Seven Obituaries


Obituary: Count Gottfried von Bismarck

The public may be willing to forgive us for mistakes in judgment but it will not forgive us for mistakes in motive.

- Robert W Haack

Count Gottfried von Bismarck, who was found dead on Monday aged 44, was a louche German aristocrat with a multi-faceted history as a pleasure-seeking heroin addict, hell-raising alcoholic, flamboyant waster and a reckless and extravagant host of homosexual orgies.  The great-great-grandson of Prince Otto, Germany's Iron Chancellor and architect of the modern German state, the young von Bismarck showed early promise as a brilliant scholar, but led an exotic life of gilded aimlessness that attracted the attention of the gossip columns from the moment he arrived in Oxford in 1983 and hosted a dinner at which the severed heads of two pigs were placed at either end of the table.

When not clad in the lederhosen of his homeland, he cultivated an air of sophisticated complexity by appearing in women's clothes, set off by lipstick and fishnet stockings.  This aura of dangerous "glamour" charmed a large circle of friends and acquaintances drawn from the jeunesse dorée of the age; many of them knew him at Oxford, where he made friends such as Darius Guppy and Viscount Althorp and became an enthusiastic, rubber-clad member of the Piers Gaveston Society and the drink-fuelled Bullingdon and Loders clubs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly he managed only a Third in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

Von Bismarck's university career ended in catastrophe in June 1986, when his friend Olivia Channon was found dead on his bed, the victim of a drink and drugs overdose.  Von Bismarck admitted that his role in the affair had brought disgrace on the family name; 5 years later he told friends that there were still people who would not speak to his parents on account of it, and who told his mother that she had "a rotten son".

In the reunified Germany, von Bismarck managed several telecoms businesses and, armed with a doctoral thesis on the East German telephone system, oversaw the sale of companies formerly owned by Communist East Germany to the private sector.  By the late 1990s von Bismarck was working for Telemonde, Kevin Maxwell's troubled telecoms firm based in America, with responsibility for developing the business in Germany; the company collapsed in 2002 with debts of £105 million.  Von Bismarck eventually returned to London, where he became chairman of the investment company AIM Partners, dabbled in film production and promoted holidays to Uzbekistan.

Never concealing his homosexuality, von Bismarck continued to appear in public in various eccentric items of attire, including tall hats atop his bald Mekon-like head.  At parties he would appear in exotic designer frock coats with matching trousers and emblazoned with enormous logos.  Flitting from table to table at fashionable London nightclubs, he was said to be as comfortable among wealthy Eurotrash as he was on formal occasions calling for black tie.

Although described personally as quiet and impeccably mannered, von Bismarck continued to live high on the hog, hosting riotous all-night parties for his (chiefly gay) friends at his £5 million flat off Sloane Square.  It was at one such event, in August last year, that von Bismarck encountered tragedy for a second time when one of his male guests fell 60 ft to his death from the roof garden.  While von Bismarck was not arrested, he was questioned as a witness and there were those who wondered - not, perhaps, without cause - whether he might be the victim of a family curse.

Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen was born on 19 September 1962 in Brussels, the second son of Ferdinand, the 4th Prince Bismarck, whose own father had served in the German embassy in pre-war London until a feud with the ambassador, von Ribbentrop, ended his career.  As a talented young scholar, Gottfried had studied at what he described as "an aristocratic Borstal" in Switzerland and worked at the New York stock exchange before going up to Christ Church, Oxford.  Von Bismarck never fully recovered from the death of his friend Olivia, the striking 22-year-old daughter of Paul Channon (later Lord Kelvedon), then one of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet ministers.  To celebrate the end of their finals, von Bismarck and Olivia had taken part in a drinking bout involving excessive amounts of champagne, Black Velvet and sherry before she overdosed on heroin.  At the inquest her cousin, Sebastian Guinness, described how he and other revellers had repaired to von Bismarck's bottle-strewn rooms, where Olivia was found dead the following morning.  Von Bismarck himself was charged with possessing cocaine and amphetamine sulphate and was later treated at a £770-a-week addiction clinic in Surrey.  Following Olivia Channon's funeral, at which he was said to have "wept like a child", von Bismarck was ordered home to the family castle near Hamburg by his father.

His removal from Oxford was so abrupt that he was not given time to settle his bills; Prince Ferdinand sent a servant who did the rounds of von Bismarck's favoured watering-holes, restaurants and his tailor bearing a chequebook.  The tabloids quoted words of repentance from von Bismarck himself - "My days of living it up are all over.  This past week has just been too much" - but although he was reported to be leaving to finish his studies at a German university and eventually to enter German politics, in the event he was treated again for alcoholism at a German clinic.  He returned briefly to Oxford, where local magistrates fined him £80 for drug possession; he wiped away tears as his lawyer offered mitigation, pointing out that since the Channon affair von Bismarck had received a bad press in Germany.

