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10 important people that died in 2013 who will inspire you

So many resolutions to forget
So many resolutions to forget

Every year hundreds, if not thousands, of people participate in the decades old tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions and every year hundreds, if not thousands, of people will give up achieving those resolutions.

Efficient people may give up on their resolutions within the first week so they can get on with their lives without the added stress and there are those little cockeyed optimists that may actually hold out through the end of January before they throw in the towel.

As the saying goes out of sight out of mind and never does that appear to be more truer than a couple of days or weeks after New Years. You will always have people in distress over seeing these resolutions posted on their bathroom mirrors, their desks at the office or on the refrigerator. Finally the pressure will get to them when they just can’t take the guilt anymore of failing to stick to these resolutions. Some may throw the piece of paper into the trash, burn it in an ashtray or a fireplace or delete them on their computer, phone, etc.

Poofies. No more guilt and no more constant reminders about what you wanted to accomplish in 2013.

There will also be people who still hold out hope that these resolutions can be conquered and throw the paper in a drawer or make a file on their computer/phone only to change the year from 2013 to 2014 11 months from now. These may be the same resolutions that they’ve been making for over 15 years, but you still have to admire their determination no matter how fleeting it is.

So why do people give up on their New Year’s resolutions so easily?

Just like so many thought-provoking questions in life there really is no one answer, but there’s no harm in trying to nail one down is there?

A few people will tell you that they only did it out of tradition or habit which is the same thing. Others will tell you that they do it every year because of pressure from family, friends and colleagues. They would probably blame the invisible pink rabbit sitting in the corner if they thought that people would buy it.

You will have people say that they have busy lives due to work, family or educational responsibilities and that there just wasn’t enough times between that, trips to Starbucks, watching the Eagles game at the local bar, going to the gym or watching a weekend-long marathon of Sex in the City/The Walking Dead/Beevis and Butthead/House Hunters.

Even more people would like you to believe that these resolutions they made (and have probably made the same ones year after year) were just so dauntingly intimidating that they didn’t know where or when to start. Don’t bother reminding them that there was this thing that was invented called the internet that has answers to every question you have and some that you didn’t have.

There’s always a couple of people who will say that they tried to work on these resolutions daily and it became really difficult because they didn’t feel inspired despite posting quotes by famous people or doing daily affirmations.

Most people eventually learn in life that there’s only so much help you can give people. There’s not too much you can do with someone who’s a conformist who just follows the herd, people who can’t multi-task or believe they can when they can’t and who go through life making excuses, or people who get easily intimidated by deciding on what goals they wanted to achieve.

However, people who lacked the inspiration can be helped because everyone at one point or another during the course of their lives needs a little mental and emotional pick-me-up.

The great thing about resolutions that are made at the end of the year is that it’s a season of renewal and hope. It’s also a time of reflection so the inspiration is all around you even if that inspiration comes from an unlikely source.

Just like Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons and Jane Austin inspired people to get fit, Martha Stewart inspired people to beautify their home, Martin Luther King Jr. inspired people to be united; to believe that there could be a world of peace and forgiveness, and the women’s movement inspired people to make a stand for equality, there are some people who might even inspire you to at least maybe keep one of your resolutions.

There were 10 people who passed away in 2013 that could serve as great inspirations to people who either want to make changes in their lives or they want a whole make-over. It was through their actions and determination they showed the world that one person can really make a difference.

1. Gerda Lerner (1920-2013).
1. Gerda Lerner (1920-2013).

1. Gerda Lerner (1920-2013).

Gerda Lerner, who passed away on January 2, 2013, was a co-founder of the National Organization for Women and the former president of The Organization of American Historians .

As a young girl growing up in Vienna she witnessed Adolph Hitler’s ascend to power and joined the underground resistance towards the Nazi occupation. Eventually the Nazi’s caught up with Gerda and her family not only forcing them into exile, but also making Gerda spend six weeks in a prison.

After arriving in America through an arranged marriage that ended in divorce Gerda remarried. When Greta and her husband moved to New York she began her career as an activist, historian and an academic professor.

It was during this time that Gerda helped create women’s history as an accepted form of academic curriculum in colleges which still exists today. In 1963 Gerda joined activist friends Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray, and Aileen Hernandez to form The National Organization of Women.

While teaching at Long Island University she taught the first college course ever in women’s history. In 1972 Gerda founded the first graduate program in women’s history at Sarah Lawrence College and in 1980 she established the first Ph.D. program in women’s history at the University of Wisconsin.

