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Notable deaths in government, military, and politics in 2023

Former Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain's Parliament Betty Boothroyd Associated Press/Photo by Matt Dunham

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Up next, remembering the lives of those who died this year from the realms of government and military.

We’ve already reported on the legacies of leaders like California Senator Dianne Feinstein, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. But today, we remember other influential people.

BROWN: Here’s WORLD Radio intern, Emma Perley.

EMMA PERLEY: We begin today with two WWII resistance fighters. Marcelle Engelen was 17 years old when she joined the French Resistance in 1943.

AUDIO: [WW2 sounds in France]

She and five other women at the escape network helped prisoners of war flee from Nazi Germany. They called themselves “Équipe Pur Sang,” meaning “Team of Thoroughbreds.” And their efforts helped 350 people escape into free France. In the winter of 1942, the Thoroughbreds were all arrested except Engelen, but were eventually released.

After the war, Engelen rarely spoke of her participation in the Resistance. She died on January 7th at the age of 99, the last surviving member of the Thoroughbreds.

Just a few days later on January 9th, another resistance fighter passed away. Adolfo Kaminsky was 97. Audio here from New York Times documentary, The Forger.

ADOLFO (in French): During my life, I helped thousands of people cross borders. If I was caught, I would have been imprisoned and killed. On every document rests the life or death of a human being. So I worked, worked, worked until I passed out.

A poor Jewish teenager with little education, Adolfo’s work with chemical dyes at a clothing store in Paris led him to learn forgery. He joined the Resistance and became a prolific identity document and passport forger. He saved over 14,000 Jews from the Holocaust. After World War II ended, Adolfo continued to forge papers and identity documents for refugees in Latin America, Africa, and Portugal.

Next, we remember a baby found in a dumpster in Illinois in 1995. Audio here from ABC7 News.

MORGAN: A construction worker that was doing work on the hospital was throwing away the last of the debris and ended up finding me.

The baby’s story made national headlines, and she was nicknamed “Baby Mary Grace.” Her eventual adoptive parents named her Morgan Hill. In 2001, Illinois passed a Safe Haven law which allowed parents to give up their babies safely and anonymously. Here is Hill’s adoptive mother in a 2019 interview with NBC Chicago.

AUDIO: It was because of her, and her story, that’s why Illinois passed the Safe Haven Law.

Hill made it her mission to advocate for Safe Haven laws in other states. She died unexpectedly in February at age 27 due to complications with epilepsy.

Also in February, the first—and so far only—female speaker of Britain’s House of Commons died at age 93. Audio courtesy of Guardian News.

AUDIO: Much has been written recently about the possibility of having a woman speaker for the first time. I say to you, elect me for what I am, and not for what I was born.

In 1992, Betty Boothroyd was elected Speaker of the House of Commons after several years in Parliament. She directed debates and had firm control over chaotic Parliament sessions.

AUDIO: Order! Order! Members must come to order. Mr. Blair … This is so time consuming. Spit it out!

Boothroyd resigned in 2000 but remained active in politics behind the scenes.

AUDIO: I just felt I just gotta do this job to the best of my ability … And I wanted to do it right and I wanted to do it right for womankind.

Another trailblazing female politician died this year. Pat Schroeder was one of only 14 women on Capitol Hill when she arrived as a Colorado Representative in 1972. During her 24 years in Congress, Schroeder helped pass laws against the discrimination of pregnant women in the workplace. Schroeder spoke with C-SPAN of her congressional run in 1972.

PAT SCHROEDER: It was very frustrating. When I announced for Congress, the newspaper said, "Denver Housewife Runs For Congress." I mean, they didn't even put my name in.

She was a Harvard-trained lawyer, in addition to being a wife and mother. Audio here from Schroeder’s interview with MAKERS in 2014.

SCHROEDER: The question was asked: ‘How can you be a mother and a congresswoman?’ I said, I have a brain, I have a uterus, and they both work.

Schroeder died from stroke complications on March 14th, at 82 years old.

Next, we remember the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials. Here he is during a 2005 interview with the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

BENJAMIN FERENCZ: My name is Benjamin Ferencz, and I arrived in Nuremberg for the first time during the war because I was a soldier in General Patton’s army.

Though a short man at 5 foot 2, Ben Ferencz commanded a lofty position as investigator and Harvard-trained prosecutor during the Nuremberg Trials in 1947. In the first trial he used the Nazi’s own documents against the 22 defendants.

FERENCZ: I created an indisputable record of mass murder, later termed genocide, on a scale never before seen in human history …

The trial only took two days.

FERENCZ: I convicted all of them, 13 of them were sentenced to death, including six SS generals, which wasn’t a bad start for a first case.

Afterwards, Ferencz stayed in Nuremberg with his wife Gertrude to care for victims of Nazi persecution. He died peacefully in his sleep on April 7th at 103 years old.

Next, conservative politician and former U.S. senator James L. Buckley. Buckley is one of very few people to serve in the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of the government. Here he is after winning a Senate election in New York in 1970. Audio from CBS.

AUDIO: It has been a genuine coalition of the people to reach out and take this great state and push it in a new direction and telegraph across the country that the American people want a new course, they want a new politics. And I am the voice for that new politics.

Buckley is perhaps best remembered for the Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo. The case determined that no limits could be placed on political campaign spending in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Buckley died on August 18th at 100.

And finally, we remember former New York Police Department commissioner Howard Safir. Safir served from 1996 to 2000 and is credited with decreasing crime rates to historic lows. Here he is in a 1996 interview with CUNY TV.

AUDIO: It’s not the number of cops you have, it’s what you do with them. And what we’re doing is, we’re using them effectively.

Safir is remembered for the motto: Courtesy, Professionalism, & Respect, which is still emblazoned on every New York City police vehicle today.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emma Perley.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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