My role models for having a full life

September 6, 2022 • 10:45 am

Who hasn’t heard the statement, “Live each day as if it were your last.”?   I take this to mean that one should live in such a way that, on your deathbed, you would have minimal regrets. (Granted, determinism rules how we live our lives, but we can certainly be influenced in our behavior by statements like these.)

Now people will vary in what they consider “their fullest life.” Some would want to devote more time to their family or friends, others to books, still others to social causes, and some (like me) to more travel—to seeing the richness of the world before I leave it forever. Although few of us would want to change places with present or historical figures, I suspect that most of us would like to be more like “behavioral role models”—that is, living in a way that maximizes the use of our time.

And, while pondering my mortality this morning (don’t worry, if you’re young you’ll get there eventually!), as well as my obsession with work to the detriment of fun, I thought about which people in history I would judge as having lived the fullest life. I couldn’t think of just one person, but I have a list of several people whose lives seemed very full to me.

The first two people combine both aspects of what for me would be a full life: action for a good cause and scholarship (best combined with writing).

T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”). Fiercely smart and classically educated (he started life as an archaeologist, traveling 1000 miles on foot through the Middle East), Lawrence later allied himself with the Arabs against the Turks during WWI, becoming the famous “Lawrence of Arabia” of movie lore. He was also a great writer.  The downside, of course, is that he became somewhat of a recluse in later life, and was apparently asexual, cutting himself off from one of life’s great pleasures. Still, who can deny that the man had a full (though brief) life?

Winston Churchill. Also hugely smart, a great writer and speaker (he won a Nobel Prize for Literature), and a man of action (read about his early life as a soldier in Manchester’s great biography), Churchill surely lived a full life, capped by helping save Britain from the Nazis during World War II. He loved food and drink, and he loved to paint.  As far as I can see, Churchill wasted very little time.

Neal Cassady. Best known as the model for “Dean Moriarty” in Kerouac’s On the Road and as the driver of the “Furthur” bus in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,  Cassady wasn’t a scholar, but his few letters show that he could write well, if intensely. More important, he is the one real person I name who really did live every day as if it were his last. He didn’t think ahead and he didn’t worry. He did what he liked to do: hang around with fellow beats, have sex, drink, and drive.  I wouldn’t want to be him, not with all the drugs and booze, but I could use a bit of his view of life.

Anthony Bourdain. This choice was problematic as Bourdain had a rough early life, was addicted to drugs when younger, and was a depressive, ultimately killing himself at 61. On the other hand, he got paid to travel the world to eat, immersing himself in the diversity of cultures, and made tons of friends everywhere.  He was, of course also a good writer. His life may not have been a bed of roses, but it was a full life.

Zorba the Greek. Alexis Zorba was of course a fictional character, but his portrayal in the eponymous novel written by Kazantzakis shows a man who threw himself completely into life, whether it be sniffing a lemon, working in a lignite mine, playing his santouri, or romancing the ladies.  This book still inspires me even if I fail to live up to Zorba’s standards (he’d consider me a “scribbler”, like the writer in the book).  His death is memorable: he’s living with a 25 year old woman, even though he’s quite old, and asks the schoolmaster to write to the “scribbler” (inviting him to come and get his santouri), whom Zorba hasn’t seen in years. His girlfriend writes the following in a letter sent to the scribbler:

“Come here, schoolmaster,” he said. “I have a friend in Greece. When I am dead write to him and tell him that right until the very last minute I was in full possession of my senses and was thinking of him. And tell him that whatever I have done, I have no regrets. Tell him I hope he is well and that it’s about time he showed a bit of sense.

“Listen, just another minute. If some priest or other comes to take my confession and give me the sacrament, tell him to clear out, quick, and leave me his curse instead! I’ve done heaps and heaps of things in my life, but I still did not do enough. Men like me ought to live a thousand years. Good night!”

From the movie: Anthony Quinn as Zorba (right) with “the scribbler”, played by Alan Bates.

Of course this is to invite you to share your own role models for life, if you have any, or weigh in on mine. For those readers who say they have no such models because their own lives are already full, I envy you!

86 thoughts on “My role models for having a full life

  1. “Live each day as if it were your last.”

    I recall Steve Jobs’ quip on this : if you do that, he said, eventually, it will be.

    I’m not sure what that meant – beware of fatalistic morals to the story?

