Ethics Hero Emeritus: Irena Sendler (1910-2008)

Sendler

I missed learning about the death of Irena Sendler (Irena Sendlerowa) in 2008, and this occurred because the mass news media barely took note of it. Lots of celebrities died that year whose passing prompted extended mourning in the press and examinations of their legacies: Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, Sir Edmund Hillary (a member of the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor), Charlton Heston, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and many others. There was no room for a final appreciation of the life of Irena Sendler, apparently. Today, the website Bio.com doesn’t list her among the notable deaths of that year, though it finds room for Fifties stunt singer Yma Sumac—remember her? She had a four octave range! And Arthur Showcross: he murdered 11 women from 1988 to 1990 in upstate New York, earning the nickname “The Genessee River Killer.”

All Irena Sendler did was save 2500 children from the Treblinka death camp. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Reubin Askew ( 1928-2014)

Askew

In a better United States where only character, demonstrated skill, experience and leadership ability were necessary to become President, Reubin Askew would have been one. Unfortunately looks, luck, money and timing are important too. Askew had the looks, all right; he just missed the other three.

Never mind. Reubin Askew, who died yesterday, did all right.

His father was an alcoholic, and soon his mother had divorced him and was supporting Reubin and his five siblings as a single mother in Pensacola, Florida. She worked as a waitress, seamstress and hotel maid, while Reubin shined shoes, bagged groceries, delivered newspapers and sold his mother’s homemade pies door to door to do his part to support the family. After graduating from high school in Pensacola,  Askew served two years in the Army and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, graduated from Florida State in Tallahassee, where he was elected student body president. He was an Air Force officer during the Korean War, and in 1956 graduated from the University of Florida law school. That same year he joined a Pensacola law firm, and married Donna Lou Harper, who remained his wife for 57 years, until he died.

Askew ran for Florida’s House of Representatives in 1958, and won. After four years in the House, and eight more as a state senator, he ran for governor.  He was already nicknamed  “Reubin the Good,” and his opponent, Republican Claude Kirk, ridiculed the well-publicized fact that Askew, a devout Christian, never drank, smoked or used curse words by referring to him as a “mama’s boy,” not tough enough for high office. Askew’s rebuttal: “I love my mama.”  He won easily. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Aitziz Hasan (1997-2013)

aitzaz

Aitzaz Hasan, 15, was  standing with fellow students outside his school last week in Ibrahimzai, a region of Hangu in north-western Pakistan. They noticed a man approaching wearing a vest laden with explosives.  They knew what was about to happen. There were over 2000 children at the school,and Aitzaz told his friends that someone needed to stop the suicide bomber from getting close enough to harm them.

According to witnesses, Aitzaz approached the terrorist, confronted him, and tackled him to keep him from getting any closer.

The suicide bomber detonated his vest, killing himself and the brave boy.

This is by far the shortest biography of any of the Ethics Heroes enshrined here in the Ethics Alarms  Heroes Hall of Honor. It is far from the least impressive. This young man, whose life had barely begun, made the ultimate sacrifice to save the lives of others. No one of any age should have to face the choice Aitzaz had; no one  should ever have to grow up under conditions that would impose such an ethical challenge on anyone. Yet when the crisis arose, this young man had the  courage and values to do what all nations honor soldiers and other heroes for doing to preserve civilization and human life through the centuries: he faced the challenge, put the lives of others before his own, fixed the problem, ended the threat, and died. Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Jack McDonald (1915-2013)

Jack McDonald

Before today, I had never heard of Jack McDonald, and outside of his co-workers , family and friends, not many had. That was the way he wanted it, for he was an unassuming man with a conventional career, including three decades as an attorney for the Veterans Administration. He clipped coupons, dressed humbly and allowed himself few luxuries. He got around his home town of Seattle using public transportation. Most who knew him thought he was struggling.

When Jack McDonald died this past September, his death received little notice in the local news, and none nationally—until about a week ago, when it was revealed that his will provided for the creation of a $187.6 million charitable trust for the benefit of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, the University of Washington School of Law and the Salvation Army. Continue reading

Presenting the Ethics Alarms Heroes’ Hall Of Honor

remember

Today, the anniversary of September 11. 2001, American minds should be occupied with thoughts of gratitude for heroes, the often anonymous and unknown people we may pass in the street every day, as well as the justly famous and celebrated, who make our lives and many others better by living their own selflessly and well. They are our salvation, role models and neighbors, and they teach us the lesson that all is never lost, and hope is always thriving, as long as there are good and courageous people who will do the right thing, no matter what the cost, when fate turns to them.

This seems like a propitious time to dedicate the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, the list of the Ethics Heroes Emeritus whose stories have been told here (and on this site’s predecessor, The Ethics Scoreboard.) Every current member of the Hall is now deceased, like the brave men and women who died this day, 12 years ago. Each of them, in a unique way, teaches how human beings can rise above the vicissitudes of mere survival, self-interest, personal benefits and the base desires of the species  to live  meaningful and virtuous lives. Some accomplished this over decades, some with one brilliant and transforming act of distinction.

There are currently 32 members enshrined in this virtual Hall. Obviously, it is far from complete. They are just symbolic representatives, worthy ones, of millions more who once breathed the same air we do today, and like those who perished twelve years ago, face the prospect of being forgotten over time, as we all go about the consuming task of getting from one day to another. Each one of us, I believe, is capable of emulating their example.

Here are the thirty-two members and their stories, as of this date,

September 11, 2013... Continue reading