Gerda further went on to assist women to reach their potential by publishing several books such as: Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972), The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) and Fireweed: A Political Autobiography (2003),

Besides the obvious why was Gerda Lerner an important person? As a woman she had been through tremendous obstacles and being a strong assertive woman during these years wasn’t easy, but still she not only succeeded she also became stronger than perhaps she thought was possible.

Gerda fought for gender and racial equality; she helped women realize their true calling and fought for many of the privileges that women experience today and don’t realize or truly understand that these so-called privileges were hard to get; that Gerda and others like her had to fight to get them.

2. Eugene Corbett Patterson (1923-2013).
2. Eugene Corbett Patterson (1923-2013).

2. Eugene Corbett Patterson (1923-2013).

Eugene Patterson was a reporter, editor, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a civil rights advocate. During his 40 plus years working in the newspaper field Patterson was greatly respected and known for his ethical standards such as fairness and integrity. He believed that people who worked in the field of journalism should be held to a higher standard.

During a time when many people in the journalism field tried to offer solutions to issues such as racism, war and poverty Patterson didn’t. Instead he wrote about feelings; the feelings of loss, betrayal and pain. He also condemned violence as well as miscarriages of justice. Something that’s missing from many of the reporters or news anchors of today.

Patterson’s most famous column was titled A Flower for the Graves and was about the bombing of the 16 Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four girls in 1963.

Throughout the years Eugene served as the Vice chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, was a managing editor of The Washington Post, the editor of The Saint Petersburg Times, The Evening Independent and The Congressional Quarterly.

So why was Eugene Patterson important? Because he just didn’t report the events he stood up and addressed issues that people didn’t want addressed. He believed that journalists had a responsibility to report the news regardless to how they felt about it; that they had a set of ethics they were supposed to follow and that the reporter’s job was to tell a story that was fair, balanced and a tool that was used to inform the public so they could make decisions that were the best for their lives based on information and not emotional rhetoric.

In an interview in 2008 with the Florida Trend Magazine shortly before his retirement Patterson explained his theory. “You had to address the issue of race relations because the civil rights marchers were in the streets, the sit-ins were going on, the riots, the fire hoses, the police dogs, the killings. This had to be addressed and not simply by reporting it, but by editors who would stand up and say what we had been doing was wrong, and we had to change.”

3. Andre Cassagnes (1926-2013).
3. Andre Cassagnes (1926-2013).

3. Andre Cassagnes (1926-2013).

If you are an adult who was born after 1960 you should be in mourning for Mr. Cassagnes right now.


It’s because Mr. Cassagnes invented the Etch-a-Sketch a toy which provided children of all ages with endless hours of fun in the pre-internet/pre-cable television world. It helped children and perhaps some grown-ups fine tune their creative side.

Andre was working as an electrical technician in France when he became enthused with metal particles and the tip of lead pencils this enthusiasm led him to invent the Etch-a-Sketch in 1950.

The concept of the toy seemed pretty easy or perhaps easy for an electrical technician.

It took Andre several years of making improvements to the toy and in 1959 it was introduced at the Nuremburg Toy Fair. Ohio Art purchased the rights to Etch-a-Sketch for $25,000 and it soon became the company’s leading product.

Mr. Cassagnes would go on to make kites and he would eventually become the leader of making competition kites in France.

Etch-a-Sketch soon became recognized on a larger scale when the toy was inducted in The Toy Hall of Fame in 1998 and the Toy Industry Association named the Etch-a-Sketch as one of the top 100 toys of this century. There have been over $100 million of them sold.

Mr. Cassagnes was an important person because of the invaluable toy he invented in 1950 that permitted children to create and design their own little pieces of art. He encouraged people to think outside of the box when using the toy. Just think of all the future artists, architects and designers that owe Andre for waking up their passion.

4. James Hood (1942-2013).
4. James Hood (1942-2013).

4. James Hood (1942-2013).

In 1963 21-year-old James Hood enrolled at the University of Alabama as an act of rebellion against the south’s policy of racial segregation. His act along with Vivian Malone, another student integrated, and desegregated the university.

On June 11, 1963 Hood and Malone, had a federal court order, which helped them enroll and pursue a degree in that state even with Governor George Wallace protesting against it.

Wallace blocked the entrance to the auditorium while capsulated by state troopers. The state attorney general with federal marshals ordered Wallace to honor the court order. Upon refusing the attorney general stated he would be back and the students would be registered at that time.

