April 26, 2016
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(ANTIMEDIA) Millions around the world were stunned to hear about the passing of Prince last Thursday. Even those who typically roll their eyes at celebrity deaths seemed to care — at least a little. Who hasn’t at least listened to one Prince song since the unfortunate news broke last week? Even the corporate media’s typical 24-hour celebrity death-a-thon distraction-fest has seemed less irritating than usual.
But what about those around us who lived incredible lives but weren’t celebrities? Most lives worth recognizing very seldom receive the attention they deserve. Not everyone has a press agent to alert the media when they die, but that doesn’t mean one’s life was any less extraordinary just because fame and fortune didn’t come their way. Although it is impossible to list everyone deserving of recognition, here are seven noteworthy individuals the world lost last week who were not named Prince.
Felix Simoneaux Jr. May 24, 1905 – April 19, 2016
Believed to be the oldest living man in the United States and a supercentenarian, Felix Simoneaux Jr. of LaPlace, Louisiana passed away last Tuesday — one month before his 111th birthday.
Felix was born in the St. Charles Parish of Louisiana in 1905. He was one of eight children. At the age of 13, he dropped out of school because he had accrued too many absences; he spent many days at home working on the family farm. In the 1920s, his family was forced to move when the federal government expropriated their land for what would become Bonnet Carre Spillway. Felix taught himself how to do carpentry work by reading books. Ultimately, he became a master carpenter who built sugar towers for refineries and worked on the construction of luxury hotels in New Orleans.
After meeting her at a dance in the mid-1930s, Felix spent 69 years of his life married to Myrtle Champagne, who passed away in 2004.
During World War II, Felix helped on the home front (due to poor eyesight) by working on the famed LCVPs, or Higgins boats — wooden ships used by the Allies for amphibious landings. In fact, he built and designed his family’s house by hand out of the discarded lumber from those very vessels.
Always known to be good with money, Felix paid for his family’s first car, a 1957 Chevy, the same way he paid for his family’s first television set and almost everything else they possessed – in cash. In fact, he never believed in using checks as a form of payment.
According to The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:
“When she was a child, granddaughter Lori Ponville remembered, Simoneaux always seemed to be in motion. ‘He worked his fields and would go to the French Market to sell vegetables,’ she said.
“In recent years, well past his 100th birthday, his children helped him create a smaller garden near his house, which he would tend daily, hoeing out the grass and planting all the seedlings each year.
“’He never stopped,’ Ponville said.
“Until his stroke, Simoneaux was independent, living in his house by himself and getting up to fix himself breakfast. And his mind was keen until the end, Ponville said.
“’Two days ago, I walked into the hospital and he said, “How is the weather outside and how are you doing?”‘ she said.
“’Our blessing was that his mind was still sharp,’ his daughter Myrtle said. ‘Up until he had this mini-stroke, he could recall everything that had happened in his life.’
The family remembered how the local elementary school would send classes to his house to ask him questions about ‘the old days.’ Some neighbors called him ‘a walking history book.'”
Tiga Bayles October 6, 1953 – April 17, 2016
Although Tiga Bayles is not a globally recognized name, it is one beloved by many in his homeland of Australia. Tiga was an indigenous rights activist and radio presenter based out of Brisbane.
In the early 1980s, he and his mother began an indigenous radio program on Radio Skid Row, which aired on a community station in Sydney. Tiga also took part in the Aboriginal movement protests surrounding the 1982 Commonwealth Games, as well as protests at the Bicentennial celebrations in Sydney in 1988.
Over a decade later, Tiga would establish the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association (BIMA), which ran the radio channel, 98.9, in Brisbane. Let’s Talk was a popular program hosted by Tiga on the station for many years. The show was known for discussing topics and issues relevant to First Nations people.
RIP my friend Tiga Bayles, a man who shon light where there was darkness , a leader and visionary, miss you Brother pic.twitter.com/uPHXlnf50w
— Troy Cassar-Daley (@troycassardaley) April 17, 2016
Gert Schramm November 28, 1928 – April 18, 2016
Arrested at the age of 15 for violations of purity laws, Gert Schramm was not only held captive at the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II — he was its only black prisoner. His father reportedly died in Auschwitz after being detained under similar Nazi racial laws.
Before being transferred to Buchenwald in 1944, Gert was moved from one Gestapo prison to the next, where he was interrogated, beaten, and denied food and water. Once the young man arrived at Buchenwald, the numerals 49489 were inked onto his left arm.
Because he was the only black prisoner in the camp and was sickly from the forced labor, other prisoners would stand around Gert during roll call to keep him from being noticed by the guards. S.S. henchmen were known to grab 10 to 15 people out of line daily who appeared different or unhealthy, sending them to an extermination camp or killing them on the spot.
Gert once witnessed a young Jewish boy stomped to death for moving during roll call.
After being freed at the end of the war, Gert stayed in Germany and became a master mechanic. He eventually rose to the position of department head before starting his own taxi business in 1985, which is now run by his son.