    1. Agreed. As someone who is ruled by emotions, I wish I could be calm, controlled, and logical. Or if I have to be emotional, why can they be the good emotions?! I’d be fine with being like Cliff Stoll, guided by curiosity, enthusiasm, creativity, and unalloyed joy!

  2. John Urschel. Two-time All-Big Ten offensive lineman at Penn State, winner of the Campbell Trophy and the Sullivan Award. Played three years for the NFL Baltimore Ravens. PhD in mathematics from MIT, just completed a year at the Institute of Advanced Study, now a Junior Fellow at Harvard.

    1. Made me think of Paul Robeson — who, aside from being a great classical singer, was a two-time All-American on the gridiron while at Rutgers, where he was class valedictorian, then earned a law degree from Columbia while playing in the NFL. He was also a civil-rights activist with the big clanging gonads to thumb his nose at the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare.

      Hell, just thinking of all that cat’s accomplishments exhausts me to the point of needing a nap. 🙂

    2. Mind and Matter, yes! I’m not a football fan but heard his interview on Numberphile and immediately bought his book. Actually, there are a lot of inspirational people featured on Numberphile, Zvezdelina Stankov, for example. They inspire me in ways I never thought possible. I would have thought you mad had you told 15 yr old Me that one day I’d buy maths books and watch videos for fun!

  3. Einstein. Nobody else has ever had such mind-boggling, world-changing insights into nature. Imagine what that would have felt like! And he was an actor in important historical events, and apparently he had a racy personal life (though not very admirable).

    1. “My father did it to me. When my mother was carrying me, it is reported–I am not directly aware of the conversation–my father said that “if it’s a boy, he’ll be a scientist.” How did he do it? He never told me I should be a scientist. He was not a scientist; he was a businessman, a sales manager of a uniform company, but he read about science and loved it.”

      -Richard Feynman


      “What is Science?”

      Presented at the fifteenth annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association, 1966 in New York City, and reprinted from The Physics Teacher Vol. 7, issue 6, 1969, pp. 313-320

    2. Carl Sagan and Jerry Andrus, the magician who crafted life-size illusions so that people might more easily see how your eyes can deceive you. Both men implored skeptics and the scientific community to explain things simply, and not to insult folks, as anyone can be fooled.

      1. “The first principle is you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

        Richard Feynman
        1974 Caltech commencement address
        Also in
        “Cargo Cult Science”
        also published in Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, p. 343

        … I need to change my user name to MrQuotesRichardFeynmanTooMuch!

  4. It’s the Stoic principle of memento mori — remember that you will die soon.

    Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it. … It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

    — Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

  5. The trouble with living each day as if it’s your last is, you’re so often disappointed, and then you have to clean up the mess you made the day before when you were acting as if it were your last day. 😉

    I like your term “behavioral role models”, because I have never understood the notion of wanting to BE someone else, but there are definitely people with traits that I admire and would like to be able to emulate. Some of them are just fanciful–e.g. it would be nice to be as great at basketball as Michael Jordan or at golf as Tiger Woods, or whatever.

    But others are more serious and personal. I would like to have Richard Feynman’s intelligence, imagination, and joyful approach to life and science, for instance. I would enjoy being as popular and productive an author as Stephen King, but wouldn’t want to write “like” him in order to do that, though I like his writing (most of it). And it would be wonderful to be able to make music “like” the Beatles, or Sting, or Radiohead…but again, I wouldn’t want to produce THEIR stuff, just to have comparable abilities and success.

    Then again, I don’t think I’d want to be focused on just doing (mainly) the one main pursuit, which is probably what one needs to be world class at something.

    And, of course, we could all do with more proponents of rationality like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and PCC(E)) in the world. I wouldn’t mind being a bit more like any or all of them.

    1. Yeah, you wake up to a new day broke and possibly wanted.

      But did Feynman ever get over early loss of first wife?

  6. … Bourdain had a rough early life, was addicted to drugs when younger …

    Bourdain developed a smack habit shortly after moving to P-town at the end of Cape Cod in his late teens, but I don’t think he ever regretted it, or had what we might otherwise classify as a “rough life” (other than the depression). As Hunter Thompson (who was a major influence on Bourdain, as fairly jumps off every page of Bourdain’s prose and as was made express in the documentary Roadrunner) said of his own outré lifestyle, “I wouldn’t recommend it to others, but it’s worked for me.” 🙂

  7. The trouble with living each day that it might be your last is that you keep thinking that it MIGHT be your last ! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  8. For me, the person must have a vision for the future that s/he works hard to bring to fruition. On that score, I think Churchill fails. His vision was, fairly clearly, the restoration of the British Empire, something that was backward looking and reactionary (see Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s “Winston’s Shadow” for more).

