Notable deaths in 2020: Politics, business, history


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 22nd of December, 2020.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: notable deaths in 2020.

Of course, everyone we lost in 2020 meant something to someone. But by “notable,” in this context, we’re referring to those who had wider renown or influence around the country or the world—whether for good or perhaps not so good.

REICHARD: Today, we begin our recap of notable deaths in government, business, science, and the military. These categories include well-known people like Jack Welch, the lauded CEO of General Electric; Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis; Oklahoma Senator and doctor, Tom Coburn; and Lee Kun-Hee, the longtime-leader of Samsung Electronics.

EICHER: WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg picks up our coverage of other notable names in these fields and begins with a lawyer who won a case that helped unravel Jim Crow laws.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: We begin today by remembering Bernard Cohen. He was the young lawyer who represented Richard and Mildred Loving in the famous Supreme Court case: Loving vs. the Commonwealth of Virginia

In 1963, Virginia and 23 other states banned interracial marriage. The Lovings were a mixed-race couple fighting for the legality of their marriage. The American Civil Liberties Union and Bernard Cohen took up their case. A four year legal battle commenced. 

Here’s Cohen discussing the case in the 2011 documentary, The Loving Story

COHEN: The laws are simply relics of slavery, and they’re maintained to keep the colored person down and the white person up and that’s the simple truth of the case. And I think if you talked to the average man on the street that marriage is a fundamental right of man. 

Cohen and his co-council, Philip Hirschkop, steered the case all the way to the Supreme Court where the justices unanimously overturned interracial marriage bans.

Today, 1 in 10 Americans have a spouse of a different ethnicity. 

Bernard Cohen died in October at age 86. 

Next we remember Paul Sarbanes, a five-term United States Senator from Maryland. He died this month at the age of 87. 

Sarbanes was a Democratic lawmaker who first served in the House from 1971 to 1977, and then as a Senator until his retirement in 2007. 

He’s best known for spearheading the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The legislation tried to stop the fraudulent accounting practices companies like Enron used to fool investors.

Sarbanes said it did that by beefing up corporate governance and creating a federal oversight board for the accounting industry.

SARBANES: This legislation now requires accounting firms that audit public companies, in other words companies that are listed on the exchanges, which is what we limited the bill to, to register with the accounting board which has broad discretion to investigate and when necessary impose penalties and to set auditing standards. 

The Senate passed the legislation, 97 to 0. President George W. Bush later signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act into law.

Now a man who helped 11 presidents keep their house in order. The White House that is. 

Wilson Roosevelt Jerman started working as a cleaner under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957. When President John F. Kennedy moved in, First Lady Jackie Kennedy promoted him to butler. 

Jerman stayed in that position until 1997 before taking six years off. He returned to the White House in 2003 and permanently retired in 2012. 

Jenna Bush Hager, one of President George W. Bush’s twin daughters, remembered Jerman on the Today Show

HAGER: He was the loveliest. He was always smiling, and you know it’s interesting and people will say how was the White House? Did it feel like home? And the reason why it felt like home was because of people like him. 

Wilson Roosevelt Jerman was 91 when he died this month. 

Now to notable deaths in business. 

First, a man who created a popular grocery store that runs on island time. 

Joseph Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s in 1967 in Pasadena, California. In a 2012 interview, Coulombe said his stores targeted a growing number of educated Americans who were becoming interested in international products. 

COULOMBE: This gave us the idea for the name. Trader Joe’s to evoke images of the South Seas. And that is why to this day the employees wear Hawaiian shirts.

When Trader Joe Coulombe retired in 1988, the company had 19 stores in southern California. His successor, John V. Shields Jr. took the chain national. 

COMMERCIAL: Welcome to Trader Joe’s. We are your one-stop shop to feed you and your family. 

Today, it has more than 500 stores across the country. Joseph Coulombe died in February. He was 89 years old. 

Next, we remember a man who declared himself “the biggest toy lover in the world.” Roger Shiffman died in October. He was 67. 

Shiffman worked his way through college at a department store. Part of his job was buying toys. 

He went on to build a highly successful company: Tiger Electronic Toys. The company’s success came from fusing toys and electronics. 

First, by making Disney-themed record players. Then by creating hand-held electronic games. But the product that took the late 90s by storm was the Furby. 

COMMERCIAL: What’s that? It’s my Furby! 

When Tiger Toys first launched Furbies in 1998, it sold 2,500 of them in 5 minutes. Some parents even hunted Shiffman down at his house looking for a Furby for their child. 