Serving as a volunteer for his local fire department and a lay judge, Gert stayed active in his community throughout his life, often visiting schools to speak with students about his time in concentration camps.
Gert also served on the prisoners’ advisory board of the Buchenwald Memorial Foundation.
Bettye McDonald Caldwell December 24, 1924 – April 17, 2016
Ms. Bettye Caldwell made her mark on the world by influencing the creation of Head Start, a program which provides educational day care to children from low-income families.
Raised during the Great Depression, Bettye once said she grew up “unfashionably poor,” but she did not let that hold her back as a young woman. Bettye was the valedictorian of her high school class and went on to graduate from Baylor University with degrees in Speech and Psychology in 1945 (she also had enough credits to claim a degree in English). After obtaining her doctorate in psychology from Washington University in 1951, she went on to receive many honors throughout her life.
According to Bettye’s obituary, the educator had many roles:
“Past-President of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a member of the Laureate Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi (an elite group limited to 60 living educators). She is former editor of Child Development and is a recipient of the Award for Distinguished contributions to Public Policy for Children from the Society for Research in Child Development. Also she is one of the original Principal Investigators of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Child Care and Youth Development.“
David Beresford c. 1947 – April 22, 2016
Journalism can be a double-edged sword. It can be used to dispel myths and promote truth — or it can be a tool of deception. David Beresford was a reporter who happened to use his abilities for the former purpose.
Working as a correspondent at The Guardian for decades, David was an award-winning journalist who covered many important areas of the world over the years, including Northern Ireland during the Troubles, South Africa during and after the end of the apartheid era, and Iraq during the first Gulf War.
According to The Guardian,
“Beresford had a knack of capturing the big moment in human affairs, be it through his reporting or his books. He combined a fluent writing style with a passion for accuracy and detail. He was, in addition, a man of immense charm, geniality and of fiercely independent spirit. He was also a foe to the pompousness and self-importance that can negatively affect journalists once they make a name for themselves.”
The newspaper continued:
“Beresford was twice named foreign correspondent of the year. Yet all these international successes aside, it was his moving account of the ordeal of IRA hunger strikers, when he was covering Northern Ireland, that may prove to be the most powerful and lasting testament to his writing and journalism. In 1981, 10 men starved themselves to death inside the walls of Long Kesh prison in Belfast rather than give in to Margaret Thatcher’s government. Drawing on smuggled, contemporary IRA documents and letters from the prisoners, Beresford immortalised their gripping story in Ten Men Dead, published in 1987.
“In 1991, Beresford was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Rather than give in to the illness, he insisted on carrying on his work as a foreign correspondent. As his condition deteriorated he remained courageous and resourceful, and after 10 years, opted to undergo a radical new treatment. With characteristic bravery, he subsequently wrote, movingly and with extraordinary humour, about his experience of being fully conscious during many hours of brain surgery that involved his head being bolted to the operating table. The procedure prolonged his life, but did not cure him.
Martin Gray (born Mieczysław Grajewski) April, 27, 1922 – April 25, 2016
Martin Gray was a Holocaust survivor and a best-selling author from Poland. He wrote 12 books, including the best-seller, For Those I Loved. Released in 1971, the memoir has been translated into over 25 languages, and over 30 million copies have been sold. The book details how Martin survived living in the Warsaw ghetto as a child and how he would later escape Treblinka, a death camp.
The story was even made into a big budget mini-series starring Michael York, which would become a massive success in France upon its release in 1983.
Papa Wemba June 14, 1949 – April 24, 2016
A world-famous musician in his own right, Papa Wemba was an African singer and style icon who died after collapsing during a concert in the African nation of Ivory Coast.
Born in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “Papa” was born Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba. His mother was a professional mourner and he grew up surrounded by music.
According to Billboard, Papa “played an essential role in the evolution of Central African music. Respectfully known as ‘the King of Rhumba,’ Wemba successfully fused African traditions with Western pop and rock influences. A co-founder of Zaiko Langa Langa in 1970, he went on to international attention as the leader of Isife Lokole in 1974, and Viva La Musica since 1976.”
Papa settled in France in 1986, when his music began reaching audiences as far away as Japan. The singer would work with such artists as France’s Martin Meissonnier and Peter Gabriel, and he played for various celebrations around the world, including Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday in 2008.
After a lengthy investigation, Papa was convicted of smuggling illegal aliens into France in 2004. He was given a suspended sentence and a fine and was then allowed to walk free because he had already served four months in jail. The singer, who admited to the accusations, excused his actions to the court by citing humanitarian reasons. Papa brought immigrants into France from Africa disguised as members of his band, Viva La Musica, for years. He faced similar charges in Belgium in 2003 but was never convicted.
Following his trial in France, Papa moved back to the DRC.
Baudouin Banza Mukalay, culture minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, called the singer’s passing a “great loss for the country and all of Africa.”
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