SCOTT SIMON, host:
When I travel I often read obituaries. Many can and should make you sad: a 26-year-old mother of two who dies in a fire; the 16-year-old student who goes out with friends and gets killed in a car crash. But many others, especially during weeks like these, actually reassure you. Remarkable people are always around.
Peter Funkhouser of Anchorage died a few weeks ago at the age of 93. He'd come to Alaska from Ohio as a young man and grew up with the state. He was a fisherman, a miner, a lumberjack and a longshoreman before finally going to work on the Alaska railroad. Mr. Funkhouser played the mandolin; he could do 100 pushups into his 70s. He taught swimming to youngsters. How many railroad workers play the mandolin? Probably more than many of us ever thought. He and his wife, Gladys, once took an 80-day cruise around the world on the Queen Mary, stopping on all seven continents. Peter Funkhouser sounds like he was an interesting man to spend 80 days or 80 years with.
Ray Holmes died at the age of 90 in London. He was a young Royal Air Force pilot in September of 1940 when he saw a German bomber dart toward Buckingham Palace. Ray Holmes had already run out of ammunition, but not ingenuity or daring. He rammed his airplane into the bomber and sliced off its tail. The German bomber crashed behind Victoria Station without bombing a thing. Ray Holmes parachuted safely not far away. `There was no time to weigh up the situation,' he said years later. `I just went ahead and hoped for the best.' In a time when Londoners once again need grit, Ray Holmes may remind them: There's already a lot in the city's bloodstream.
Finally, there's a sign on the door of the Village Tap in Chicago's Roscoe Village for the man who was bartender there: Aaron Watkins. It says, `Working man, loving friend, kind heart.' Mr. Watkins was 34 when he died last month of lung cancer. Roscoe Village is a popular neighborhood for singles and new arrivals. People come from all over, from Indiana to India. They come to the Village Tap after working in downtown skyscrapers to talk and laugh before going home to studio apartments. In a neighborhood of singles and strangers, Aaron Watkins' was one of the most familiar smiles. `He made friends and talked to everyone,' Alexia Delandry told the Chicago Sun-Times. `When a boy broke my heart or when I had to put my kitty down, he was always there.' One night a couple of years ago Caitlan Marcoux Watkins walked into the Village Tap and found Aaron Watkins. They got married just as he was diagnosed with cancer, but she still counts herself as blessed. `I lucked out,' she says. `I walked in the right bar at the right time and met just the right guy.'
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JOHNNY MERCER: (Singing) It's quarter to 3. There's no one in the place except you and me. So set 'em up, Joe, if got a little story you ought to know. We're drinking, my friend, to the end of a brief episode. Make it one for my baby and one more for the road.
SIMON: Johnny Mercer at 18 minutes past the hour.
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