Doubting whether he would be able to find work in his own country, von Bismarck was said to be planning to study at a university in Los Angeles while continuing to receive treatment for his drink problem.  Olivia Channon's death, his barrister said, would prove to be a shadow over von Bismarck's head "probably for the rest of his life".  So it proved.

He never married.

Source: 4 July 2007

Obituary: M Scott Peck

M Scott Peck, who has died aged 69, was a psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Travelled, the ultimate self-help manual, which has sold some 10 million copies and which set a record for a nonfiction book by spending more than 8 years on the New York Times bestseller list.  Its opening sentence, "Life is difficult", introduced a tome which argued, uncontentiously and sensibly, that human experience was trying and imperfectible, and that only self-discipline, delaying gratification, acceptance that one's actions have consequences, and a determined attempt at spiritual growth could make sense of it.  By contrast, Peck himself was, by his own admission, a self-deluding, gin-sodden, chain-smoking neurotic whose life was characterised by incessant infidelity and an inability to relate to his parents or children.  "I'm a prophet, not a saint," he explained in an interview earlier this year.

In 1983 he began a bid for the presidency in order to be "a healer to the nation", but was forced by health fears to abandon his ambitions.  Recently he had written in Glimpses of the Devil (2005) about his experiences of conducting exorcisms and had embarked on a new career as a songwriter.  The voice of God asked him to be objective about the merits of a song he had written on the subject of faithfulness.  "I went into a sort of guided meditation and I imagined there were a million people around the globe, Japan, Ethiopia, Brazil, America, what not, all with headphones on listening to this thing and that their consensus would somehow be objective…  I played it for the 62nd time and I said: 'Holy s***!  It's not good.  It's great.' "

Morgan Scott Peck was born on May 22 1936 in New York City, the son of a successful lawyer who later became a judge, but who, according to his son, was in denial about the fact that he was half-Jewish.  Though it was a secular household, young Scott attended a Quaker day school and became fascinated by religion, becoming a Zen Buddhist at the age of 18.  By his own account, he was a tiresomely brilliant child.  Like all the others, his ambition was to write the Great American Novel.  After Middlebury College in Vermont, he proceeded to Harvard, from whence he graduated in 1958 in social relations.  Despite his literary ambitions, he enrolled in a pre-med course at Columbia University, taking night classes and working at Bellevue Hospital's psychiatric division during the day.  At that time, he took a dim view of psychiatry, and enrolled at Case-Western Reserve University at Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to become a general practitioner.

At Columbia, he had met Lily Ho, from Singapore; they were married during his first year of medical school.  Both sets of parents disapproved, and Peck's father went so far as to disown him, though he later relented and paid his school tuition fees.

After graduation in 1963, Peck joined the US Army as a psychiatrist, this being the only way in which he could train while receiving a wage sufficient to support his wife and children.  He had stints on Honolulu and in San Francisco before becoming head of psychology at the US Medical Centre at Okinawa from 1967 to 1970, and then assistant chief of psychiatry at the Surgeon General's office in Washington, DC, from 1970 to 1972.  He opposed the Vietnam war, but stayed in the military ("Maybe it was a cop-out, but I decided to be one of those people who work from within") until 1972, when he left in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.  Peck moved to New Preston, Connecticut, working as a psychiatrist and, like many in his profession, spending an equal amount of time playing golf.  In 1976, however, he received an urgent inspiration to write a book which, 20 months later, he submitted to Random House under the title The Psychology of Spiritual Growth.  His editor liked the first two sections, but thought the third "too Christ-y".  Simon & Schuster picked it up for $7,500 and published it as The Road Less Travelled.  At first it sold well, but not spectacularly; by 1980 it had been reprinted and sold 12,000 copies but, on its appearance in paperback, it became a word-of-mouth sensation.  In 1983 it entered the bestseller lists, and stayed there for 8 years.  It was especially popular with members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Peck, meanwhile, found himself drawn from Eastern mysticism to mainstream Christianity, though he remained unfaithful to his wife, maintained his drink and cigarette intake, and was liberal on issues such as euthanasia.  "To me, religion and psychology are not separate," he told Playboy.  His next book, People of the Lie (1983), explored human evil.  He was tiring, too, of his own patients, whom he thought "slow" and insufficiently attentive to him.  He wound down his practice and set out on the lecture circuit, charging $15,000 a talk.  He collaborated on Christian song sheets and, in 1987, published The Different Drum, which pointed out where communities were going wrong.