    As for my role model, I have to point to PCC-E’s and my shared academic grandfather Theodosius Dobzhansky. I only met him once, shortly before he died, but his life’s work as published speaks for itself. He was the preeminent founder of empirical evolutionary genetics, and his legacy remains, both in the work of his academic descendants and in its shaping of the empirical paradigms of evolutionary biology.

  9. I’m old, beyond role models, and happy with my life and accomplishments so far, but four living people I admire (and envy) are Sam Harris, Steve Pinker, Coleman Hughes, and Jonathan Haight. They are all highly intelligent, interesting, courageous, cool under fire, and value what I do to a great extent. They are all superb writers – perhaps the ability I envy most, along with doing what they do to make a living.

    The historical figure I admire most is Spinoza (1632-1677). This atheist was the first to publicly state and comprehensively prove that the Bible is a human product. He was an early and full-throated advocate of democracy, free speech, and religious toleration while denying free will, life after death, and the supernatural – views held by almost no one in his era, and for long after. He was perhaps the greatest advocate of reason we know. Antonio Damasio credits Spinoza as a great proto-biologist. Jonathan Israel has Spinoza as the primary force initiating and carrying forth the Enlightenment. Matthew Stewart in Nature’s God, The Heretical Origins of the American Republic argues convincingly that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation and details Spinoza’s influence on the founders (who, as mostly deists were not yet up to his speed). I could go on.

    1. So far at least four other readers have chosen people known to be deep admirers of Spinoza: Goethe, George Eliot, Einstein, and Hitchens. My favorite Einstein anecdote concerns his reply to a rabbi asking if Einstein believed in God: I believe in the God of Spinoza. – i.e. No, I’m an atheist.

  10. I think Jerry’s 4 choices are excellent examples of great lives lived (even if one was fictional).

    Other than being an admirer of great writers, I’ve also wanted to do something like Steve Irwin of “Crocodile Hunter” fame. I’ve always loved wildlife, especially reptiles, and the fact that Irwin was able to become famous by being an advocate for wildlife and habitat is admirable; it also looked like a lot of fun! Irwin also brought an irresistible enthusiasm and charm to the work he did; who didn’t love the “Crocodile Hunter”? His death was tragic, but there aren’t many who can say they died doing what they loved.

  11. By my measure, my life has been full and satisfying although I have not done nearly as much as many people here. I still feel highly privileged and lucky, having landed on my feet more than once while others I know have not. I have also cheated death on 4 occasions, 3 of them out of youthful stupidity. And yet here I am.

  12. Apart from the titans of the human intellect, I have always admired the great composers.

    It is one thing to enjoy classical music, but what would it feel like to experience it like Bach, Mozart or Rachmaninoff?

  13. Kim Il Sung – b/c it would be fun to be a god king (I’d have not started the war though.) 🙂
    Those whose intellects I admire include Hitch, Sam Harris, Pinker, Dawkins, Feynman, etc. I can’t complain though – I’ve lived in 4 countries for extended periods, visited 40, happily rejected religion at 15, speak some challenging foreign languages, been married for a long happy time prior to which I had a great social life, heaps of top notch friends, 3 passports, “owned” 2 cats and a d*g, avoided reproducing myself, cheated death thrice narrowly, taken not ALL of the drugs in the world but … enough and lots of them (and got away with it), 2 satisfying careers on Wall St and the law, been published enough to satisfy my ego, aaand… appeared as a readers picture on WEIT – to wit:
    Can’t complain, can’t complain at all.

  14. I would probably have to say at this point in my life, most of my heroes/role models are scientists, which probably isn’t too surprising considering the venue. Darwin naturally tops my list, his early adventures, his determination, his depth of education in geology, botany, and biology, his dedication to his family, and his professional accomplishments, of course.

    I deeply admire Libby H. Hyman, invertebrate biologist extraordinaire. Even setting aside her obvious struggles against anti-semitism, sexism, and a very unsupportive mother (and I do admire those who persevere against all odds) her two successful laboratory manuals and her six-volume masterpiece on invertebrates, the last volume being completed while suffering with Parkinson’s, and she even described specimens collected by Doc Ricketts quite possibly ones he collected with John Steinbeck, if I recall correctly.

