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Notable deaths: Science and business

Notable deaths: Science and business

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, December 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: remembering those who died in 2022.

We say it each year, but it’s important to remember…every person is an image-bearer of Christ—and in that sense, everyone is notable to God. And you may have lost this year a person who is notable to you.

But these deaths we call your attention to this year are notables in the sense that they are widely known, for good or ill.

REICHARD: All this week you will hear about notable deaths in five broad categories: politics, religion, sports and music, stage and screen, and science and business.

The business world lost several well-known figures this year—fashion and business mogul Leonardo Del Vecchio who made millions on eyeglasses, skier-turned-businesswoman Ivana Trump, restaurateur Sylvia Wu, and the co-founder of the energy drink Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz.

EICHER: Here’s WORLD reporter Mary Muncy.

MARY MUNCY, REPORTER: Johan Hultin helped discover the origins of the 1918 Spanish flu. One remote Alaska village had been decimated by the illness—72 of the 80 residents died within five days.

In 1951, Hultin flew to that village to gather tissue samples from the corpses of flu victims. He exhumed several bodies. The first one was a little girl.

Here’s Hultin in an interview with Loud Voices Silent Streets.

HULTIN: She was wearing a blue dress and had a ribbon in her hair. It was heartbreaking really.

Hultin took several samples back to his Iowa lab, but couldn’t recreate viable cultures. He gave up the project and went back to school. But he kept tabs on the research.

Almost 50 years later, he learned someone had partially recreated the Spanish flu’s genetic code. Hultin wrote to that scientist and within a week, he flew back to Alaska on his own dime to gather more samples.

He sent them to the scientist and within 10 years, that lab had decoded the Spanish flu’s genetic code.

HULTIN: I almost talked myself into believing that nothing would ever come of it… but you know you really shouldn’t ever lose your passion or belief.

Hultin died in January. He was 97.

From a historic virus to an active one. Luc Montagnier is widely credited with discovering the virus that causes HIV.

He grew up in France and remembered the country’s liberation from Germany.

The discovery of the virus that causes AIDS started with a sheep, then horses, then cows. Montagnier noticed it was the same virus infecting them and causing long-lasting problems… even though the animals did not have an immune deficiency.

After that, he organized a team and got to work identifying the virus that would eventually be named HIV.

In 2008, Montagnier was a joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery.

MOTAGIER: Our effort has been a collective effort involving many collaborators. Rest assured This is not the work of one person, or of a few people, but really the work of many people.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Montagnier questioned COVID’s origins and raised concerns over potential new vaccine dangers. One of his most widely reported claims was that the vaccine would end up causing new COVID variants. Many doctors disagreed with him, saying there were new variants before the vaccine’s invention.

Montagnier died in February. He was 89.


Until Doctor Audrey Evans, there was very little anyone could do for a child with cancer other than comfort them.

But Evans pioneered new treatments for neuroblastoma, a cancer commonly found in infants. During her career, neuroblastoma deaths dropped by half—nearly 80 percent of children now survive.

She also co-founded the first Ronald McDonald House in 1974. Ronald McDonald Houses are found near cancer treatment centers and offer affordable housing for families with sick children.

EVANS: The center of treatment for a child with cancer is the family. A family with a sick child is a sick family.

Evans told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she learned to talk to children about death. She said one of the best things you can do is share.

She told one girl that there would be flowers in heaven, and sat with a boy until 4 am—granting his last wish for chocolate cake.

She would let the children bring their animals into treatment. One child brought a bunny, the other a parakeet.

She died in her home in September. She was 97.

From cancer treatment to medical deterrence.

Jeremiah Stamler is widely considered to be the father of preventive cardiology. He started his research by studying the way different foods affected chickens’ hearts.

When Stamler started his research in the 1970s. Many thought heart disease was a symptom of age, not something that could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle.

His mantra was “firm, steady pressure.” He spent years analyzing case studies and then years convincing the powers that be to listen.