Latterly he suffered from impotence and Parkinson's Disease and devoted himself to Christian songwriting, at which he was not very good.  He married Lily Ho in 1959; they had 3 children, 2 of whom would not talk to their father.  She left him in 2003.  He is survived by his 2nd wife, Kathy, an educationalist he picked up, while still married, after a lecture at Sacramento, and by his children.

Source: 29 September 2005 © Telegraph Group Limited

Jim Corbett

Kindness can become its own motive.  We are made kind by being kind.

- Eric Hoffer

James Albert Corbett, a provider of sanctuary, died on 2 August 2001, aged 67.

At the trial of Jim Corbett the judge appeared to acknowledge that he was a respectable citizen.  But in his summing up he told the jury, "Good motive is not a defence to intentional acts of crime."

Mr Corbett had founded a movement that had helped many thousands of refugees from Central America to cross into the United States, evading border guards and providing them with shelter and food until they could manage on their own.  But he argued that he was not disobeying American law.  After the second world war, he said, the United States passed a law that it would not expel or return refugees to a country where they would face persecution.  The prosecution offered a different interpretation of the law: it did not permit just any refugee, however threatened, to enter the United States as of right.  And it excluded "economic" refugees who simply wanted a job in a rich country.

The trial attracted an audience far beyond the courthouse in Tucson, a town close to the Mexican border.  At this time, 1986, two Central American countries in particular, El Salvador and Guatemala, were notorious for their brutality.  Liberals in the United States were uneasy about the countries' death squads, armed, according to some reports, with American weapons.  They believed the refugees were being kept out because the United States did not want to offend their governments.  But were the refugees from Central America any less justified in leaving their hellholes than were East Germans trying to escape through the Berlin Wall?  As for Jim Corbett, he likened his charges to slaves escaping from their masters in the American South in what was called the "underground railroad".

The jury was sufficiently impressed to find Mr Corbett and two fellow defendants not guilty.  Eight others were found guilty on charges connected with the case, but none was jailed.  Afterwards Mr Corbett said he would continue helping refugees and was prepared to stand trial as often as was necessary.  But he was never prosecuted again.

Philosopher and Goat-Keeper

Jim Corbett was middle-aged before he found his vocation as master of the new underground railroad.  He had had a prosperous childhood, his father a lawyer, his mother a teacher, and spent much of his youth on a ranch in Wyoming.  He won a scholarship to Harvard, where he studied philosophy.  He taught at a number of minor universities, but found it difficult to settle.  He had a yearning for the rural life.  One of his ancestors, he said, was a Blackfoot Indian.  He studied the husbandry of bees and goats, wrote a paper on "the goat cheese economy" and considered moving to a poor country to pass on his knowledge.  Instead, in the early 1980s he was living in Tucson and, as he put it, "cowboyed and horse traded" along the border.  He had cared little about Central America, he said.  He had never been interested in border problems and had taken the border fence for granted.

A friend asked him if he could help a Salvadorian who had been arrested while trying to cross the border.  Mr Corbett could not get the Salvadorian released, but learnt from him that thousands of Central Americans were making the long journey across Mexico in the hope of being admitted to the United States.  Many were stopped at the border, and the police often caught those that got through.  Mr Corbett and his wife Pat started to collect refugees and look after them in their flat in Tucson.  When they could cram in no more, friends would make room in their homes.  "None of us realised what we were getting into," he recalled.  Overcrowded homes were no solution.  Mr Corbett, a Quaker, wrote to fellow Quakers throughout the United States.  Churches of other denominations offered, or were persuaded, to help.  Quite quickly a network of support for refugees, the underground railroad, was established that reached every part of the United States and Canada.  The Sanctuary Movement was born.

Why did Jim Corbett, happily married, father of three, suddenly take on this burden?  In a long essay he sought to explain his reasons.  It is not an easy read, but he seems to be saying that the idea of sanctuary is what unites humanity as one body.  He makes references to philosophers he studied at Harvard, particularly John Locke and Rousseau and their ideas on freedom.  There are nods towards various Geneva conventions and the Nuremberg trials, together with a look at the tradition of sanctuary.  He came to believe in one church, whether it was run by a priest or a rabbi or whatever.  To visit Central Americans in prison he dressed in a priest's clothes and called himself Padre Jaime.

Mr Corbett disclaimed having started anything new.  The sanctuary movement had been around for more than 3,000 years, he said, strengthening or fading according to the demands of the time.  As the countries south of the United States border have become less brutal, the movement has faded.  In Europe, the widespread hostility to those seeking asylum from countries as far away as China and Afghanistan has touched some consciences, perhaps presaging another sanctuary movement.  But a new Jim Corbett has yet to emerge to speak of the unity of humanity and such unpopular themes.