    Oliver Sacks is high on the list. His intelligence was as apparent as his compassion, and he was quite musical. I also admire that he found love after a lifetime of being alone.

    I would add EO Wilson as well, especially with his full, long life, and I admire how he was so dedicated to his profession, to his ants, and to the environment.

    And coincidentally or not, all of these are authors of many books and scientific papers. I have accomplished none of this, not the education, the science, the travel or adventure, the writing, the family…part of my admiration is that they did what I did not.

    1. Libby Hyman was in our department, and a signed picture of her was on our seminar-room wall, one of the few women in the early history of the Department of Biology. Sadly, her picture is now gone, as the diversity committee decided that there were too many pictures of white men and thus the “history wall” was said to harm people because of that.

  15. Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot is the person I admire most. She slipped herself out of Victorian England’s repressive strictures on homely spinsters and live a full life personally and professionally. She wrote her way into London’s literary and intellectual scene. She found a kindred and appreciative soulmate in George Lewes, another self-exile from Victorian England’s merciless conventionality. She traveled the continent, translated philosophical texts, and best of all, wrote great novels including the greatest novel, Middlemarch. IMHO, no one had a better understanding of human aspiration and disappointment.

    1. I’ll second this. I primarily read non-fiction but have Eliot’s complete works in hardcover and on Kindle. Eliot was the first to translate Spinoza’s Ethics into English, though it wasn’t published until 2020 by Clare Carlisle. Eliot’s fiction is infused with Spinozistic ideas.

      To anyone whose interest in Spinoza may have been piqued his Ethics is not the best place to start – written like a geometry text book with axioms, theorems, and proofs, and using arcane (to us) philosophical terminology.

  16. There’s almost always room for more. My aspired to role models would be First Order Narcissists (distinct from malignant narcissists = those living in their basements, or caves). Best example? My father, Col. N. Jabbour USAF, deceased (1920-2016). There are a few others who have, “maximized time” and “lived the fullest life”. Of course, you can ask, ‘towards what end’?
    My brother recently quoted Vin Scully regarding being “day-to-day” Scully says “aren’t we all.” My brother is a Long Haul COVID survivor and tells quite a story. He’s 2+ years older than I am. You can read the quote and his story here:
    I’ll say this: Humans are complicated and living a life is hard and messy, even for the best of us.

    I like the life I’ve lived. I’ve had fun and done what I’ve done (a lot). Notwithstanding that I’ve caused some pain to others, albeit without malice.
    I’ve no regrets … but my life is not over yet. Cheers. Great post!

  17. Difficult to think of people who’ve filled their entire lives with things that I would have liked to do, not least because I’d find it hard to live up to their example!

    I used to be a chemist, and I still try to keep my interest going. I am also a keen fellwalker and (ex-)rock climber. So I will put forward Professor J. Norman Collie (1857-1942), Professor of Chemistry at UCL, co-worker with William Ramsey, discoverer of neon (and many other things), and also a pioneer of modern mountaineering in Scotland, the Lakes and the Himalayas. Pretty well his entire life was devoted to chemistry and mountains. What could be better? A great man.

    1. One of my old climbing partners – Fred Beckey – did fill his life, from age fifteen into his 90s with climbing. When he wasn’t climbing he was thinking, planning, or writing about it. He died in 2017 and a movie was made about him that I haven’t brought myself to see (title Dirtbag). Though I respect his accomplishments immensely – more first ascents than anyone (Wikipedia lists “a few” [40] of them) – I would not want his life, too monomaniacal.

  18. Nikos Kazantzakis, the author of “Zorba The Greek”, perhaps should be considered as an example here. When I was in my early 20s, a Greek friend gifted me “The Odyssey, a Modern Sequel” on my 21st birthday. Maybe, it’s time for me to read it again in my much later years.

    The Zorba character was based on a real person known by Kazantzakis.

  19. To me, the person with the longest and richest bucket list is Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821—1890). He was soldier, spy, author, scholar, translator, explorer, adventurer. He saw the world, travelled to forbidden places, fought in wars, fraternized with the locals, translated The Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra, and apparently also studied the practical side of the latter. He spoke upwards of 20 languages, lived and breathed the cultures he experienced apparently to their fullest, and was also a critic of colonialism, “even to the detriment of his career” as Wikipedia notes in its long article. As far as rich lives go, Burton ought to be on the short list.

