by Paul H. Mills
The end of one year and the beginning of another is a customary occasion to pay homage to those who have joined the “great majority,” meaning those who have departed this life and gone as Hamlet once observed to “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”
There is of course an array of famous celebrities whose passing has been observed in recent months. Mary Tyler Moore, Jim Nabors, Jerry Lewis, David Cassidy, Roger Moore, Glen Campbell, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, are among those that quickly come to mind.
There are still many who are by no means as famous but still in their own way just as notable.
Take for example, Roxcy Bolton, who died in May at the age of 90. She was a Mississippi-born feminist leader who first came to national prominence in the 1970’s. I will remember her most as the crusader who helped persuade the National Weather Service to stop the practice of using women’s names to name hurricanes. Though weather officials for many years turned down her suggestions with such facetious put downs as suggesting that the names be “himicames,” the bureau finally caved in. That was in 1979 when the second hurricane for that season was named Bob.
Her mission also might well have had a practical effect on saving lives. A study published three years ago of the National Academy of Sciences determined that storms that were named after men have historically not killed as many people as those named after women. This, the study suggested is because the public does not take storms named after women as seriously as those named for men, who are perceived as stronger and more violent.
“The stereotypes that underlie these judgments,” Sharon Shabitt a marketing professor at the University of Illinois said at the time, “are subtle and not necessarily hostile toward women – they may involve viewing women as warmer and less aggressive than men.”
Others passing this year included Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman so far to win the Fields Medal in mathematics.
Mirzakhani, who was fighting breast cancer, died in July at the age of 40. In 2014, she was one of the four winners of the prestigious medal which is presented every four years. It is in effect the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She was named because of work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.
Not to be left out among those who we will now miss is Robert Prisig who died in April at the age of 88. He was the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” His book remained near the top of the best seller list for nearly 10 years beginning in 1974. He lived for a number of years until his death here in Maine in South Berwick.
By no means as famous as Prisig but still notable was Peter McKenney of Oakland. He died in October at the age of 80. McKenney, whose career ran the gamut from television broadcaster to the long-time co-owner of the Carousel Music Theater in Boothbay Harbor also put in time as a Town Manager in communities in Central Maine. He was for several years Executive Director of the Maine Highway Safety Committee. He was a frequent presence on Maine television as a spokesman for the Committee in the 1960s.
An unusual loss in one family occurred with the simultaneous passing of former long-time Farmington resident Jacquelyn Tullercash and her son Matthew. This 54-year old resident of Belleview, Florida where she was a secretary died in an accident July 1. This was precisely the same day her own son Matthew passed away in an unrelated accident in California. It was thus a profound, unexpected but double loss for the same family.
Perhaps more privately but nevertheless more ominously has been the passing in 2017 of some 360 citizens of Maine – at the rate of nearly one a day – arising out of drug overdoses, typically opiate related. Though the exact figure will not be known until toxicology results are revealed early next year the figure appears to be poised to come close to 2016’s record breaking number. That was a 40% increase over the previous year.
It is no doubt these people whose senseless, tragic, and premature demise with which we should face the future in 2018. It is a future which I hope we can confront with as much courage and determination in overcoming this crisis as the challenges faced by more “famous” and accomplished personalities. The celebrity names may well be remembered more but the means of their departure is in most cases not as compelling as those of the more anonymous victims of one of our state’s most serious afflictions.
Paul H. Mills, is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com.