Source: The Economist 18 August 2001

South Carolina's Most Indestructible Ladies' Man Isn't

by Mark Steyn

Strom Thurmond, the only centenarian senator in American history, is dead, and in a day or two we'll see whether the undertakers have successfully dealt with a potential problem that might, ah, arise: in the words of a favourite Washington aphorism (coined, I think, by the late John Tower), "When ol' Strom dies, they'll have to beat his pecker down with a baseball bat in order to get that coffin lid closed."

There's the epitaph a lot of us guys would like.  Some eulogists will speak about his heroism in war.  Others will deplore his 1948 presidential campaign as the segregationist candidate.  But to many of us, Strom will be fondly remembered as South Carolina's most indestructible ladies' man.  In his early 90s, the wizened Republican with the fiery orange hair-plugs made an ill-advised attempt at bipartisan outreach and groped fellow Senator Patty Murray.  In his late 90s, he had a little light petting session with, um, me.

This was my only close encounter with him, and a lot closer than I'd expected.  It was the first day of the Clinton impeachment trial and, in a chaotic melee by the lifts, I was suddenly pushed forward and thrown between Thurmond and California Senator Barbara Boxer.  Ol' Strom had just cast an appreciative bipartisan eye over the petite brunette liberal extremist.  Ms Boxer gave an involuntary shudder.  I'd been squashed between the two for about five seconds when I became aware of a strange tickling sensation on my elbow.  Glancing down, I was horrified to see an unusually large lizard slithering up and down my arm.  On closer inspection, it proved to be Strom's hand.  Presumably he'd mistaken my dainty elbow for Barbara's, but who knows?  I can't speak for Patty Murray, but I found the mild electric frisson not unpleasant.

A senator is only as old as the woman he feels, and, until he started hitting on Telegraph columnists, that's one thing Strom always had a feel for.  He was the only circuit court judge in South Carolina history to have had sex with a condemned murderess as she was being transferred from the women's prison to death row.  This was Sue Logue, the only woman in the state ever to be sent to the chair, but not before she'd been sent to the back seat of Judge Thurmond's car for a lively final ride.

It was a particularly bloody murder case that had begun when Mr Logue's calf had been kicked to death by some other feller's mule.  Things had escalated from there.  Strom was said to have had a soft spot for Mrs Logue, whom he'd hired as a teacher back when he was school superintendent.  She didn't meet the minimum qualifications for the post, but she was said to have had unusual "vaginal muscular dexterity."

I mention this not merely to be salacious and gossipy - perish the thought - but only because, after profiling a thousand politicians from Al Gore to John Prescott to Wim Kok, one is naturally grateful for a subject with whom one can introduce the phrase "vaginal muscular dexterity" without it feeling shoehorned in.  I may use it again before the column is out.

Strom was the best thing about that strange impeachment trial.  There were rumours that Larry Flynt, Hustler's head honcho, had been working with Clinton operatives to provide the President with an insurance policy lest the numbers got a little close: he'd promised to hunt down video evidence of any amorous adventuring by hypocritical senators minded to convict.  Naturally, we in the media were eager to see what Flynt might produce.  I turned up one morning to find my colleagues immersed in a scandal from an unexpected corner - "Thurmond In World's Oldest Love-Child Shocker!"  Apparently, someone had alleged that, in 1923, Strom had fathered a child by a black woman.  It seemed unlikely even Larry Flynt could have video evidence, though perhaps he had an authentic silent movie of the incident with full piano accompaniment and ornately bordered dialogue cards saying, "Why, Mistuh Thurmond suh, what are you doin' here at this hour?"

In the end, like most everything else, it just added to Strom's lustre.  He retired in January, after a 100th birthday party that set off a chain of events culminating in the fall of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.  Aside from the ill-advised remarks on segregation that cost him his job, Lott also made a joke about the centenarian sex fiend attending the opening of Hooters, a restaurant chain with skimpily attired waitresses, and suggested that Strom replace Bob Dole's over-excited dog in a Pepsi commercial featuring Dole and Britney Spears.

The National Organisation for Women denounced the pervasive sexism of Strom's knees-up.  The longest-serving senator in history could hardly have asked for a better curtain call: a 100th birthday bash that prompts feminist outrage.  In an age of dull politicians who merely follow their polls, Strom at least had one worth following.