The small, bird-like fur ball could talk and speak its own language. 

COMMERCIAL: More Furbies, more fun! Because each one talks to another one.

Shiffman shared his success through the Starlight Children’s Foundation. It provided games and entertainment for children in hospitals. 

Now, a model who became a business woman and lifestyle brand. B. Smith, whose full name was Barbara Elaine Smith, started her career modeling for department stores. 

She went on to appear on the covers of Ebony and Essence, and became only the second Black model to appear on the cover of Mademoiselle.  

As her trailblazing modeling career ended, Smith opened her first restaurant in Manhattan in 1986. It quickly became popular, so she opened two more. 

Smith also wrote books on cooking and entertaining and created homeware and furniture lines. 

SMITH: And now with my at home with B. Smith furniture collection, I am like ecstatic. It’s a dream come true. 

And she hosted “B. Smith with Style” on NBC.

SMITH: Hi! Happy Holidays! Welcome to B. Smith with Style. 

Smith was only in her 50s when doctors diagnosed her with Alzheimers. She decided to make her battle with the illness public. Here she talks with Fox News in 2015. 

SMITH: I think what we need to learn is that it is a problem and that many people have it. It means I want to figure out how I can help. 

In 2016, Smith released a book about her struggle and did numerous interviews about her condition.

Smith died of Alzheimers in February. She was 70 years old.

Next up, the Soviet physicist and human rights activist Yuri Orlov

Orlov was a dedicated member of the Soviet Communist Party until his 30s. That’s when he began having doubts about whether communism really was best for the country.

After he publicly criticized communism in 1956, authorities kicked him out of the party, and his university fired him and stripped his name from all scientific research. 

The persecution didn’t end there. 

In 1976, Yuri Olov founded the Moscow Helsinki Group to report Soviet human rights abuses to Western governments. 

For that, Soviet authorities arrested Orlov in 1977 and sentenced him to seven years in a labor camp and then five more years in Siberian exile. 

During his incarceration, Orlov still managed to provide documented human rights violations to the West. 

In 1986, nine years into his sentence, the Soviet government stripped him of his citizenship and deported him to the United States as part of a hostage trade. 

AUDIO: [Cameras flashing]

The press swarmed as Orlov met then-President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office upon his arrival.

He went on to teach physics at Cornell University and became a U.S. citizen in 1993. 

Yuri Olov died in October. He was 96 years old. 

Now, Benny Adkins, a veteran who distinguished himself in the Vietnam war. 

In 1966, on his second tour, North Vietnemese soldiers ambushed Adkins’ unit at their remote camp in South Vietnam. Severely outnumbered, Adkins and his fellow soldiers fought off the enemy for nearly four days. 

Adkins personally killed an estimated 175 enemy fighters. He also suffered 18 different wounds and saved numerous American soldiers. 

Still, Adkins went on to serve another tour. 

OBAMA: I have to be honest, in a battle and escape that lasted four days, Benny performed so many acts of bravery, we actually don’t have time to talk about all of them. 

For his extraordinary bravery, President Barack Obama awarded Benny Adkins the Medal of Honor in 2014. 

AUDIO: [CAMERAS, CLAPPING]

Benny Adkins was 86 when he died in April. 

MUSIC: [Monuments Men theme]

And finally, we end today remembering the last surviving female member of the Monuments Men and Women. Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite died in May. She was 92. 

Huthwaite was born in Boston to Japanese immigrant parents. But the United States deported the family back to Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They eventually settled in Tokyo. 

Speaking to a small group in 2017, Huthwaite remembers her relief when the war ended and American soldiers occupied Japan.  

HUTHWAITE: And that was a wonderful time for my family because I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and my family had lived in America and we felt that America was home.  

Soon after, an American working with the Monuments Men recruited Huthwaite to join the international group’s mission in Japan. The small organization worked to recover and preserve valuable works of art lost in the war. 

Huthwaite became one of 27 women who worked with the group. Because she spoke both English and Japanese, she became a valuable clerk writing reports about artwork found in the Pacific Theater. 

Eventually, Huthwaite returned to the land of her birth where she lived the rest of her life. 

In 2015, Congress presented the then six remaining members of the Monuments Men and Women with the Congressional Gold Medal. That of course included Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite

AUDIO: [APPLAUSE]

MUSIC: [Monuments Men theme]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


(AP Photo/Todd Plitt) Former model Barbara Smith poses next to some enlargements of magazine cover photos of herself at her eponymous restaurant in New York, March 3, 1998. 

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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