    I know though that I wouldn’t want such a life. Adventures in deserts or jungles, fighting in wars and even sleeping around in forbidden places sounds fun, wouldn’t it for mosquitos, enemy fire and syphillis (he miraculously dodged most of it).

    When it comes to heroes, I don’t really have that. I like those who go against authority or against the grain. There’s something here with Burton. I see that with Frank Zappa, too. Leftist pope, linguist, and jewish Noam Chomsky defended the free speech of holocaust deniers, to his own detriment, too. I recently read up on Roy Orbison, and it somehow impressed me what I read about his unassuming personality. He too went against the grain in his own way.

  20. Niko Tinbergen, Nobel laureate and one of the founders of ethology. See the biography, Niko’s Nature, by one of his students, Hans Kruuk. My doctoral supervisor, Richard Dawkins was another of Niko’s students and has written about Niko’s influence. For some people (Konrad Lorenz?) the more you know, the less you admire them; for others, like Niko, the more you know the more admirable they are.

  21. Much testosterone here, I notice:
    1. Almost all role models for full life suggested here are male; only 2 female role models are suggested by readers
    2. Almost all readers leaving comments on ‘full life’ are male
    Full life seems to be more of a male obsession: everything, all the time

    1. I don’t have any role models, but some women I admire are: the already mentioned Mary Ann Evans, Rebecca Goldstein, Bari Weiss, Judith Rich Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Diana Nyad, Emily Harrington, Elanor Roosevelt, Einat Wilf, Liz Cheney, Golda Meir, Claire Lehmann, Jane Goodall, Nadine Strossen, Helen Pluckrose, Christy Martin

    2. Oh please! Maybe men simply identify more with male role models than female role models. I would imagine women might also choose heroines or female role models for themselves so stop implying sexism. Why haven’t any female readers shared their role models in this thread and if they did and happened to proffer a man’s name like Einstein, would you be pissed?

      “Full life seems to be more of a male obsession: everything, all the time.” What a sexist and silly thing to say! Then females are better than males by lacking this obsession that you’ve convinced yourself of? Reflecting on a full life is just banal or obsessive in your view or do women just have better things to obsess about? By your logic, women obsess about nothing, never? Too little estrogen here – is that your plaint?

      It’s just a harmless question Mu and you convict yourself of virtue signaling and false equivalence with such an unnecessarily defensive and vapid reaction. I would never villify a women for choosing all female role models so stop complaining.

    3. What a quick, blatant, and egregiously wrong example of sexism. This is a Roolz violation, and of course the readers below point out several alternative explanations, like most of the commenters being male and males identifying with males more than with females. (That, by the way, is something that even the Woke would expound.)

      The “much testosterone here” and “male obsession” are simply slurs. I would suggest that if you want to fulminate this way, and in a way that accuses readers of sexism rather than your making a contribution to the discussion, you’d be better off commenting at Pharyngula, where slurring people is a way of life.

  22. As an Australian it’s hard to see Churchill as anyone but the callous egomaniac incompetent who was responsible for the disaster at Gallipoli and who condemned hundreds of Australian soldiers to torture and death in Japanese camps without a fight when he betrayed them at Singapore. The rest of his life seems to be full of imperialist murder and callous disregard for the lives of ordinary people. I don’t think a few heroic months in 1940 can really absolve a life spent so vigorously spreading misery across the world. YMMV

    1. You missed blaming Churchill for the Bengal Famine, another shallow historical trope. Blunders such as Gallipoli may happen to all of those who have to make hard decisions – the alternative is to do dither and do nothing, a path that Churchill never took. He acknowledged his mistake and atoned for it by resigning and going to the trenches himself. As for Singapore, it as abandoned when defending it became hopeless. Partially because Australian general Gordon Bennett scurried back to Australia in the middle of the night, leaving his troops behind. Are there Gordon Bennett streets or Gordon Bennett squares in Australia? How about Churchill’s?

      1. Bennett has not to my knowledge had any streets or places named for him nor statues commissioned. He was a controversial figure and post war enquires found he was not right in slinking away from Singapore. He might have some varieties of orchids named for him since that’s what he did in retirement.

    1. “Not to be born at all
      Is best, far best that can befall,
      Next best, when born, with least delay
      To trace the backward way.
      For when youth passes with its giddy train,
      Troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils,
      Pain, pain forever pain;
      And none escapes life’s coils.
      Envy, sedition, strife,
      Carnage and war, make up the tale of life.”

