RIP January 2019

January's roll of the dead scythed the great and the low - some whose time had arrived, and others who deserved longer. Read on.

Investigative journalists get murdered everywhere and are swiftly forgotten, sadly. One such was Ahmed Hussein-Suale, a Ghanaian investigative journalist who at the age of 31 was shot dead in his car near his family home in Accra on 16 January. Eyewitnesses said he was killed by two men travelling on motorbikes who fired at his car from close range. The first bullet hit Hussein-Suale in the neck and the car accelerated, crashing into a storefront. One of the gunmen approached the driver’s side and fired two shots through the broken window directly into Hussein-Suale’s chest. Then he turned to those watching, smiled, and raised a finger to his lips. Hussein-Suale’s first big story was in 2013 when he travelled to northern Ghana to expose witchdoctors behind the poisoning of children believed to be possessed by evil spirits.

Paweł Bogdan Adamowicz, the popular and independent mayor of the Polish port city of Gdansk, was very publicly assassinated – stabbed through the heart and diaphragm – on 13 January, while he was speaking at a charity event in the centre of Gdansk. He was 53.

The world’s oldest living man, Masazo Nonaka, who was 113 years and 179 days, died on 20 January. He claimed his advanced age was due to relaxing in hot springs and eating sweet things. Now he’s gone, the oldest-living mantle falls on the shoulders of Gustav Gerneth, a German citizen who was born in Szczecin, in Poland, in October 1905. Gerneth thinks he has lived for so long because he’s never been on a diet, always ate butter, never touched a cigarette and always drank booze in moderation.

Other centenarians who faded away in January included Shivakumara Swami (pictured right), the spiritual leader of a Hindu sect, who was 111 years and 295 days; Francis W. Nye, a US Air Force Major-General who was 100; Deng Tietao, the Chinese doctor, who went at 102; Lessie Brown, who was the oldest living US citizen; the Swedish actress Guje Lagerwall (née Sjöström) who reached 100; the Austrian-born British economist Paul Streeten, who left Austria after the 1938 Anschluss and fought as a commando during the 1943 Allied invasion of Italy;  Lieutenant General  Leo J. Dulacki, a highly decorated US marine officer, who reached 100; Miguel Gallastegui, also known as Hercules de Asoliartza for his considerable physical strength, who was a pelotari, who made it to 100; Geoffrey Langlands, who fought as a commando in the 1942 Dieppe Raid for the British army, and then spent the rest of his life in Pakistan, teaching and leading elite schools, who died aged 101; Guy Charmot, a French doctor and member of the Resistance in the Second World War, who was 104. Perhaps the best-known – certainly in Britain – centenarian to die in January was Diana Athill, who worked at the publishing house of André Deutsch for much of her adulthood, and enjoyed her own late-flowering literary career. She died aged 101.

He wore mad-professor thick glasses and sported a Bobby Charlton comb-over and long sideburns, which added to his eccentric air. Always courteous and generous, he possessed one of the weakest handshakes.

One of the great eccentrics of the City of London, Stephen Lewis, died at the age of 70. Lewis went to Wolverhampton Grammar School where a classmate of his was Mervyn King, a future governor of the Bank of England. His poor eyesight hindered Lewis on the football field but as a school full-back he developed a crude though effective technique – he would run straight into opposing forwards. At Balliol College, Oxford he read Psychology and Philosophy. A contemporary was Christopher Hitchens, who dubbed him “Trotsky Lewis” because of the passion of his opinions. He became obsessed with trying to win the football pools and gained only a Third. Lewis went into the City and joined Phillips & Drew, and his gloom-ridden Economic Insights were a must-read for professional investors for almost half a century. He wore mad-professor thick glasses and sported a Bobby Charlton comb-over and long sideburns, which added to his eccentric air. Always courteous and generous, he possessed one of the weakest handshakes. In 2000, after a spirited debate about Europe at a London dinner party, a plan was hatched to fly a powered hang-glider through the Arc de Triomphe, dropping leaflets urging the French to resist adopting the euro. Lewis offered to fund the £10,000 adventure and the glider almost reached the Avenue de la Grande-Armée leading to the Arc before weather forced the pilot down. When Lewis’s first flat in north London was filled with old newspapers – which he kept so that he could make judgments on how history had turned out – he bought a second, and then a third. He also liked to point out park benches around the capital where he might sleep if rampant inflation ever destroyed his savings. His valedictory punchline was to write that “rampant globalisation” had generated “a growing sense among the many that a few are making off with the fruits of economic progress.” The antidote to this, he believed, lay with the nation-state, whose “positive function…is to maintain equity between the social classes.” In that context the UK, in reclaiming sovereignty from the EU, “may well become a beacon to the world.”

France lost a would-be king in January – Prince Henri Philippe Pierre Marie d’Orléans was the Orléanist pretender to the defunct throne which, had it existed, would have seen him crowned Henry VII. He was 85. A retired military officer, he was also a painter and the author of several books. He and his parents were only allowed to return to France in 1950, when the law which exiled them was abrogated. Prince Edward Taw Phaya, also known as Tun Aung, was the pretender to the Burmese throne and head of the royal house of Konbaung; he died aged 94.

“Beware of our murderous, megalomanic, egocentric, pityless, wrongheaded rulers”

John Patrick Coughlin, the American figure skater, hanged himself age 33, one day after the national body for the sports suspended him for as-yet unspecified allegations. Muriel Pavlow (pictured), one of the great beauties of English cinema in the 1950s, and who, despite having a French mother and Russian father, appeared in many quintessentially English roles (including the wife of Douglas Bader, the irascible legless fighter pilot), died aged 97. Peter Zander, a German-born British actor who also in recent years wrote a wonderful blog – “Beware of our murderous, megalomanic, egocentric, pityless, wrongheaded rulers” – died at the age of 96. At 95 Stewart Adams, one of the co-creators of the pain-relief drug Ibuprofen, now one of the world’s best-selling drugs, went. Tara Simmons died from breast cancer at the early age of 34; she was a highly talented Australian musician whose single I Cannot Be Saved can be heard here. Lorna Doom – aka Teresa Marie Ryan – the bass player for the American punk rock band the Germs (a truly awful collection of talent-free but enthusiastic individuals) was punched out by cancer at the age of 61. Brian Velasco, the drummer of the band Razorback, jumped to his death from the balcony of a building in Manila, aged 41. Kevin Fret, 24, a Puerto Rican singer and the first openly gay Latin trap performer, was shot dead  while riding his motorbike in a barrio in San Juan.

Tired of all the junk mail that comes through the letterbox or drops out of your newspaper? Then you won’t be laying many flowers at the graveside of Lester Wunderman, generally considered to be the inventor of direct marketing. He was responsible for the magazine subscription card, loyalty rewards programmes, and much else designed to sell you stuff you never knew that you needed. He kicked the bucket in the US on 9 January aged 98, no doubt waving his loyalty card in the face of St Peter – or maybe Lucifer’s greeter.

Picture source: Prime Minister’s Office, Government of India, Ministry of Information