That afternoon Hood, Malone, the attorney general and several hundred National Guardsmen arrived back on campus. The commander of the guardsmen ordered Wallace to stand down which he eventually did.

It was on that day Hood and Malone became students without any further violence.

Unfortunately James Hood did not stay at the college for very long as he became depressed. The college attempted to expel him for writing a speech.. After receiving a dead black cat in the mail Hood had finally had enough and left the university in August of 1963.

The bad experience at the University of Alabama did not deter Hood for very long. He would eventually get both a master’s and bachelor’s degrees even becoming the Chief of Police in Detroit, but did go back to the University of Alabama to receive his doctorate.

While at the university Hood learned that Wallace had been shot as he was trying to secure the Democratic nomination for president and would be paralyzed. Hood would go visit Wallace and the ex-governor finally apologized to James, but James told him that he had forgiven Wallace a long time ago.

That was the true measure of an honorable and compassionate human being.
Hood once told a reporter that “The worst thing in the world is to hate. Hate can destroy you, and I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

So why is James Hood an important person? It was because he stood up to an establishment of hate and racism; that through this action President Kennedy created civil rights legislation that is still used today. Despite his experience at the University of Alabama it didn’t deter him from not only getting one college degree, but three of them.

James Hood believed in a principle and fought for that principle. It was the same principle that both Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers believed in; that they eventually died for.

James Hood should stand as a great example as to how to overcome adversity to people even today.

5. C. Everett Koop (1916-2013).
5. C. Everett Koop (1916-2013).

5. C. Everett Koop (1916-2013).

Anyone who lived in the United States between 1982 and 1989 was familiar with Dr. Koop who was the Surgeon General. He was all over the place; in the newspapers, on television and even on the radio.

In 1981 Newly-elected President Ronald Reagan appointed him first as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and later as the surgeon general.

During his time with the Reagan administration despite his religious and personal beliefs towards abortion he refused to announce that abortions were psychologically damaging to women in order for the Republicans to overturn Roe v. Wade. Koop said that abortion was a moral issue and not a health issue.

Dr. Koop was the first doctor to announce that smoking tobacco was as addictive as other drugs such as cocaine or even heroin. Because of this admission in his 1988 Report of the Surgeon General Congress passed legislation for health warning labels to be put on packs of cigarettes.

He was also the first doctor to talk about the side effects brought on by second hand smoke as well as challenging the United States to become a smoke-free society by 2000.

During his time with the Reagan administration the number of smokers went down from 38% to 27%.

It was through his time as the Surgeon General AIDS became a national concern, but Dr. Koop wasn’t allowed to address it to the masses due to political reasons. He finally was able to write the U.S. policy on the disease, but not until a couple years later.

What Koop did do was mail information on AIDS and HIV to every household in the nation. President Reagan was not a happy camper because he realized that now he had to address the epidemic.

As he had been with President Reagan he was also the same way with AIDS protesters and his suggestion that sex education be taught in schools as early as the third grade; he was unrepentant.

In 1982 a child who was born with Down syndrome was caught up in the red tape between the parents, doctors and the court. During this time the baby died and was officially identified as Baby Doe by both the media and medical communities.

Although Koop wasn’t involved with the case he did become interested in it as a former pediatric surgeon. What he did do was push Congress to enact a bill that would protect the rights of newborns and the Congress enacted the Baby Doe Amendment.

So why was Dr. C. Everett Koop so important? Because he stood up because of his ideals, but never let them get in the way of his job or the oath he took as a doctor; that he understood whatever announcement that was made would be made to help people decide for themselves what was good for their lives.

He never let other people tell him what to do that included politicians as well as protesters.

Koop, or Chick as he was known by his friends, used the media to get the messages across and became someone who was not only physically visual, but also someone people would recognize and eventually trust.

6. Leopold Engleitner (1905-2013).
6. Leopold Engleitner (1905-2013).

6. Leopold Engleitner (1905-2013).

To many people Leopold Engleitner wasn’t a name they would remember and probably someone they never heard of, but the 107 year old man contributed greatly to the world beyond his reach.

When Mr. Engleitner died in April of 2013 he was the oldest living survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.

Leopold was a Jehovah’s Witness and a conscientious objector who refused to serve in the Wehrmacht. In 1939, at the age of 34, he was sent to Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrueck concentration camps. When he was finally released in 1943 he had to agree to work as a slave laborer on a farm for the rest of his life in exchange for his freedom from the camps.

