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You couldn’t just end quietly, could you, 2021?
The last week of the year saw the deaths of Richard Marcinko, Desmond Tutu, Harry Reid and John Madden.
That is about as motley a line-up as you can find, each embodying an archetype.
Marcinko was a prototypical warrior. He enlisted in the Navy after dropping out of high school, first serving as a radioman. He was then selected for “frogman” training to become a Navy Seal. He succeeded and was subsequently selected to become an officer.
He led numerous assaults in Vietnam, earning the Silver Star. He continued to advance. Then, after the failed attempt to rescue the Americans held hostage in Tehran, he was tasked with creating the Navy’s famed SEAL Team Six, an organization that still plays a critical role in our national defense.
Archbishop Tutu was a leader for Black South Africans opposing the Aparthed regime. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was elected to the Anglican Archbishopric of Cape Town.
His efforts helped South African transition from a racially dominated pseudo-police state into one providing universal suffrage for all adults without the interim step of a civil war. He embodied the Black Christian leader who merged race and religion to pursue social change.
Harry Reid was the quintessential politician. He was elected to the Nevada Assembly at 28 and lieutenant governor at 30. Then, in 1982, he was sent to Congress. He spent four years in the House before moving onto the Senate for 30 more. In 2016, he finally retired.
As an old Washington hand, he knew how to work the arcane levers of power in the tradition-seeped Senate. For all the talk today about filibuster reform, it was Reid – as leader of the Democrats – who first launched the “nuclear option,” eliminating the 60-vote requirement for nearly every court in the nation. He played games like “filling the tree,” a maneuver he used to prevent Republicans from offering amendments to legislation.
And, finally, John Madden. For older generations, he was the brash, young head coach of the Oakland Raiders, winner of Super Bowl XI. For Gen X and Millennials, he – with Pat Summerall or Al Michaels – became the voice of the NFL. And for anyone who has owned a video game system since the 1980s, his name is synonymous with top-tier football games.
Some of his color commentary quotes became memes in their own right. “The defense should be expecting a run or a pass here.” “At the end of the game, the team with the most points on the board is going to win.” “You can’t win a game if you don’t score any points.”
Marcinko was a war hero. Tutu a Nobel Laureate. Reid was involved with decades of American policy decisions, responsible for untold amounts of legislation. Yet, I’d be willing to wager it is Madden who has the highest name identification in any given American high school.
The passing of these four men – yes, they are all men – reflect a larger change at hand. The vanguard of the millennial generation will turn 40 during 2022. We recognize the names of those passing. We may not have seen them during their heyday, but we have a sense of who they were.
And those auld acquaintances should not be forgot, nor never brought to mind.
Because remembering those we lost in 2021 – and in years before – is just as important as ever. As we look forward towards a new year, we should keep an eye on the past. Because Marcinko, Tutu, Reid and Madden all have lessons for us.
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet. For auld lang syne.