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Stewards of God’s gifts

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WORLD Radio - Stewards of God’s gifts

Notable deaths in business and science


President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Science to Dr. John Goodenough in 2013. Associated Press/Photo by Charles Dharapak (file)

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, December 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Notable deaths in 2023.

EICHER: You may have had a notable loss this year, personally, probably all of us were touched by the deaths this year of those who were not widely known but dear to us — friends, family members, perhaps former teachers or coworkers.

But this week, we will mark the deaths of people who were known broadly, or who had a broad impact on the world.

REICHARD: Today we begin with people in business and science. Business icons like Charles Munger of Berkshire Hathaway dominated the headlines. But Features Editor Anna Johansen Brown has the stories of nine others whose work helped others.

AUDIO: Coming up on the 10 second mark. 10, 9, 8, 7…

ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN: Before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, there was Apollo 7: The first complete test of an Apollo spacecraft. That mission in 1968 … Walter Cunningham was on board.

AUDIO: Commit, liftoff. We have liftoff.

Cunningham piloted the lunar module. He was a former fighter pilot and had several degrees in physics. NASA selected him for its astronaut program in 1963.

During Apollo 7, the crew test fired lunar orbit engines, simulated docking maneuvers, and did the first-ever live television broadcast from an American spacecraft.

AUDIO: Apollo 7 became very important. If we had not had a success on Apollo 7, we really don’t know what would have happened to the Apollo space program.

Cunningham died January 3rd at the age of 90.

AUDIO: [Whale songs]

Next, a man who spent years listening to whales. Roger Payne was the first person to discover that whales could sing. He died in June at age 88.

Payne first discovered whale song in 1967 during a research trip to Bermuda. A Navy engineer gave him a recording of strange underwater noises…sounds the Navy had heard while listening for Russian submarines.

AUDIO: [Whale songs]

Payne realized the haunting tones were coming from whales. They were strikingly complex compositions, with base notes and musical phrases.

In 1970, he produced an album called “Songs of the Humpback Whale.” It became the most popular nature recording in history.

AUDIO: The enthusiasm was just shocking. And what it all comes down to then is that it shows you, I think, what the effect is of the sounds of these animals on the deeper feelings that people have.

Payne’s research spurred a global movement to end commercial whale hunting. It also sparked the iconic phrase, “Save the whales.”

From singing to silent communication.

Dorothy Casterline was a deaf linguist. She helped write the first comprehensive dictionary of American Sign Language.

Casterline was born in Hawaii in 1928. She lost her hearing in 7th grade, though she never knew why. At the time, Honolulu didn’t allow deaf people to drive…but Casterline convinced state officials to change that policy.

When she went to college in the 1950s, sign language was viewed as simply gestures…a derivative of spoken English. But Casterline worked with other researchers to prove that it was a language in and of itself, with its own rules, grammar, and syntax. Their dictionary of American Sign Language permanently transformed communication within the deaf community.

Casterline died August 8th at age 95.

Next, John Goodenough, the oldest person ever to win a Nobel prize.

AUDIO: If you live long enough, you never know what’s gonna happen! (laughs)

Goodenough was a chemist, known for his work inventing the lithium ion battery. His batteries went on to power most cell phones and laptops, as well as pacemakers and electric cars.

But he didn’t start off as a scientist. He struggled in school.

AUDIO: I worked hard, because I was dyslexic and I was trying to cover it up.

He went on to graduate with highest honors from Yale with a degree in mathematics. After World War Two, Goodenough worked at MIT, where he helped lay the groundwork for one of the first forms of computer memory—RAM.

In the late 70s he worked at Oxford, experimenting with lithium ion batteries. Goodenough figured out how to pack more voltage into a smaller battery…while keeping it stable and rechargeable.

Goodenough was a Christian, often repeating this prayer: “Help us, O Lord, so long as we live, to live nobly and to the good cheer of our fellow man.”

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2019, at age 97. He died in June, just shy of his 101st birthday.

Next, another Nobel prize-winner, Harald zur Hausen. Zur Hausen was a German virologist.

AUDIO: That’s an old love of mine since my student time. Not necessarily viruses, but I was interested in infections and cancer.