Source: 28 June 2003

Thurmond's Illegitimate Daughter Speaks Out

Thurmond's daughter said, "I am not bitter.  I am not angry.
In fact, there is a great sense of peace that has come over me in the past year."

by Larry Copeland

Columbia, South Carolina - She was a daughter facing life's lengthening shadows and reminiscing about a beloved father whom she dared not publicly acknowledge while he was alive.  Mae Washington-Williams, 78, said Wednesday that finally being able to claim her heritage as the illegitimate child of the late senator Strom Thurmond and his family's black maid had brought her a measure of peace.  "I am not bitter," Williams said at an emotional news conference in Columbia, South Carolina.  "I am not angry.  In fact, there is a great sense of peace that has come over me in the past year."  Yet because Strom Thurmond was long one of the nation's most diehard proponents of racial segregation, some historians and civil rights figures saw larger issues than a father-daughter story and a pending reunion with relatives Williams has never met.

Williams announced last week that she was the daughter that Thurmond never publicly acknowledged while he was alive.  Thurmond, whose 48-year tenure in the Senate was the longest in history, died in June at 100.  He had retired 6 months earlier.  Thurmond's family on Monday acknowledged Williams' claim.  His oldest son, US Attorney Strom Thurmond Jr, said he would like to meet his older half sister and start a friendship.  Williams was born in 1925 while her mother, Carrie Butler, then 16, was the maid at the Thurmond family home in Edgefield, South Carolina.  Thurmond, who was living with his parents at the time, was 22.  Historians say this episode underlines one of the most entrenched taboos of Southern culture and highlights the different ways that blacks and whites often view their shared historical legacy.

"People have to understand that this is a part of the inheritance of slavery and segregation," says A V Huff, a retired historian from Furman University in South Carolina.  "It was not uncommon for white slave owners to have sexual relations with women slaves, or at the end of slavery, with blacks who were in an inferior legal and economic position.  It was seldom spoken of in the white community.  But the oral tradition in black families kept knowledge of these types of relationships alive and well."

Williams was the subject of gossip in her native South Carolina for decades, but while Thurmond was alive, she denied that she was his daughter.  She said Wednesday that she did not want to risk harming his political career.  "Throughout his life and mine, we respected each other," Williams said.  "I was sensitive about his well-being and his career.  I knew him beyond his public image.  Certainly never did like the idea that he was a segregationist, but there was nothing I could do about it.  That was his life."

Williams, a retired teacher who lives in Los Angeles, offered some historical perspective of her own.  "There are many stories like Sally Hemings' and mine," she said, referring to Thomas Jefferson's relationship with one of his black slaves [sometimes also spelled Hemmings].  "The unfortunate measure is that not everyone knows about these stories that helped to make America what it is today."  Huff, a native South Carolinian, says he remembers hearing stories about several white fathers of black children when he was a teenager in Columbia in the early 1950s.  One of those stories was about Thurmond and his daughter.  "A lot of people knew this," he says.  "It just was not something that was widely printed or spoken of."  Huff says Williams' revelations are not likely to damage Thurmond's legacy because many South Carolinians already had heard rumours about her and because his family has accepted her claims.

The age of consent for sexual relations in South Carolina in the 1920s was 14.  But that would have been just an irrelevant technicality, says historian Valinda Littlefield, a University of South Carolina professor specialising in Southern black history.  "You're talking about a 15- or early-16-year-old maid," she says.  "What choice does she have?  This is a child, basically."  When Williams' claims were disclosed last weekend, some South Carolinians rushed to attack her and to defend Thurmond.  "Americans need to realise that we have a very complex history, and we need to quit lying to ourselves about what did and did not happen," Littlefield says.

Armstrong Williams, a black columnist and commentator who was a protégé of Thurmond, disputes parallels between Thurmond and Jefferson.  "I've never seen any evidence that Jefferson took care of his children," says Armstrong, who calls the late senator "my hero.  I know Strom was there for his daughter.  He was willing to risk it all.  He would get in his car as governor and go to that campus to see his daughter."

Thurmond first met with his daughter when she was 16, encouraged her to attend South Carolina State College, where he visited her while governor, and sent her money until she got married.  After her husband died at age 45, the payments resumed.  After decades as a governor and senator, Thurmond moderated his views on race relations.  He eventually dropped his opposition to the Voting Rights Act and supported a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.  But this week's disclosure was seen as confirmation to some that he had not truly changed at all.  "He was a racist by day and a hypocrite by night," said the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King.  "It's hypocrisy at its worst."  Had Thurmond truly changed, Lowery said, he would have acknowledged his daughter during his lifetime.