At the time of his release he weighed only 62 pounds.

When they tried to get him to serve the regime in 1945 he ran into the mountains to hide and as hard as the Nazis tried to find them they couldn’t.
After the war was over Engleitner was treated with disrespect and bigotry probably because he refused to do his duty by joining the German army.

He would go on to lead a quiet and unassuming life until Bernhard Rammerstorfer who was a movie producer and author wrote and produced an autobiography on Leopold’s life called "Unbroken Will" in 1999.

Despite all that he had endured;all that he had suffered and had been through Leopold would go on to be a popular speaker at schools, universities and at memorials in places like Germany, Austria, the United States and Italy. This tour went on from 1999 until 2012.

So why was Leopold Engleitner important and why is he considered to be an inspiration?

Because he believed so strongly in his religious and ethical beliefs that he was willing to endure anything; that he never once waivered or questioned those beliefs that he held so dearly. Leopold was a survivor in more ways than one and exemplified what it meant to go through hell in order to stand for something that you believe in with every ounce of your being.

Despite what he had gone through and how he was treated by people after the war Mr. Engleitner knew how important it was to travel to tell people his story of one of the most horrific times in world history. Leopold knew that he had a responsibility to make sure that those who had died in the concentration camps didn’t die in vain.

7. Jim Kelly (1946-2013).
7. Jim Kelly (1946-2013).

7. Jim Kelly (1946-2013).

On June 29, 2013 actor, martial arts expert and professional tennis player Jim Kelly died of cancer at the age of 67.

In the 1970s Kelly was recognized as a world champion of karate and won the World Middleweight Karate title at the 1971 Long Beach International Karate Championships.

While working as a martial arts instructor at a dojo that he owned actor Calvin Lockhart came in to learn karate for a movie called Melinda. Kelly would go on to play a martial arts instructor in that movie Melinda and would go on to other movies such as Black Belt Jones, Hot Potato, Black Samurai, Death Dimension, Tattoo Connection-One Down, Afro-Ninja, Two to Go as well as Three the Hard Way, but it was the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon that made him famous even though the role was brief.

He also played a role in 2002’s Undercover Brother with Eddie Griffin, but his scene ended up getting cut.

After the film offers started to dry up Kelly would go on to play tennis professionally on the USTA senior circuit.

Although his movie career dried up Kelly continued to appear at comic conventions and other events where his fans would show up in droves to see their hero.

So why was Jim Kelly important and an inspirations to those who came after him as well as those who followed in his footsteps decades later? It was because in true martial arts style he kicked down the door of an Asian’s only club; that of the martial arts movie genre.

He was the first martial arts actor who successfully succeeded where others failed. Not only did he inspire other African American martial arts actors such as Michael Jai White, Taimak and Billy Blanks, but also inspired other non-Asians such as Steven Seagal, Claude Van Damme, Jeffrey Falcon, Chuck Norris and Jason Statham.

When his career stalled Kelly didn’t follow the paths of other actors who failed to have longevity in the entertainment industry by using drugs or ending up in jail, but he found success in another arena that didn’t have many African Americans in it and that was professional tennis.

In other words Jim Kelly was a trailblazer who showed that there can be success regardless of the color of your skin. He also showed actors that no matter how small your part in a production is a good actor can make an lasting impression and that's just what he did with Enter the Dragon.

8. Helen Thomas (1920-2013).
8. Helen Thomas (1920-2013).

8. Helen Thomas (1920-2013).

On July 20, 2013 Helen Thomas died at the age of 92.

For 58 years Ms. Thomas worked as an author, news reporter, a member of the National Press Corp and a columnist. She covered 11 presidents during that time and was known as either Sitting Buddha or the First Lady of the Press by her collegues.

She was also the first woman officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and the first female of the Gridiron Club. Thomas would go on to write six books during her time reporting on the politics as well as the politicians in Washington.

In 1960 when she was assigned to cover the President-Elect John F. Kennedy transition into the White House by reporting on it from a woman’s angle it didn’t take her too long to just report the news from any angle.

Although Thomas would go on to be one of the most famous of faces reporting the news when she began her career a woman working in news or working as a reporter was barely heard of.

It was due to her tenacity, assertive behavior, unrepentant manner, and the ability to be outspoken without any guilt or reservation that speared her towards the ultimate brass ring: reporting on the White House.

