Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Kirby and Dana

Within 24 hours of each other, two notable Americans were cut down in what should have been the prime of their lives. How could I not write about them today?

Kirby Puckett literally defined Minnesota Twins baseball for much of the 1980s and 1990s. He had forearms that were larger than most people's thighs. When he hit the ball, the hide would fly into orbit along with the core. His legacy included Golden Gloves, All-Star Games, batting titles, and World Championships.

His career was cut short when he was forced to retire at age 34, suffering from glaucoma. His entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame was a cakewalk, achieved on the first ballot during his first year of eligibility.

His personal troubles later in life included failing health, weight gain, and a few run-ins with the law. But during his professional career, he was a baseball player's baseball player, a gentleman on the field and a model citizen off. Who didn't like Kirby Puckett?

He suffered a massive stroke over the weekend and died the next day at his home in Phoenix. He'll be missed.

Dana Reeve was the perfect wife that every man could dream of. Already a talented singer and actress when Christopher Reeve found her and married her, they led the model family life, living far from trappings of Hollywood in suburban New York.

When Christopher was paralyzed from a riding accident, it was Dana who gamely faced the cameras and the media. In demonstrating her un-dying support for her husband, she exhibited grace, poise, and optimism that others could only dream to duplicate.

Dana and Chris (as she called him) always believed with all their heart that he would walk again. They jointly formed the "Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation", raising money and awareness for spinal cord injury research and raising the hopes of thousands of paralysis victims throughout the world. She carried on as president of the foundation after Chris' death.

I had the honor of writing Dana's biography for Wikipedia. The more I researched her life, the more I admired her. Politically, we were polar opposites — she was an avid liberal and actively campaigned for John Kerry. But I have to admit, she was my favorite liberal. I always dreamed of meeting her in person some day.

Last year, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, although she had never smoked a day in her life. Throughout her treatment, she maintained a rigorous schedule of public appearances in support of the Foundation. Publicly, she said that the cancer was responding to treatment.

She died last night, leaving behind a son, 13-year-old William. She'll be missed.

She was 44.

Kirby Puckett was 45.

I am 49.

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