Editorial: In blessed memory ...
On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember and honor those from our community and state who passed away over the past year, including, but not limited to:
John Dingell. The longest serving member in congressional history died on Feb. 7 at the age of 92 at his Dearborn home. Dingell was distinguished for far more than the length of his tenure. He also was among the most impactful congressmen to ever serve the nation. As a young member, Dingell fought for passage of the Civil Rights Act, at great risk to his then budding political career. He also was instrumental in passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, as well as a number of other measures to protect the environment. At the same time, Dingell fought to shield the auto industry from those in Washington who didn't appreciate or understand its impact on the American economy, and those who worked in the industry. Above all else, he was a good and honest man.
Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul was perhaps the best ambassador Detroit has ever had. She was the voice of the Motor City, and of America. Her litany of hits, including Pink Cadillac, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, A Natural Woman, Say a Little Prayer, Think and so, so many others rivals that of any other musician. Franklin stayed true to her hometown, continuing to reside in Detroit even as her fame grew, and staying active with New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was the longtime pastor and where she began her singing career. Aretha Franklin died on Aug. 16, but her music never will.
Judge Damon Keith. He spent 52 years on the federal bench, starting as a district judge in Detroit and serving until his death April 28 as a judge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Keith issued a number of landmark decisions, including United States v. Sinclair during the Watergate scandal, in which he ruled Attorney General John Mitchell had to disclose illegal wiretaps. A passionate believer in the Constitution, Keith chaired the 200th anniversary observance of that document, and his name appears on Bill of Rights plaques in courthouses throughout the country. Rather than reject the Constitution for denying its protections to his people, Keith waved it in America's face and demanded the nation live up to its promise.
Richard DeVos. The consummate entrepreneur, with his partner Jay Van Andel, built Amway into a powerhouse direct-selling company and along the way helped build his hometown of Grand Rapids into one of the Midwest's most attractive mid-size cities. His company's name was short for American Way, which DeVos passionately believed in. An ardent conservative, DeVos backed a number of Republican candidates, including his good friend and Grand Rapids neighbor President Gerald R. Ford. He was also a tremendous philanthropist, donating millions to educational, health and cultural organizations. He died Sept. 6 at age 92.
Bob Berg. The Detroit public relations wizard came to public life as a staffer for former Gov. William Milliken. He left the governor's office to become press secretary for Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, a position he held for 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s. Berg was a straight shooter, a calm presence in a crisis and a PR man who enjoyed the trust of the media. Throughout his career, he worked to better race relations in Detroit and to improve the city's image. He was 76 when he died on May 8.
Jon Wolman. The publisher of The Detroit News spent 12 years leading the newspaper, and was noted for his old-school devotion to hard news. He helped make The News into one of the best regional newspapers in the nation. And he was among the most influential journalists of his generation, having served as the Washington Bureau chief of the Associated Press and as the news service's executive editor. He spent 45 years in the news business, and was 68 when he died on April 15.
We miss them all, and the others who have passed on since last Memorial Day, and celebrate lives well lived.