighteen-hundreds. Mister Darwin argued that fossils could prove that plants and animals developed slowly over time from their earlier ancestors. Mister Gould supported this theory. However, he and another scientist, Niles Eldredge, believed that evolution was not a slow, peaceful process. In nineteen-seventy-two, the two men developed a new theory called “punctuated equilibrium.” They argued that evolution of species happened during short, fast bursts of change during longer periods of no change.
During his more than thirty years at Harvard University, Mister Gould wrote more than twenty popular books. He also wrote three-hundred monthly commentaries published in the magazine Natural History. Many Americans will remember him because he tried to make science popular and easy to understand. Stephen Jay Gould died at the age of sixty.
The next American we remember is Justin Dart, a longtime activist for the rights of disabled people. Such people are unable to see, hear or walk because of accident or disease. Many use special chairs with wheels to move around. Diseases like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy or polio can leave people disabled. In fact, Justin Dart lost the use of his legs when he became infected with polio at age eighteen. He used a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Mister Dart worked for more than fifty years to establish government policies to guarantee civil rights and health care for disabled people. He was considered one of the fathers of the Americans with Disabilities Act which became law in nineteen-ninety. This historic civil rights law has improved the treatment of disabled people across the country. It requires that all public buildings, transportation and other services be built or modernized so that disabled people can use them.
Justin Dart received a great honor when President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in nineteen-ninety-eight. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States. Justin Dart died at the age of seventy-one.
The next American was perhaps the greatest hitter in the history of professional baseball. From his early days in school, Ted Williams wanted to be a baseball player. He started playing in the American minor leagues in nineteen-thirty-seven. Three years later, he began playing for the Boston Red Sox in the major leagues. He played for nineteen years with the Red Sox.
During his time as a baseball player, Ted Williams had one of the highest batting averages in baseball history. A batting average is based on the number of hits a player gets divided by the number of times he comes up to bat. Ted Williams is best remembered for his season batting average of four-hundred-six in nineteen-forty-one. No other professional baseball player has reached this goal.
Ted Williams had to interrupt his baseball playing two times when he was called to serve as a Marine fighter pilot during World War Two and the Korean War. Ted Williams retired from baseball in nineteen-sixty. He then went on to supervise the Washington Senators baseball team for three years.
He also managed the team the first year it moved to Texas and became the Texas Rangers. President Bush is a former part owner of the Texas Rangers. When Ted Williams died in July, Mister Bush said “America has lost a baseball star who will be greatly missed.” Ted Williams was eighty-three years old.
Theresa Bernstein was an artist. When she died this year she was believed to be about one-hundred-eleven years old. Mizz Bernstein gained recognition in the early nineteen-hundreds as one of the first women to paint in the Realist style. These artists painted realistic pictures of the lives of the common people. They were members of what was called the Ash Can School of realistic painting.
Theresa Bernstein painted people and places in New York City. She was both praised and criticized for “painting like a man.” Some experts said she saw the city from a woman’s point of view and painted activities in women’s lives. For example, her paintings showed women at the New York Public Library, traveling to work on public transportation and making clothing in factories. Other experts said she was just a great painter.
Theresa Bernstein continued to paint for more than eighty years. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of many major museums. In recent years, her paintings sold for as much as one-hundred-thousand dollars.
The last American we remember this year is musician and songwriter Ray Conniff. Mister Conniff got his start in music during the big band period of the nineteen-thirties and forties. He moved to New York City as a young man and worked with such famous musicians as Artie Shaw and Harry James.
In nineteen-sixty-six, Mister Conniff won a Grammy award for his recording of the song “Somewhere My Love.” This was also known as “Lara’s Theme” in the popular film “Doctor Zhivago.”
Mister Conniff was one of the first songwriters to mix wordless singing with musical instruments. He often combined female voices with trumpets or clarinets and male voices with trombones or saxophones.
Ray Conniff worked in the music business for more than sixty years. During that time, he recorded more than one-hundred albums. He produced more than twenty-five albums that were on the record industry’s “Top Forty” albums list. He sold more than seventy-million records around the world. Ray Conniff was eighty-five years old when he died. We leave you now with his most popular song, “Somewhere My Love.”
This Special English Program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Paul Thompson. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another People in America Program on the VOICE OF AMERICA.