Selflessly protecting centenarians-to-be

Smart people learn from their mistakes. I sure hope that I have, too.

For the past several months I’ve been haunted by remorse because of a column I wrote which appeared in this very newspaper a year ago.

My intentions were pure when I authored an upbeat little essay about people who were turning 100 years old last year. It seemed like a good idea, since even given all of modern medicine’s advances, achieving centenarian status is still relatively unusual. But everyone knows where roads paved with good intentions lead, which is why I’m trying to atone for my well-intended but tragic misjudgment before the time comes when I myself could be eternally consigned there.

The article in question highlighted a quartet of accomplished individuals: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former United States senator James Buckley, Dr. Frank Field, New York City’s pioneer in broadcast meteorology, and longtime television game show host Bob Barker, whose Oscar-worthy portrayal of himself in the epic 1996 drama Happy Gilmore proved he was a skilled actor as well. All four were born in 1923, and thus due to observe their 100th birthdays last year.

What could go wrong with celebrating the ongoing lives of some skillful, talented, and generous human beings?

Only that within six months of my story being published, all four men were dead. And adding salt to the wound was the fact that Mr. Barker, a selfless and passionate advocate for animal rights, didn’t even make it to 100, expiring three-plus months before his would-have-been birthday.

I should have known better. Just two years earlier some genius at People Magazine decided to put Betty White on the cover of their January 10, 2022 issue, anticipating her 100th birthday, which was a week after the date on the magazine’s cover. Unfortunately, shortly after the edition hit the newsstands in mid-December, Ms. White expired, and never did get to celebrate her personal centennial. In the aftermath the folks at People absorbed significant criticism, which couldn't have been pleasant, even considering that the sources of the vitriol were generally tin foil hat wearers, conspiracy theorists, and the other usual rationality-challenged suspects (like subscribers to People Magazine).

Okay. I was one of the criticizers. But I don’t consider myself rationality- challenged. And for the record, I do not even own a tin foil hat.

I can’t undo the past, but I can learn from it. That’s why this year I’m not mentioning any names of living people, famous or otherwise, who were born in the year 1924, even though there’s a former president, an Academy-Award-winning actress, and the current president of the Mormon Church among them.

Instead I’ll list some celebrated 1924 natives who are no longer with us, like zany British comedian Benny Hill. baseball Hall of Famer Gil Hodges, actors Lauren Bacall and Marlon Brando, and George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. Each would have celebrated their 100th birthday this year.

I’m almost certain the column I wrote last year had nothing to do with the subsequent passings of Henry Kissinger, James Buckley, Dr. Frank Field, or Bob Barker. But just in case, I’m not mentioning the name of anyone who’s scheduled to turn 100 this year, even though it’s ridiculous to think an essay in a weekly newspaper can alter anyone’s destiny.

However, I reserve the right to change my mind if, during this calendar year, someone spots Benny Hill, Lauren Bacall, or George H. W. Bush back among the living.

And if and when that happens, I’ll look forward to reading about it in People Magazine.

Andy Young
February 16, 2024

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