Source: USA Today 17 December 2003 Contributing: The Associated Press, The Greenville (South Carolina) News;; photo credit: Lou Krasky Associated Press

Thurmond Milestones

bullet1902:      James Strom Thurmond born on 5 December in Edgefield, South Carolina.
bullet1923:      Received horticulture degree from Clemson College.
bullet1923-29: Teacher and athletic coach in public schools.
bullet1924:       Elected to Edgefield County, South Carolina, school board.
bullet1925:       A daughter, Essie Mae, born 12 October in Aiken, South Carolina; mother Carrie Butler, 16, a maid for Thurmond's family.  Essie Mae was raised by relatives near Philadelphia.
bullet1929-33:  Thurmond served as school superintendent, Edgefield County.
bullet1933-38:  State senator representing Edgefield County.
bullet1938-46:  Circuit judge.
bullet1947:       Married Jean Crouch.  She died in 1960.
bullet1947-51:  South Carolina governor.
bullet1948:       Ran unsuccessfully for president on the States' Rights Democratic Party line as a supporter of racial segregation.
bullet1954:       Elected to US Senate.
bullet1964:       Switched from Democratic Party to GOP.
bullet1968:       Married Nancy Moore. They separated in 1991.
bullet1971:       Second of five children born.
bullet1996:       At 93 years, 3 months and 1 day, became oldest person to serve in Congress.
bullet1997:       Became longest-serving senator in history with 41 years and 10 months.
bullet2003:       Died 26 June at 100.
bullet2003:       Williams revealed on 13 December that she is Thurmond's daughter.

Sources: USA Today research and The (Columbia, South Carolina) State

Notable Filibusters

1935:  Colourful Louisiana Senator Huey Long spoke for 15 hours, 30 minutes, losing his effort to keep a provision in a National Recovery Administration bill when the call of nature forced him to leave the floor.  Long read and analysed the constitution and provided his colleagues with recipes for fried oysters and potlickers.

1957:  South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond set a record that still stands.  He spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an attempt to block the Civil Rights Act.


Obituary: Virginia Fiennes
Feisty Explorer Who Masterminded Her Husband's Polar Treks

Lady Virginia Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, Explorer

7 July 9 1947 - 20 February 2004

by Oliver Shepard

Virginia "Ginny" Fiennes, who has died of cancer aged 56, was highly respected in polar circles around the world.  In 1985, she became the first woman ever to be invited to join the hallowed ranks of the Antarctic Club, and, two years later, the first to receive the Polar medal from the Queen.  This was in recognition of her research work, especially into VLF radio propagation, for the British Antarctic Survey and Sheffield University.  Ginny's husband, the polar explorer Sir Ranulph "Ran" Fiennes, led many expeditions, in hot deserts and cold regions, through the last three decades of the 20th century.  But it was his wife, whom he idolised, who originated and inspired the planning, had the final say in choosing the teams, organised the routes and schedules, was base leader in Africa, Arabia and the polar regions for many years, and specialised in communications.

She was not impressed by bureaucracy, never took "No" for an answer and, though slightly built, could make big men quake in their boots with a flash of her bright blue eyes.  Ginny was born Virginia Frances Pepper near Lodsworth, West Sussex, the 3rd of the 4 children of Tom and Janet Pepper, whose family had, for 300 years, owned and worked the Amberley chalk quarries on the South Downs, now an industrial museum.  She was only 9 when she met Ran, then an unruly 12-year-old just arrived in a neighbouring village from South Africa; they married in 1970.

After school, Ginny took up deep-sea diving, but was recruited to work for two years in Wester Ross for the Scottish National Trust.  She spent many months in the 1960s researching for Ran's travel books on Arabia, Africa and the Rocky mountains.  In 1968, she organised the first navigation of the Nile, the world's longest river, by prototype hovercraft, and, in 1971, the first transnavigation of British Columbia entirely by river, a 4-month journey filmed by the BBC for the World About Us series.  One night, awaiting the arrival of boats bringing up petrol and food, she was startled by a bear and shot through her own boot by mistake.

In 1972, Ginny was commissioned by Woman's Own magazine to live for 2 months with an Omani sheikh in a Jebel Akhdar village - the idea was that she should act as his 3rd wife, though with a strict understanding that no carnal activities were involved.  She grew to love her Omani family, lived entirely as they did, and decided not to submit any article out of respect for their privacy.  This episode was the start of Ginny's lifelong love of Oman, and she organised 4 expeditions with Ran to locate the lost frankincense city of Ubar, in Dhofar.  This quest was finally successful in the early 1990s, two decades after their search began.

In 1972, Ginny suggested an attempt to circumnavigate the world along its polar axis.  Ten years later, her dream finally succeeded, and the Transglobe expedition team became the first to reach both north and south poles, having crossed Antarctica, and the Arctic ocean through the North-West Passage, a journey altogether of 35,000 miles lasting three years.  The band of expedition colleagues from those days remained Ginny's close friends, among them Anton Bowring, Charlie Burton and myself.  Prince Charles, patron to the expeditions for 15 years, also became a friend.