  23. Another interesting and thought provoking discussion.
    I watch Paul McCartney sitting at the piano composing “Let it Be”, or Steve McQueen casually leaning on a race car chatting with a supermodel, cannot even imagine what that must feel like.
    I spent my childhood wanting to be Cousteau, to the point of almost unhealthy obsession.
    A little later, Joshua Slocum really fascinated me.

    Certainly, all the people mentioned here sacrificed important things in their quest for whatever drove them forward, and they may have come to regret some of those choices.
    It does not seem wrong to want to emulate an idealized version of such a person’s life, while recognizing that they also had flaws and dark moments, which we need not dwell on excessively.

  24. On the whole I think this line of thought perpetuates the illusion of “should”.

    The universe has unfolded and continues to do so; and this infinitesimal bit of the universe is OK with itself.

        1. Sometimes I can’t resist. Like when someone pours a can of nihilism over a discussion on how to live a fulfilling life.

  25. COMPLETE example this post is of Dr Frye’s CODE for ” attention, W O R K and orgasms. ONLY.

    in re heterosexual men = ” To say that straight men are heterosexual is only to say that they engage in sex (fucking exclusively with the other sex, i.e., women). All or almost all of that WHICH PERTAINS TO LOVE,
    most straight men reserve exclusively for other men.

    The people whom they admire, respect, adore, revere, honor,
    whom they imitate, idolize, and form profound attachments to,
    whom they are willing to teach and from whom they are willing to learn, and
    whose respect, admiration, recognition, honor, reverence and love they desire
    … … those are, overwhelmingly, other men.

    In their relations with women, what passes for respect is
    kindness, generosity or paternalism;
    what passes for honor is removal to the pedestal.

    From women they want devotion, service and sex.
    Heterosexual male culture is homoerotic; it is man – loving. ”

    … … Marilyn Frye, The Politics Of Reality


    1. “Heterosexual male culture is homoerotic.”

      That would include Winston Churchill, but only the young one (IMHO).

  26. Neal Cassady, yes, for sure. Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to nevereverland.
    Also his pal novelist and charismatic Ken Kesey. He really went for it. Yes, ‘drugs’ included
    Somebody mentioned Miles Davis. 100%.
    A contemporary musician living as full a musical life as anyone ever has, guitarist Pat Metheny.
    Somebody mentioned Jane Goodall. 100%.
    Joni Mitchell
    Jerry Garcia up to about 1990 and then not so much.

  27. Goethe and Feynman, proposed by other readers, are excellent models!

    I’d like to add Fosco Maraini, an anthropologist and ethnologist who was also a talented writer, photographer and mountaineer. He definitely had a full life, including a terrible two-years internment in Japan. His books on Tibet and Japan are unforgettable. He was bilingual in english and italian, so I hope his english writing is as good as his italian.

  28. For me, among the living, Sam Harris is my absolute hero.
    Someone else has mentioned Richard Burton (the XIX century explorer) and I agree.

  29. Many worthy and exciting people here. My role model (and mine alone as Ann Elk (Miss) would say) would be my father. He was never famous for doing anything remarkable other than having the most fun he could in his own way. Briefly, born to a locomotive fitter- who on Saturdays played for Aston Villa – in Crewe in 1920, won a scholarship to a good school. Articled to a civil engineer in 1938, volunteered in 1939, bomb disposal in the Blitz, Eighth Army for El Alamein and Sicily. First wave Gold Beach, severely wounded in Op. Market Garden. Two years in hospital, then returned to civil engineering and qualified. Married. Worked as a municipal borough engineer till he retired early in a re-organisation at age 56. Indulged all his hobbies with an Asperger intensity. Built model steam locomotives, took up fly fishing, photography, archery, sailing, kayaking, oil paints and black powder muzzle loaders. Read widely and wrote prolifically. On retirement he started a mountain sheep farm in Wales. At age 63 he emigrated to Canada and found a home 25 miles back in the woods, and built a huge trebuchet. An extensive woodpile was a source of joy for him, and much of his day was spent sawing and splitting. Not a hero to anyone else, but I know I’ll not look upon his like again.

  30. One of my heroes is Jimmy Carter. He may be considered an ineffective president, but he lived by his values. He paints pictures, he builds beautiful furniture, he has long put in time building for Habitat for Humanity, received the Nobel Peace Prize for work with the Carter Center. He is leaving the world a better place.

