Lives well lived

I am currently dithering over writing a death notice for my Stanford colleague Patrick Suppes (philosopher and more), who died recently after a long and immensely satisfying career. Mostly I’m hoping that Margalit Fox will produce one of her elegant and thoughtful obits for the New York Times, so that I can piggy-back on that. [Added a few hours later: Drat! Fox tells me she’s on leave from the paper, working on her next book, so no Foxobits for a while.]

While I dither, a few notes on recently-ended lives well lived (Mike Nichols, Milton Rubin, and San Francisco’s Brown twins), and on Fox, who is, yes, a card-carrying linguist.

Mike Nichols. Nichols died on the 19th at age 83. The brief story from Wikipedia:

Mike Nichols (born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky; November 6, 1931 – November 19, 2014) was a German-born American film and theatre director, producer, actor and comedian.

He began his career in the 1950s with the improv troupe, the Compass Players, predecessor of the Second City in Chicago and as one half of the comedy duo Nichols and May, along with Elaine May… In 1968 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for the film The Graduate. His other films include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood, Working Girl, The Birdcage, Closer, Charlie Wilson’s War (his final picture), and the TV mini-series Angels in America. He also staged the original theatrical productions of Barefoot in the Park, Luv, The Odd Couple and Spamalot.

Note the variety of his projects: lots of comedy, but much else besides. And I still dissolve in laughter over the Nichols and May routines.

Milton Rubin. Very few readers will have heard of Rubin, whose (paid) death notice in the Times yesterday caught my eye because of this thumbnail photo of him from WWII:


The main part of the notice:

RUBIN — Milton, 94, died November 13, 2014. Born in Brooklyn, March 17, 1920 to Rose and Joe Rubin. He served as a teacher and technical sergeant-radar observer (radar bombardier) in the Army Air Force from December 26, 1941 to September 3, 1945 in New Guinea, Milton was Master Mason, Victoria Lea Gate Lodge No. 1037 from June 14, 1948 to now. A founding father of Temple Hillel in North Woodmere [NY] and President of the Men’s Club 1969. He graduated NYU Law School and had a distinguished career in international maritime law.

Not a headliner, but apparently a good man with a good life.

The Brown twins. Now, Marian Brown, who died yesterday at age 87. Marian and her sister Vivian:


(There are so many wonderful pictures of the Brown twins that it’s hard to pick just one.)

The story from Wikipedia:

Marian (January 25, 1927 – November 20, 2014) and Vivian Brown (January 25, 1927 – January 9, 2013) are American identical twins and celebrity icons of San Francisco. Known as the San Francisco Twins, they are renowned for their appearance in media with adorning signature identical bright snappy outfits and hats atop meticulously coiffed hair.

At 5 feet 1 inch, and weighing 98 pounds each, Marian and Vivian were always seen together. They dressed alike, walked in lockstep and ate at the same speed, even lifted their forks in unison. They never broke character until Vivian became forgetful due to her Alzheimer’s disease.

Early life: Vivian and Marian were born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, just eight minutes apart. Vivian was the elder. They grew up in Mattawan, Michigan, where they attended Mattawan High School and in 1945 graduated as co-valedictorians, giving the valedictory speech together. They went on to earn matching degrees in business education from Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo. With the intent of escaping hot summers and the long cold winter months, the Browns left Michigan for San Francisco in 1970. After they arrived in San Francisco, Vivian became a legal secretary and Marian worked at a bank.

Celebrity: While in Kalamazoo the twins were frequently seen on the downtown Kalamazoo Mall always dressed identically from head to toe. For more than 40 years, the Brown twins were an entertainment fixture of the San Francisco social scene. They appeared in public in identical outfits, becoming neighborhood celebrities. They gained wide exposure in a 1988 Reebok advertisement, which led to appearances in talk shows and modeling in advertisements. They have appeared on The Richard Simmons Show, The Tom Snyder Show, The Vicki Lawrence Show. They have been featured in over 25 television advertisements over the years. Among the corporate advertisements they have been in included IBM, The Chronicle, Payless Drug Store, Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Joe Boxer, Macy’s, AT&T, Dell, and Apple Inc.

The obituarist. Now to Margalit Fox, previously discussed here in a posting “Obits” of 5/28/12, quoting an entertaining NYT piece “Someone Dies. But That Is Only the Beginning” (by Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the paper at the time) on obits in the paper, prominently featuring Margalit Fox. On the reporter, from Wikipedia:

[Margalit] Fox was born [in 1961] in Glen Cove, New York, the daughter of David (a physicist) and Laura Fox. She attended Barnard College in New York City and then Stony Brook University, where she completed her bachelor’s degree (1982) and then master’s degree in linguistics in 1983. She received a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1991.

Fox is a senior writer at The New York Times, where she wrote book reviews and, since 2004, obituaries. She has written widely on language, culture and ideas for The Times, New York Newsday, Variety and other publications.

She’s published two books, both on linguistic topics:

Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind, Simon & Schuster (2007); The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, Ecco Press (2013)

The Wikipedia page lists a number of her “notable obituaries”, but it doesn’t have two of my favorites: on “champion of fine cheese” Daphne Zepos (here) — “Ms. Zepos was an international authority on the buying, selling, making and above all the almost transcendental experience of eating cheese.” —  and on linguist James McCawley (here). She doesn’t scant Jim’s accomplishments in developing generative semantics or in preparing pigs’ ears in garlic sauce.

2 Responses to “Lives well lived”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I had a bit of a Garden Path moment here: When I see the words “who died recently after a long and”, I don’t expect the next two words to be “immensely satisfying”.

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