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Who we lost

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Dec. 30th, 2007 | 09:51 pm
mood: tiredThis took me 3 hours to write.
music: Beirut "A Sunday Smile"

Another 2007 wrap-up entry.

I haven't ever done one of these, but I was inspired to write a bit about notable people that died this year by the Los Angeles Times' insanely long list. I found myself most drawn to the women, for some reason; the same is true of my list of all-time heroes (which I keep track of on Myspace, one of the only redeeming features that site has). I was also particularly interested in the people noted for their careers in corporate settings, in part because I've spent much of the year trying to figure out what the hell I'm going to do with my life, and perhaps also because the many people in the entertainment industry and in politics just aren't too likely to be the public figures I care about most. Finally, I was interested in the stories of some of the very wealthy people and what they did with their wealth, due to my interest in working in philanthropy (which I guess I've never actually mentioned here, but hey, give me a ring if your local foundation is hiring program assistants :D).

In general, the deaths that most struck me were the biggest (and I felt very differently about all of them): Kurt Vonnegut. Jerry Falwell. Boris Yeltsin. Benazir Bhutto just a few days ago.

But I just was a little more interested and paused a bit longer to think about the lives of these people:

Brooke Astor

There was no more prominent American philanthropist, and I believe the setting of NYC has as much to do with that as her surname and the wealth that came with it. I'm still a wild-eyed kid when I visit New York, even though my adulthood is quick to point out that it's also a brutal and very lonely city in many ways, and Brooke Astor has supported much of it. Outside of this, I followed her family's battle over her care and her estate in the last couple of years, partially because it seems so unbelievable how public it became, and partially due to personal experience. My family has faced sadly similar situations, and I strongly suspect that we will again in the future. Had he seen what his children did in the name of his will, my grandfather would have cursed them new ears; I similarly feel that Mrs. Astor would have been appalled at even a bit of what was reported. In any case, it wasn't just the New York Public Library (though I love it, having visited the research library--yes, the one with the lions--and a branch, and I love the scope of it, 90 locations and more opening, intended
for everyone) but the support of schools and parks and New Yorkers that made her mark for me.

Liz Claiborne

No, I won't ever wear a Liz Claiborne suit (and not because it's primarily a women's line but because I'm one generation too late to witness the height of her work), but I think she ran a helluva business. Upon Estee Lauder's death in 2006, I learned all about the company that that woman built, and this was a similar story in some ways. I recall the website that Liz Claiborne, Inc. set up when she died where people could write messages about her; I don't think it's still up (can't find it anyway; I'd be grateful for a URL if anyone has it), but it was filled with thousands and thousands of notes from women who loved (and depended on) her designs. I kind of love what The Economist said about her: " ... she grasped exactly what American women needed as the aproned housewife of the 1950s morphed into the professional of the 1970s. Good tailoring, classic styling, quality material, mix-and-match colours, a dash of panache: just the tops and trousers and skirts, set off with a Claiborne scarf and a Claiborne leather tote, in which to stride down Fifth Avenue or into the halls of power." She and her husband also started a foundation with pet projects including work in the American West.

Alan Pottasch

No huge tears shed here, but advertising is an industry that constantly catches my attention, and he was a big deal in it. Another life that probably had more impact on my (much) older brothers and cousins than on me, but I still know what The Pepsi Generation is, and now I know who started it. Building a campaign to take on the ubiquitous Coca-Cola (says Jonathan as his stuffed polar bear from the Coke store watches him ominously) is no easy feat, but his was attention grabbing and notably long lasting. Pottasch was exactly what you call the organization man; he worked at Pepsi for almost all of his career, retiring after almost 40 years! But as far as big faceless corporations go, I can't help but think this one is sort of cool (first Indian-American woman Fortune 100 CEO is at PepsiCo, yes? I'm forming a theme here), and that was his mission.

Nina Wang

I'm not sure what kind of leader she was in one of the biggest real estate holding companies in Hong Kong, but I find her story irresistible. Having married a childhood friend that became the billionaire head of a Chinese company (what they actually did is sort of murky) and disappeared decades later, I wouldn't have expected the heir to such a huge amount of money and power to be as quirky and offbeat as she. I think twice now about my expectations when I realize that this was the richest woman in Asia. Like Mrs. Astor, I was saddened to read the very public legal mess that was the final years of her life; I don't know if she deserved the (somewhat questionable) fortune, but I've got to feel for a woman who built this in her husband's honor; the taller tower is named Teddy Tower!

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Comments {2}

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from: anonymous
date: Feb. 13th, 2008 06:06 am (UTC)

Hey, I stumbled upon your blog, quite interesting. I'm Pottasch's daughter, and when searching for some info I was surprised to see a blog pop up. When those articles were put in the papers, I wondered if many people actually read them (my dad was famous in the advertising world, but that's really it). Thanks for your words, I'll keep checking out your blog


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from: silverthief2
date: Feb. 13th, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)


Thanks for your comment! Hope you enjoy the rest of the blog.


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