    My other hero is Ernest Shackleton. What a guy!

  31. My pick is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

    Transcendental Genius?
    Perhaps the world of mathematics is the poorer for Mozart’s life in music but maybe more people enjoy his music than would have enjoyed his mathematics?! Unfortunately, love of mathematics, theoretical physics or any science is mostly confined to people trained to an advanced level in those domains, whereas music, like art and literature, is to be enjoyed by everyone.

    You may find Mozart a perfect foil to your scientific work. Myself? Well – I owe him a debt of gratitude for many years of immense enjoyment of his music and, for me, any day without at least two or three hours is incomplete! Several others (for myself, principally Beethoven, the other great genius who took over where Mozart left off and who also wrote beautiful piano and violin sonatas; Bach, the master of the fugue and counterpoint; the highly original Stravinsky, who gave us the Firebird and Sacre du Printemps; the equally unique Prokofiev, whose Romeo and Juliet with Galina Ulanova as prima ballerina is a monument to Soviet-era filmed ballet; Brahms, who so often goes to the magnificent and whose two titanic piano concerti with Krystian Zimerman made for one of the greatest evenings of music-making in living memory; Chopin, supreme creator for the piano, and Schubert, the melodist who gave us Ave Maria and a wonderful piano sonata in B-flat, D960) were people of genius who perfected their art through immense industry and effort. Perhaps we can explain them this way. One other is the transcendental genius who exists beyond explanation.

    One for Mozart!
    I admit to having no religious beliefs whatsoever but it is through his music where I have come closest to perceiving God or, at least, sensing Mozart’s God-given talent. Finally – my poetry is not worth much but a few years ago, in 2019, I felt compelled to write for him the following:

    For Mozart
    Nor fortune, power nor conquest your intent.
    Not born to wealth or highest rank were you.
    In music, lovely to behold, were your days spent;
    Richness of another kind, your gift to ages;
    Transfixing; elegant; so beautiful, so true.

    A boy? Such pretty sounds flowed from your hands!
    And then, at height, wrought gems
    as timeless as the desert sands,
    and precious as the brightest pearl.
    A deepest sadness, yet such joy that gives a new delight.

    Perfect harmonies that touch the soul so near;
    Adamantine symphonies of sound;
    A brilliant treasure, inestimably dear;
    An early promise kept;
    A gift of love to all the world around.

    Gone, when still in sight of youth,
    while music, long within you, left unfinished.
    What melodies of purest form and poetry and truth,
    nor sparkling ruby, nor emerald nor finest sapphire could compare,
    to be unheard forever, and leave us twice diminished?

    A Final Appreciation of Mozart
    In the end, there is no single premier artist, musician or composer and nor is there any single greatest work of music, or art, for that matter. However, if I must select my choices of the greatest works of music that have been gifted to humanity, and thereby also to myself, then to many of Mozart’s creations I must accord the superlative summus. These are the Requiem, the Mass in C-minor, his opera ‘Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail’, his opera ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, the Ave Verum corpus, the eighth, thirteenth and sixteenth piano sonatas, the twenty-fifth piano concerto, the 25th symphony, the Jupiter (forty-first) symphony, the fourteenth, seventeenth and nineteenth string quartets, the quintet for piano and woodwinds, the first piano quartet, the Divertimento for String Trio, the Adagio from the Gran Partita, the second movement of the eleventh piano concerto and the second movement of the concerto for flute and harp. I must stop somewhere, but where to stop? These works are much more than the accidental outpourings of a God of music. They are among the loveliest of all treasures; gifts of joy to humanity today and to future generations. And for me, the greatest gift of all, perhaps partly because I remember my parents rehearsing and performing it when I was a young child, the clarinet quintet of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – the pinnacle of all musical achievement.


    David Lillis

  32. I’ve got one to add to the fascinating picks already :

    Concert pianist Martha Argerich

    Over 80 years old (b. 1941), survived multiple cancer treatments, still plays like a monster. _Fluent_ in _multiple_ languages. Fascinating family background, spanning Argentina, Spain and Russia.

    John Williams

    Over 90 years old (b. 1932). Still composes with paper and pencil. Released a violin concerto last year for Anne Sophie-Mutter.

    I’d say that their ages alone qualify them for “full” – a lifespan. Being creative at such ages a century ago, say, would be, I guess, unheard of.

