Recently I was honored to deliver the eulogy for my uncle, Owen Norris of Ider, Ala.
He was a child of the Great Depression. He learned how to build and fix things out of necessity, he served our country in a MASH unit in Korea, and he started his own business. He raised a great family, traveled the world, helped his neighbors, was an expert woodworker, a believer, an athlete, and a great storyteller.
That’s the short version of an incredible 90-year life. (If you would like to read my full tribute, send me an email.)
Despite his declining health, Uncle Owen was sharp as a tack until the very end. We knew the end was near, and we told that we love him, face to face. He appreciated that, and returned our love many times over. I am glad he went to his eternal home knowing he was loved.
Baseball’s true home run king, Henry “Hank” Aaron knew he was loved too. In the decades since he hung up his cleats, countless Braves fans told him how much he meant to them. I was lucky to be among them. When he died last month at age 87, I renewed my efforts to convince the bank that owns the naming rights at the Braves stadium to name the field in his honor.
That could happen soon, as the bank yields to fan pressure to honor “Hank” in a proper way. The bank had ample time to do that during his lifetime, but chose not to do so. When they finally do the right thing, I will be there to cheer for this American hero, but I will be sad that the ceremony will not include Mr. Aaron himself.
As we “baby boomers” age, we are sadly saying goodbye to the entertainers, political figures, athletes, and role models we admired. In the age of COVID, we have been doing so at an alarming rate.
In recent weeks and months, we have lost 100-year-old George Shultz, who fought in World War II, and served three different presidents in four cabinet posts, helping to bring the Cold War to an end.
Also, we have said farewell to a full baseball team of Hall of Fame players: Don Sutton, a durable pitcher who became a popular Braves announcer; the ageless Braves knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro, who always made time for fans; Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, the most fearsome fastball pitcher of his era; his teammate Lou Brock, one of our great base stealers; Joe Morgan of the Big Red Machine, Tom Seaver of the Amazin’ Mets; Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers, who was one of the game’s best managers and goodwill ambassadors, and a Country Music Hall of Famer, Charley Pride, who played minor league ball for the Dodgers.
We have also said goodbye to a Who’s Who of entertainment figures: the great actress Cicely Tyson, who was 96; the master interviewer Larry King; the world-class actor Hal Holbrook, who was still doing his one-man Mark Twain stage show four years ago at the age of 91; Regis Philbin, one of the best live broadcasters of all time; and the “Jeopardy” game master Alex Trebek, who showed us it was cool to be smart.
This avalanche of notable departures is by no means complete. So rather than wait until it’s too late, here are a few familiar names who are still with us, who have earned my eternal respect and admiration.
Carol Burnett will soon turn 88. She doesn’t even need a script to make us laugh. She can do it simply by answering questions from the audience.
Betty White just turned 99. She was a legend even before “The Golden Girls” transformed her into a national treasure.
Bob Barker is 97. Anyone who knows me can tell you, he has been my idol since I learned to talk. I’m still trying to be as smooth as Bob. Spoiler alert: it’s not gonna happen.
Charles Osgood is 88. I’m still trying to be as good a writer as “Charlie.” That won’t happen either.
Dick Van Dyke is 95. Never has there been a more graceful comedian. The Kennedy Center is honoring him this year. A bit overdue, don’t you think?
Herb Alpert. Bob Newhart. Angela Lansbury. Sidney Poitier. Tony Bennett. Jerry Lee Lewis. Clint Eastwood. Norman Lear. Mel Brooks. Berry Gordy.
Here’s to all of you, and so many others for your remarkable longevity, and for enriching our lives.
One final note on bouquets for the living. As I write this, there is talk of a permanent honor for Dolly Parton at the Tennessee State Capitol. Of course, one state representative is concerned about this, because she is still alive. Not me. I agree with Snuffy Smith. “Time’s a wastin’!” Why wait?