It wasn’t an easy road however. It would take Helen Thomas over a decade after arriving in Washington to be able to report on serious subjects and not women’s only subjects such as beauty and fashion.

Thomas didn’t care about what party the president was aligned with because she held them accountable regardless about how she felt about them personally. She could be as tough as any man and sometimes she was even tougher.

Like many reporters of her day Helen believed that reporting the news that needed to be reported was in line with the people’s right to know; that the news when reported correctly had the ability to transform people’s lives because they had the information needed to make decisions about what was best for them.

So why was Helen Thomas important?

It was because she opened doors for the female reporters of the day such as Leslie Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Robin Roberts, Lara Logan and Maria Shriver. She broke into the boys’ club and took the first chair.

Helen Thomas refused to let the reporters or politicians treat her in a condescending manner or to treat her anything other than an equal. She knew what was important and lived by the code of ethical reporting.

9. Michael Moses Ward (1971-2013).
9. Michael Moses Ward (1971-2013).

9. Michael Moses Ward (1971-2013).

On September 20, 2013 Michael Moses Ward died of an accidental drowning in a hot tub while on a cruise with his family. He was 41.

While most people who didn’t live or have never lived in Pennsylvania probably have never heard of him, but residents of the state especially the ones who live in Philadelphia remember him quite well.

In 1985 at the age of 13 Michael and his mother were living in a commune style house with members of MOVE which was (and still is) a black liberation movement who believed in a back-to-nature lifestyle, was against any form of technology, were vegans, supporters of animal rights, and held public protests to anything and everything that they had a problem with.

They also kept a healthy stash of fire arms.

Back then Michael wasn’t referred to by his birth name, but by the name Birdie Africa. All MOVE members used the last name Africa after the founder John Africa.

There was always an ongoing battle with the city of Philadelphia and MOVE for a number of reasons, but in 1985 it wasfor using their backyard as a dumping ground for human waste and garbage which attracted rats.

The city attempted to evict them which put the MOVE members on the offensive by refusing to leave and then barricaded themselves in the house.

The Philadelphia Police attempted to drive them out by dropping a bomb on them that was supposed to be laced with gas, but actually contained the explosive C-4. The house caught fire killing 11 people with only two survivors with one of them being Birdie Africa.

After the bombing and his recovery from multiple burns on his face, neck and body Birdie went to live with his father somewhere in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Michael up until his death was still afraid of the movement.

It took a long time for Michael to heal physically and emotionally, but eventually he was able to graduate from high school, serve in the military for four years, became a long distance truck driver, and go on to be married (and divorced).

So how can the life and death of Michael Moses Ward serve to be an inspiration? Because regardless of the difficulties of the early part of his life and having to learn how to read, socialize and live a more normal life at the age of 13, Michael never gave up and continued to work hard to just be a regular person.

He will always be a reminder of one of the worst days in Philadelphia history to the residents and a reminder to the world that Philadelphia is a city that kills its own people.

10. Barbara Park (1947-2013).
10. Barbara Park (1947-2013).

10. Barbara Park (1947-2013).

Unless you’re the parent of a daughter you may not know who Barbara Park was, but for most young girls in the United States Barbara Park was an important figure in their lives because she was the author and creator of the Junie B. Jones series of books.

Mrs. Park died on November 15, 2013 of ovarian cancer at the age of 66.

Beginning in 1992 with Park’s first Junie B. Jones book, “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus”, the series would go on to make 30 more books and each book told of Junie B.’s escapades as well as what was in the heart and mind of not only the character, but of little girls all over.

Little girls would discover that they had a kindred spirit in Junie as togetherthey tackled the issues of kindergarten, riding on a school bus for the first time and a first crush. Despite the objections of some parents and educators Park kept the character of Junie real by having her speak the way little girls usually do: overly dramatic using words like bestest, runned and thunked.

Besides the popular Junie B. series, Park would also adress serious issues such as a sibling’s death (Mick Hatre Was Here), a child’s parents divorcing (Don’t Make Me Smile) and others.

Like all great characters Junie B. stayed forever six thus keeping company with the never-growing-up Peanuts gang, Lucy, Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy. Not a bad club to belong to.

So why was Barbara Park important?

Well she got girls to fall in love with reading and that’s the most important thing. Park was also able to reach across the great divide, also known as age, to connect with her audience and let them know that they aren’t alone in the sometimes very scary world of growing up.

To all unknown people who want to write books she has also served as an example of what great writing and full character development really looks like.

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