I am always frustrated when the “who we lost in 2011” obituary lists come out and they are filled with actors and popular entertainers (although I am rather pleased that this year’s list contained so many despots, terrorists, and mass murderers).

Good riddance!

Although I enjoyed M*A*S*H and Columbo, televised entertainments are not foremost in my list of human accomplishments.  Therefore here is my (not at all comprehensive) overview of various important people who died in 2011.  I have tried to concentrate on scientists, doctors, and heroes (as I tend to hold them in the highest respect) but some painters, toymakers, and fantasy illustrators crept into my list thanks to my own professional background.  We will miss these notable people who passed on in 2011:

John “Jack” Ertle Oliver (September 26, 1923 – January 5, 2011) was a geologist who provided scientific data supporting the (then controversial) place tectonic model of continental drift.

Milton Levine (November 3rd, 1913 – January 16th, 2011) was a toy inventor who created Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm—one of the ultimate fad toys. More than 20 million units were sold during Levine’s lifetime. In 1956, while at a Fourth of July picnic, he became entranced by a mound of ants.  His fascination with the teeming colony of hymenopterans led him to found Uncle Milton’s Toys.

Uncle Milton's Ant Farm (one of 20,000,000)

Frank Buckles (February 1st, 1901 – February 27th, 2011)was the last living American veteran of World War I.  He drove ambulances in the mud of France and was still driving the tractor on his West Virginia farm until he was 103. He was one of the last survivors of the so-called “Lost Generation” passing away of natural causes at the age of 110.

Frank Buckles in his World War I Uniform

Simon van der Meer (November 24th, 1925 – March 4th, 2011) was a particle physicist from the Netherlands who shared a Nobel Prize for discovering the W and Z particles, two of the most fundamental constituents of matter.

Paul Baran (1926- March 26th, 2011) was a Polish-American engineer who invented packet switching techniques critical to the internet.  He additionally helped develop many other technologies including cable modems, interactive TV, and airport metal detectors.

Baruch Samuel “Barry” Blumberg (July 28th, 1925 – April 5th, 2011) Blumberg received a Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the Hepatitis B virus, for which he subsequently developed a diagnostic test and a vaccine. He patented his vaccine and then distributed it for free to international pharmaceutical companies (thereby saving millions of people from a life of disease, serious liver complications, and early death).

Baruch Samuel “Barry” Blumberg

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (July 19th, 1921 – May 30th, 2011) was the second woman to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine in recognition of her work developing the Radioimmunoassay, an in vitro immune assay technique which revolutionized the field of endocrinology.

Lucian Freud (December 8th, 1922 – July 20th, 2011) was a figurative painter who crafted impasto portraits of normal people in anguished poses. His fleshy nudes were so un-erotic and anti-beautiful that they took on their own strange heroic dimension.

Reflection, self portrait (Lucian Freud, 1985, oil on canvas)

Elliot Handler (April 9, 1916 – July 21, 2011) was a toy-maker and businessperson who co-founded Mattel (the “el” stood for Elliot).  He designed or popularized famous toys including Barbie, Burp Gun, Chatty Cathy, and Hot Wheels.

The first Barbie doll shown at New York Toy Fair in 1959.

Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (June 27th, 1936 – July 23rd, 2011) was the first foreign born soldier to rise up through the American army to become the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.  His father, Prince Dimitri Shalikashvili (1896–1978), was a Geogian nobleman who served the army of Imperial Russia before fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution to Poland.

Wilson Greatbatch (September 6th, 1919 – September 27th, 2011) invented the implantable cardiac pacemaker now worn constantly by countless survivors of heart disease.

John McCarthy (September 4th, 1927 – October 24th, 2011) was a cognitive scientist and computer pioneer who coined the phrase “Artificial Intelligence” in 1956.  He created the LISP programming language.

Lynn Margulis (March 5th, 1938 – November 22nd, 2011) was a cell biologist and philosopher best known for her theory on the symbiotic origin of eukaryotic organelles. Her contributions were critical to the endosymbiotic theory—the accepted scientific consensus concerning the manner certain organelles were formed. She also helped to formulate thee Gaia hypothesis, which posits that all life is linked together as a super-organism.

Darrell K. Sweet (August 15th, 1934 – December 5th, 2011) was a fantasy illustrator famous for providing cover art for novels such as the Wheel of Time series and the Xanth series.

Robot Adept (Darell K. Sweet, mixed media)

Václav Havel (October 5th, 1936 – December 18th, 2011) was a Czech playwright, essayist, and political dissident who ended up becoming the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic as the iron curtain crashed down around Europe.  I have a special fondness for Havel since he wrote “The Memorandum”, the first play I acted in during high school.  I played the officious pedant “Lear”, mouthpiece of the latest inane concept sweeping through a hidebound bureaucracy.  I enjoyed the role intellectually but didn’t really get Havel till I grew up and went to work in an office.