In 1967, Zur Hausen contributed to a groundbreaking study on viruses and cancer. The study proved for the first time that some viruses can turn healthy cells into cancer cells.

Later, Zur Hausen turned his attention to human papillomavirus…or HPV. That’s the virus that causes warts...but there are over 170 different kinds of HPV. No one knew that until Zur Hausen’s research. He thought there might be a link between HPV and cervical cancer. He was right.

AUDIO: Somehow we anticipated for quite some time that we were on the right track. So we were pleased of course to find it eventually, but others say it was a consequence of a long period of hard work.

Most strains of HPV are harmless, but certain kinds are responsible for 90 percent of cervical cancers. Zur Hausen’s research laid the groundwork for an HPV vaccine.

AUDIO: I think proud would not be the right expression for it. It’s, you know when you get older, then you see how many open questions still remain and I think this requires some kind of humility.

Zur Hausen died in May at age 87.

Next, the man behind a museum.

Harvey Meyerhoff started off in real estate and soon became a business tycoon. Part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Chairman of the Board of Johns Hopkins. But he’s remembered most of all for his philanthropic work…and his role in bringing the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to life. Audio here from the museum’s dedication in 1993.

AUDIO: When I became chairman of the council six years ago, my late wife and children told me this would be the most important thing I could ever do in my life. They were right.

Meyerhoff worked with President Ronald Reagan to secure land in Washington, D.C., next to the national mall. He raised funds and led the museum’s design and construction.

AUDIO: This building tells the story of events that human eyes should never have seen even once; but having been seen, must never be forgotten.

More than 47 million people have visited the museum since its opening. It serves as both an educational tool and a memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.

Meyerhoff died in August at age 96.

Another businessman died this year, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo. He was a wealthy French aristocrat and manager of a successful champagne company. But in 1993, he became quadriplegic after a paragliding crash in the Alps.

At first, Pozzo di Borgo struggled with depression. He attempted suicide.

AUDIO: At the time, I was coming out of two years of hospital. Intensive care and medication.

While interviewing candidates to be his caretaker, Pozzo di Borgo met a young Algerian immigrant: Abdel Sellou.

AUDIO: I need assistance. What, don’t your arms work? They don’t.

Audio here from The Upside, an Americanized film based on Pozzo di Borgo’s life.

AUDIO: Have you ever done this kind of work before? I done every kind of work you can do with a record.

Sellou was a career criminal who only applied for the job to fulfill his visa requirements. He even stole a Faberge egg during the interview. But Pozzo di Borgo took a shine to his unconventional style and cheeky sense of humor, and the two became fast friends, often pulling elaborate pranks.

AUDIO: I needed a guy crazy enough not to be afraid of the situation. He is not afraid of nothing at all.

Their friendship inspired The Intouchables, one of France’s most popular films of all time. It also helped Pozzo di Borgo enjoy life again.

AUDIO: You can’t cry all your life. 6:09 Good humor, smiling, is probably the best remedy to difficult situations.

He said his life as a quadriplegic was more painful than his life before…but more rich, and more true.

AUDIO: In the apparent weakness we all have in a wheelchair or when we are called disabled, we develop extraordinary strength.

Pozzo di Borgo died in June at age 72.

Finally, we remember a medical pioneer. Michael Brescia died in April at age 90.

Early in his career, Brescia helped discover a new, lifesaving method of kidney dialysis.

AUDIO: The idea was to find a methodology that would allow a patient to go on the artificial kidney machine, three four hours, cleanse the blood, etc.

At the time, patients could only be on dialysis a few times before risking damage to their arteries. Brescia’s method involves joining an artery and a vein together. It increases the time a patient can be on dialysis and gives them a better chance at finding a donor kidney.

Brescia could have become enormously wealthy by selling the idea. But he turned down all offers, instead publishing the method in a medical journal in 1966. He never made a dime from it.

Later, Brescia devoted his life to comforting the dying. He created hospice care procedures, and fought against assisted suicide.

AUDIO: I want to make the point that suicide is not medical treatment.

A devout Catholic, Brescia often spoke of “administering God’s comfort” to those in pain.

On his tombstone, he wanted this phrase inscribed: “He loved his patients.”

For WORLD, I’m Anna Johansen Brown.


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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