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Big Chuck

January 3, 2012

I Was Just Thinking: Inventors, writers and others pass on in 2011

Plenty of ink was spilled in 2011 reporting on the passage of such giants as Steve Jobs, Andy Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor. Let's take a peek behind the final curtain and see who else merits a tip of the hat.

Harry Coover was a mild-mannered scientist toiling away at Eastman Kodak when he stumbled upon an item every American probably now has in the kitchen "junk drawer." He invented Eastman 910. We now know it as Super Glue. He was 94 when he died March 26.

Some 2011 deaths were just downright sad. Kara Kennedy was Sen. Ted Kennedy's eldest daughter. Eleanor Mondale was former Vice President Walter Mondale's eldest daughter. They died a day apart from each other in mid-September of this year. They were both just 51.

When Lucille Ball was asked what the secret to her success was, she would simply say, "I don't know. Ask Madelyn." Madelyn Pugh wrote every line Lucy read on her iconic 1951-1957 television show. If you liked Lucy stomping on grapes to make wine, shoving chocolates into her mouth at an assembly line or trying to groggily elucidate "Vitametavegimen," well, thank this witty and brilliant woman who was always content to remain behind the scenes. Pugh died at 90 on April 19.

George Ballas Jr. remembered the whirling, spinning brushes he saw at car washes in Houston, a memory he put to use when he tinkered his way to fame by creating one of the most popular garden tools we have today: the Weed Eater. Ballas' prototype was a popcorn can poked with clothes hanger wires. He died June 25 at the age of 85.

We sent salutes out to two great military legends. Albert Brown was so severely injured during the Bataan Death March that he was told he would never live to be 50. Frank Buckles, World War I's "Last Man Standing," lied his way into the Great War at age 15. In 1941, he found himself in the thick of it again and did more than three years of hard labor in a POW camp. Brown died at the age of 105. Buckles made it to 110. "At ease, soldiers."

Every male baby boomer had a favorite baseball card. Mine was a 1956 Topps "action" card. The player's profile, chubby of face and squinty eyes peering out from a crumpled blue-and-white baseball cap. The action image behind him showed him rounding third, glad-handing a teammate as he passed by on his way to tap out a home run. It was not an unusual scenario for fans of Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider. "The Duke of Flatbush" had his final at bat Feb. 27 when he died at the age of 84. Thanks for the memories, Duke! And, oh by the way, your 1956 Topps card will get a fan about two C-notes on eBay today! (Wish I could find mine.)

We get to pick our presidents. Our first ladies? Well, they come with the package. It's hard to really get attached to our presidents' wives. Most were mere footnotes to their husbands' administrations. Not so with Betty Ford. She was a dynamic and forceful juggernaut on her own during the Ford administration and after. When her breast cancer and treatment were revealed, it opened the door to a frank national discussion on this most-feared disease. Her alcoholism and drug addictions were dealt with courageously in the headlines of every major newspaper. The Betty Ford Clinic is her monument. I liked her. She reminded me of Bea Arthur's "Maude" character. Sailing into a cocktail party, iron-haired and fashionably dressed, air-kissing her way across a room, trailed by just a whiff of nicotine. She was like everybody's favorite aunt. Betty died July 8 at the age of 93.

And let's not forget Marshal Matt Dillon, Smokin' Joe, Honey West, The White Mouse, The Dragon Lady, Uncle Leo and the Macho Man.

There. You have your Google homework for the week.

I'll catch you in two ...

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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