To become Britain's most experienced polar radio operator, Ginny was trained by expert Jack Willis at Royal Aircraft Establishment (Cove) Farnborough, then took marine radio officer courses and joined the WRAC Territorials.  She set up and maintained 80ft radio masts in the Arctic and Antarctic, often in high winds and temperatures of -50C.  In Antarctica in 1980, she was instrumental in saving the lives of a group of South African scientists lost to the north of her isolated base.

Ginny was tough, and knew what she wanted.  As Ran's fiancée in 1968, she managed to get an interview with Britain's top literary agent, George Greenfield.  But she arrived at the meeting with bleeding knees, having slipped down the steel-edged steps at Holborn tube station in her miniskirt and cut her legs.  Greenfield was so impressed by this fiery envoy that he agreed to take Ran's first book sight unseen.

On another occasion, while discussing an offer from the Observer for exclusive coverage of her Transglobe expedition, Ginny confronted a committee of 18 senior polar gurus, including Sir Vivian Fuchs.  After Greenfield had announced the newspaper's offer - 20% revenue from foreign rights to accrue to the expedition, and 80% for the Observer - Ginny managed singlehandedly to persuade the editor Donald Trelford's executives to switch the figures around and give 80% for the expedition.

Even in bad times, her sense of humour was never far away.  When she heard that Ran was to have 5 fingers amputated because of frostbite, she commented, "Oh damn, now we'll be shorthanded on the farm."  And despite her sometimes forceful manner, Ginny was known to her many friends and godchildren for her gentleness, integrity and generosity.  A modest and private person, she hated being in the spotlight, and never took credit for her achievements.  She loved all animals, and her Jack Russell terrier Bothie, beloved by a generation of Blue Peter fans, became the first dog to travel to both north and south poles -an achievement recounted in Ginny's bestselling book, Bothie, The Polar Dog (1984).  In 1981, Ginny saved a St John's Water Dog puppy from an Inuit annual cull in Tuktoyaktuk, and brought her back to Britain to found a new breed.  There are now some 50 descendants, which are much in demand.

In the 1980s, Ginny moved with Ran to Exmoor national park to raise pedigree Aberdeen Angus cattle and a flock of black Welsh Mountain sheep, turning herself into a highly proficient hill-farmer (at 1,400 ft, one of the highest working farms in the south-west).  Her cattle, traditional but not old-fashioned, are sought after by breeders all over the UK and have won many awards at major cattle shows.

Right up until her death, Ginny was planning new expeditions abroad and new cattle-breeding projects at home.  Her cancer was diagnosed last November, on the day after Ran returned from running 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents with Dr Mike Stroud, raising funds for the British Heart Foundation 4 months after Ran himself suffered a massive heart attack and double bypass surgery.

Source: The Guardian Tuesday 24 February 2004

Obituary: R J Reynolds

12 July 1994 - Richard Joshua Reynolds III, namesake and grandson of the founder of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, died of emphysema and congestive heart failure on 28 June in Pinehurst, North Carolina.  He was 60 years old.  Reynolds was a philanthropist who founded Full Sky Publishing and the New Mexico-based Sufi Institute.  He produced the film Siddhartha, based on the Herman Hesse novel.  He had been a heavy smoker, but had quit in 1986.

His death was announced 12 July at a memorial service in Los Angeles, where his brother, anti-smoking activist Patrick Reynolds, blasted the tobacco industry and its influence in the US government.  Reynolds said he had not announced the death previously because he did not want publicity at the services, and because his family objected to his attributing the death to smoking.  However, he said, "There is no doubt in my mind that my brother died from smoking.  I spoke to Dr Roy Duke, his attending physician at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida., this morning and he confirmed that the emphysema was a direct result of years of smoking."

Patrick Reynolds founded the Los Angeles-based Citizens for a Smokefree America, and favours a ban on cigarette advertising and a minimum age of 21 for tobacco purchases.  Reynolds blasted the government and the "system of special interests" which prevents it from "properly regulating" tobacco like narcotics.  He said legislators are "bribing each other in Washington" - that is, trading tobacco protection for health care reform votes.  But, he said, "the story going around the world that R J Reynolds died from smoking will have a great impact."