    Oops – two. Didn’t want to be accused of laying down too much estrogen, so I included John Williams!

    1. To ThyroidPlanet – excellent choices for executant musicians.

      We must not leave out Jascha Heifetz – pre-eminent genius of the violin.

      His Brahms concerto is superlative:- beyond genius:

      How about the Beethoven Romance No. 1:

      Schubert’s Ave Maria:

      Saint-Saens Havanaise:

      If Mozart was the God of music, then Heifetz was the God of the violin.

      David Lillis

      1. Thanks

        The beauty of music subscription service : add to the pile and let it shuffle!

        So much music – so little time..

      2. I’ll add a violin composition not to be missed :

        Sarasate Zapateado

        Blew me away – I thought I’d heard it all.

        1. ThyroidPlanet.

          Zapateado is a wonderful piece. Curious choice of yours and many times I have compared different renditions of it from the great masters – Jascha Heifetz, Michael Rabin and Leonid Kogan (all of them Jewish, as was David Oistrakh. Mischa Elman and Nathan Milstein). They’re different (the recordings) but all wonderful.




          Heifetz also does Zigeunerweisen beyond comparison:

          By the way – there’s not enough time for all of the lovely music left to us. Last month I realized that I had not heard the Mozart violin and fortepiano sonatas for many years. Time to experience them again and I was like a kid in a sweetshop. Oh God! They’re wonderful.

          Mozart wrote at least 36 violin sonatas. Go for Henryk Szeryng with Ingrid Haebler or Itzhak Perlman with Daniel Ashkenazi on all of them, but particularly 17 (my favorite), 18 (quite lovely!), 19, all of the twenties and 27 and 35, in particular. Hilary Hahn and Arthur Grumiaux, both of them characterized by great elegance, do them beautifully too.

          Henryk Szeryng on Mozart sonata 17

          Itzhak Perlman on sonata 18

          David Lillis

          1. [ don’t want to violate da roolz, so in brieg ]:

            First heard Perlman play it (as pushed by the program doing the shuffling). Then Julia Fischer. Later found a “virtuoso” composition recording by Vengerov.

            I loaded up on Heifetz (and it was a load) – saw tons of interesting violin rep – I’ll toss those other ones in, thanks.

            1. ThyroidPlanet.
              Confidentially – just between you and I – a true vignette. In 2007 I passed though Los Angeles on my way home to New Zealand from Dublin. Heifetz had lived in Beverly Hills for over forty years (before his death in 1987) and his address was given in a well-known book on him. I had committed that address to memory – just in case . . .

              And so I found myself in Beverly Hills, checking out the cafes of the rich and famous, recalled his address and flagged down a taxi. A long drive up very windy, narrow roads and there . . the Heifetz mansion, just as you see it in old photographs and a documentary or two on the great man. There, I stood vigil for a long hour at Heifetz’ front gate, recalling his life, his greatest music-making and the many hours of joy and astonishment that Heifetz gave to me and so many others. All the while, the driver waited patiently.

              Pebbles and small stones littered the pathway in front of his home. A tree, growing from within his garden, hung over the fence and had dropped a thousand leaves onto the path and the narrow road, at the crest of a hill. As I reached down to take a leaf or two from the ground as a keepsake, I recalled the intensely private man that he was. If his spirit hovered above me now, watching me grabbing those leaves, how incensed would he be at this violation of his privacy. And so – I took nothing at all, paid my respects, said my thanks and my goodbyes to Jascha Heifetz and left quietly, just as I came – disturbing nothing at all.

              That is my vignette and I will remember it always. And so:

              The second Bruch concerto:

              The Walton


              Bruch Scottish Fantasy

              I remember reading in the newspapers about his death in 1987 and I remember nearly crying over his passing. Seldom has any human being bestrode the world like a colossus, as he did. The Czar of all violinists. The King!

              Of many men it is sometimes said that there will never again another like him. But in the case of Jascha Heifetz, it is literally true. He was unique. He set a standard that nearly broke the careers of the most brilliant violinists of the early twentieth century and set a bar that nobody else will ever eclipse

              David Lillis

              1. Just came up on shuffle:

                Bazzini Scherzo Fantastique (piano/violin)
                Heifetz Collection V. 1 1917-1924
                1975 Sony

                Never heard this spectacularly delightful piece before, (maybe i heard of Bazzini), so thank you! I’ve heard a lot if Heifetz by now – thought I’d take this moment to comment.

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