• U.S.

Milestones Apr. 9, 2007

4 minute read
Joe Lertola


WHEN FANS AT NORTH Carolina basketball games roared for “the Ram,” they were asking for U.N.C. senior Jason Ray, whose unabashedly goofy antics as Rameses, the Tar Heels’ mascot, energized games–and the children’s hospital wards he visited–over the past three years. In New Jersey for the NCAA tournament, Ray was struck by an SUV before the game while returning to his hotel from a convenience store and suffered massive internal injuries. After a three-day vigil that prompted prayers across the country, the business student died at Hackensack University hospital. He was 21.

IN 1968 ASPIRING CLASSICAL singer Walter Turnbull founded an after-school program for local kids–and soon forgot his operatic ambitions. Launched in a church basement, the Boys Choir of Harlem has performed for Popes and Presidents and on a slew of film sound tracks. It even spawned a music academy. Though the school closed and Turnbull drew criticism following a student’s 2001 allegation of sexual abuse by a teacher, the choir continues to educate kids ages 9 to 19. “It’s nothing grandiose or big,” Turnbull said. “We just try to get kids to understand the importance of simple things and how they grow into big things.” He was 62 and had cancer.

BEFORE MAGNETIC RESONANCE imaging (MRI) became standard in the 1980s, doctors had two ways of looking inside the human body: the not-always-precise X-ray, which exposed patients to radiation, and surgery. Physicist Paul Lauterbur, a co-winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize, helped pioneer the use of MRI technology– previously used largely to examine chemical structures of substances–to obtain clear, detailed images of human tissue. Doctors now prescribe more than 60 million MRI exams annually. He was 77.

MORE THAN MOST PEOPLE, HE understood the appeal of a muscular, whirring engine. Robert Petersen, who in the late 1940s launched what became a $450 million media empire by starting Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines, spent his career nurturing America’s obsession with cars. Among his contributions: the globally acclaimed Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, a structure flanked by huge steel fins. The museum houses 200 cars, including a Model T, various Cadillac coupes and a 1971 DeTomaso Pantera that belonged to Elvis Presley. He was 80.

NOT LONG AFTER DAVID Letterman discovered him in a student film, Calvert DeForest, reinvented as Larry (Bud) Melman, introduced the comic’s first-ever late-night show on NBC in 1982. The earnest ex–file clerk went on to become Dave’s fumbling, inadvertently hilarious lucky charm. Before retiring in 2003, he covered the 1994 Olympics in Norway, mock hawked products like Toast on a Stick and greeted tourists with hot towels at New York City’s seedy Port Authority bus terminal. He was 85.

ONE OF THE MANY OBSTACLES Richard Nixon faced as President was a fiery National Archives librarian named Mary Livingston. In 1970 she was given personal papers Nixon wanted to donate to the archives, along with an affidavit, prepared by a manuscripts dealer, indicating the President had handed over the documents a year earlier, when old tax law would have afforded him a $450,000 tax benefit. Livingston spoke up about the ploy, prompting Congress to rule the deduction was improper. She was 92.

NEXT TIME YOUR CHILD assails you for ruining her life, buy her a book by Stella Chess. Starting in 1956, the child psychiatrist, with her husband Alexander Thomas, followed 133 children from infancy through adulthood. The findings, the earliest of which were published in 1960, challenged the era’s accepted wisdom that infants were blank slates to be doomed or graced by parents. They found that children were born with distinct temperaments that, in conjunction with parental styles, determined the people they would become. She was 93.

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