The Reynolds family has been decimated by tobacco-related diseases.

bulletThe first R J Reynolds chewed tobacco and died of pancreatic cancer.  He had 4 children, all of whom smoked.  Of those, 2 definitely died from smoking - first R J Jr, smoked heavily and died of emphysema in 1964 at the age of 58.  Next to die was his daughter Nancy.  (Nancy's daughter, Jane, died the 1988 from lung cancer caused by smoking.)  A 3rd wife, Mary, died of stomach cancer in her 40's, which may have been linked to her cigarette smoking.  The 4th, Smith, died at 21 in a sensational scandal of the early 1930's: Smith's older wife, torch singer Libby Holman, whom he met while carousing with his father in New York, was indicted for his murder but was later acquitted.  It was never proved whether Smith's death was murder or suicide.
bulletOf R J Jr's 4 wives, the first 3 smoked.  The 1st, Blitz, died in 1961 at age 52 of colon cancer; her death may have been smoking-related.  (She also had emphysema and heart disease.)  They had 4 sons; the eldest was R J III.  R J Jr's 2nd wife, Marianne, was a movie starlet under contract to Warner Brothers in the 1940's.  She too smoked, which probably hastened her death in 1985 from a "stomach aneurysm".  R J Jr's 3rd wife, Muriel, had no children, and died from smoking-caused lung cancer in 1980.
bulletR J III's brother Mike, a lifelong smoker, now has emphysema at an early stage himself.  Another brother also smokes and has emphysema.  Brother Patrick smoked for a total of 10 years ("always the family product"), quitting more than 20 years ago.  Nevertheless, he now has small-airways lung disease.
bulletR J III's wife of 30 years, a long-time smoker, died of cancer.

Source: © 1997 Gene Borio, the Tobacco BBS (212-982-4645) Original Tobacco BBS material may be reprinted in any non-commercial venue if accompanied by this credit, with hyperlinks intact.

And Last but not Least: Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark

Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other's courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle as a result of an automobile accident on June 18, 2006.

True to Fred's personal style, his final hours were spent joking with medical personnel while he whimpered, cussed, begged for narcotics and bargained with God to look over his wife and kids.  He loved his family.  His heart beat faster when his wife of 37 years, Alice Rennie Clark, entered the room and saddened a little when she left.  His legacy was the good works performed by his sons, Frederic Arthur Clark III and Andrew Douglas Clark MD, Phd, along with Andy's wife, Sara Morgan Clark.

Fred's back straightened and chest puffed out when he heard The Star Spangled Banner and his eyes teared when he heard Amazing Grace.  He wouldn't abide self important tight-***** (censored).  Always an interested observer of politics, particularly what the process does to its participants, he was amused by politician's outrage when we lie to them and amazed at what the voters would tolerate.  His final wishes were "throw the bums out and don't elect lawyers" (though it seems to make little difference).

During his life he excelled at mediocrity.  He loved to hear and tell jokes, especially short ones due to his limited attention span.  He had a life long love affair with bacon, butter, cigars and bourbon.

You always knew what Fred was thinking, much to the dismay of his friend and family.  His sons said of Fred, "he was often wrong, but never in doubt."  When his family was asked what they remembered about Fred, they fondly recalled how Fred never peed in the shower - on purpose.  He died at MCV Hospital and sadly was deprived of his final wish which was to be run over by a beer truck on the way to the liquor store to buy booze for a double date to include his wife, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter to crash an ACLU cocktail party.  In lieu of flowers, Fred asks that you make a sizable purchase at your local ABC store or Virginia winery (please, nothing French - the ******** [censored] and get rip roaring drunk at home with someone you love or hope to make love to.  Word of caution though, don't go out in public to drink because of the alcohol-related laws our elected officials have passed due to their inexplicable terror at the sight of a MADD lobbyist and overwhelming compulsion to meddle in our lives.

No funeral or service is planned.  However, a party will be held to celebrate Fred's life.  It will be held in Midlothian, Virginia.  Email for more information.  Fred's ashes will be fired from his favorite cannon at a private party on the Great Wicomico River where he had a home for 25 years.  Additionally, all of Fred's friend (sic) will be asked to gather in a phone booth, to be designated in the future, to have a drink and wonder, "Fred who?"

Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 9 July 2006


Finding a Joke Even in His Death

by Paige Akin Mudd

Fred Clark wrote his own obituary, moving many who read it.  Clark, 61, died on Father's Day, June 18, after a car crash in Powhatan County.  His wife and passenger, Alice, was just released from VCU Medical Center after surgery for broken bones.  The elder Clark figured he would die of a disease, so his family had to do some slight editing on the obituary. But the rest of the words are his own.

Most of it is true, "although he didn't really expect that he'd go on a double date with Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter," Clark's son said.

Born in Northern Virginia, Clark moved to Richmond to attend the University of Richmond.  He spent his career working for Verizon but had retired.  Alice Clark runs the family's business, Rennie's Advertising.


I trust alcohol was not involved - that would be too ironic...

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