George Smathers, former U.S. senator
Former U.S. Sen. George Smathers, a polished, dashing politician who forged friendships with presidents, waged war against communism, resisted civil rights legislation and was an early voice cautioning of Fidel Castro’s rise to power, died Jan. 20. He was 93.
The Democrat, who served two terms in the U.S. House and three in the Senate, suffered a stroke Jan. 15. He lived in Indian Creek Village, an exclusive island community outside Miami.
Smathers was among a new breed of congressmen – along with John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon – who arrived on Capitol Hill in the late 1940s with a worldliness that few before them had brought. Shaped by World War II duty in the Marines, Smathers used his more than two decades in Washington to focus on international issues and fight the spread of communism.
The senator was a political force who managed to unseat familiar faces, garner the ears of the powerful and stake a place as a moderate able to straddle both sides of the aisle.
Like other Southern Democrats, Smathers coddled segregationist white voters. He supported voting rights for blacks but sought to weaken other equal rights measures or simply vote against them, as he did with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Abbe Pierre, activist priest
Abbe Pierre, 94, the French priest who became an internationally revered activist for the poor and homeless for more than five decades, died of a lung infection Monday at Val de Grace military hospital in Paris.
Known as the “prophet of the poor,” Abbe Pierre was elevated by many French to an icon of national conscience: a homegrown Mother Teresa. He abandoned the comfort of his early years – his father was a Lyon silk merchant – for a monastic life in the 1930s. During World War II, he was a highly decorated member of the resistance against the German occupation.
In 1949, he started his Emmaus Society, an anti-poverty crusade he named after the biblical village where Jesus was said to have been sheltered after his resurrection. The organization grew into a movement of health and social service centers worldwide.
Eleanor McGovern, a political wife
At a time in U.S. history when the wives of presidential candidates usually campaigned with their men, Eleanor McGovern stumped for her husband alone.
It was 1972, and then-Sen. George McGovern was the Democratic nominee for president. His wife, Eleanor, the second daughter of a politically active family in South Dakota, had no plans to be an “innocuous” first lady. She proved it on the campaign trail, speaking out on such issues as abortion and the Vietnam War.
By the time the campaigning was over and the vote was in, George McGovern had lost to President Nixon by a landslide, but Eleanor had broken new ground and redefined the role of the candidate’s wife.
Eleanor McGovern died of heart failure Thursday at her home in Mitchell, S.D. She was 85.