In an interview with Northwestern University Feinberg school of medicine, Stamler promotes being proactive medicine, rather than reactive.

STAMLER: In all aspects of medicine I think prevention primary prevention and primordial prevention are very important and I think they’re applicable in every place.

At 98, Stamler told his stepson Michael that he didn’t know how much longer he could go on. The next time Michael saw him, Stamler said “I got a grant renewal! I’m living to 102!” and sure enough, Stamler died in January, at age 102.

Moving now from medicine, to science:

Robert Curl’s parents bought him a chemistry set for Christmas when he was 9 years old. Within a week, he’d decided to become a chemist.

Here’s Curl in an interview with Academic Influence.

CURL: I particularly liked things that combusted spontaneously, things that made explosions, things that smell bad… fortunately I was not a good enough chemist to blow myself up.

That was in 1943, forty years later he had gone through many more years of school and was working at the Rice Institute. He worked with a group of graduate students and scientists on a project to recreate carbon found in deep space.

And they did it. But Curl didn’t let them publish right away. He took his time verifying the results before announcing the discovery.

They believed that they’d found Carbon 60—a soccer ball shape of 60 carbon atoms bonded together. Many dismissed the discovery, but years later other scientists in Germany figured out how to create larger quantities and analyze them.

Curl and two colleagues shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996.

CURL: I still don’t regard myself as actually being a scientist, I just like doing it— I like the work.

Curl died in July. He was 88.

Staying in space…

SOUND: [Parker rocket launch]

NASA’s Eugene Parker solar probe blasted off in 2018. It was the first NASA rocket bearing the name of a then-living person.

Here’s Parker after the launch.

PARKER: I greatly admire the scientists and engineers whose patient efforts together converted the Solar Probe concept into a functioning reality ready to do battle with the solar elements.

In 1958, Parker theorized the existence of solar wind, a supersonic flow of particles off the sun’s surface.

At first his theory was widely criticized and even mocked. But in 1962, a NASA mission to Venus proved that solar wind affected the universe.

When asked to give advice to young scientists, he said, if you do something new, expect trouble.

Parker died in March. He was 94.

From science to business.

COMMERCIAL: [“Just Do It” song]

Dan Wieden, the creator of Nike’s slogan “Just Do It,” started his career after his writing job fired him. He says he walked into his basement where his wife was doing laundry. She was pregnant with their fourth child.

She asked how his day went and he told her he’d been fired. She looked up and said “something will come up.”

Here’s Weiden.

WIEDEN: She gave me what I could not give myself, and that was permission to fail… You have to be able to fail if you’re going to do anything worthwhile.

After that, he and his business partner founded Wieden and Kennedy in 1982. They had a few chairs, some cardboard file cabinets, and one client—Nike.

Before their first pitch meeting, Weiden and Kennedy had many different commercials in mind but needed something to tie them together—something the casual walker and the most hard-core athlete could relate to. “Just do it” was born.

Now, Weiden and Kennedy is the world’s largest independent advertising agency.

Weiden died in October. He was 77.

And we end today with an inventor.

In the 1960s Clayton Jacobson II found himself sitting in a ditch in southern California. He’d just fallen off his dirtbike, again.

As he sat on the ground picking rocks out of his skin he thought: “there’s got to be a better way.”

He decided he wanted to enjoy a motorcycle without the risk of hitting the ground at high speeds.

So he built what he called a “motorcycle on the water.”

SOUND: [Motorcycle on water]

That sound is Clayton doing a body slide on what he called a Sea-Doo.

But it never quite took off. Then he signed a new deal with Kawasaki in 1973 and the newly named Jetski, well, that took off.

AUDIO: [Kawasaki commercial]

The Jetski became so popular that Bombardier relaunched the Sea-Doo in 1988 and it became one of the world’s most popular boating brands.

Clayton died at his home in Australia in August. He was 88.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy.

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