One Million Lives

Remembering the people who died from the coronavirus — through those who loved them.












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They came from Tel Aviv, Aleppo and a “small house by the river.” They were artists, whiskey drinkers and mbira players. They were also fathers, sisters and best friends.

Today, we hear people from around the world reflect on those they’ve lost.

By Bianca Giaever

When we began this episode, we imagined an audio obituary — a celebration of the one million lives that we’ve lost to the coronavirus. But then, we picked up the phones. We called the friends and family who loved these people in the ugly, messy, tender way that love works. The phone calls were breathy and raw. Quiet. There was laughing, crying, heaving and sobbing.

Perhaps it was too soon to do the stories of their lives. The people we called were still in shock; the story of their lives still entwined in the story of their deaths. As our producer Leslye Davis put it, “The main character of this episode is grief, in all of its colorfulness, awkwardness, humor, embarrassment, rage and loneliness.”

I edited much of this episode in the dark, with two candles lit on either side of my computer. We’re releasing this episode in the morning, but I hope people will save it for the night. It’s a night piece, about finding light in the darkness, continuing to move forward and listening to those of us left behind.

A few of the one million

Cosmas Magaya: “Virtuoso of the mbira”

Tsitsi Hantuba remembers her father, who died in Harare, Zimbabwe. He was 66 years old. Cosmas Magaya “always wore an Afro,” Ms. Hantuba said. “He loved wearing cowboy hats.”

“He was happiest when he was playing his music.”

Zhang Lifa: Veteran and father

Zhang Hai remembers his father, Zhang Lifa, who grew up in rural China where “life was very difficult,” Mr. Hai said. “Everyone at that time didn’t have much to eat. And when he was 18, he joined the army.” His father was not always the most expressive with his affection.

“I think so many Chinese people, they think that saying ‘I love you’ out loud is humiliating, but if I had the chance now, I would just say it so loudly to him,” Mr. Hai said. “I would just say, ‘I love you so much.’”

Mr. Lifa died in Wuhan, China. He was 76 years old.

“When my father was young, he was very handsome. He had big eyes.”

Dr. Doreen Adisa Lugaliki: Obstetrician-gynecologist, mother of twin boys and best friend

Vera Okelo remembers her best friend since grade school — someone who never missed a funeral, was the metaphorical “third person” in Ms. Okelo’s marriage and worked to improve women’s access to reproductive health care in Kenya. Doreen Adisa Lugaliki was the country’s first doctor known to have died from the coronavirus, passing in Nairobi 48 hours after being admitted to a hospital. She was 39.

“I’m wondering where she is? Is she happy? Can she see us?”

Cemil Tascioglu: Lover of meat and wine

Onur Tascioglu, son of Cemil Tascioglu, remembers his father collecting paintings of the Bosphorous, the river in Turkey where he grew up, and staring at them for 30 minutes while sipping a glass of wine. Mr. Tascioglu died in Istanbul. He was 68.

Christopher Dannenmann: Artist born on New Years Eve

Daniel Dannenmann said his father, Christopher Dannenmann, liked to wear his blond hair slicked back and often wore sunglasses. His father was a bassist, drummer, guitar player and artist. He was not a hugger.

“Ever hug people but they have to lean at the shoulder’s but their butt’s getting ready to leave? It’s like a half a person you get to hug there? That — that was my dad,” Mr. Dannemann said.

He lost his mother a few days before losing his father, who was 81, in Zintime, Germany.

Charles Tawtel: Relentlessly positive father

Masha Tawtel began a multiday pilgrimage back to Aleppo, Syria, when she heard her father’s condition was worsening. She crossed the border on foot, only to arrive back to Aleppo hours after he had died.

When asked what she would say to her father, she said in English the words “very good, very good.” Ms. Tawtel recalled that even when Syria was in a devastating war, her father, Charles Tawtel, would always maintain his “positive energy” when she called. As bombs fell in the background, he assured her that he was doing “very good, very good,”

Simcha Ben-Shay: Diamond businessman who “saved a synagogue in Hong Kong”

At Simcha Ben-Shay’s funeral, people in hazmat suits opened the sealed bag around his body at the last minute to touch him to the earth — a Jewish ritual. “You come from the dust, and you return to the dust,” Elisheva Stern said of her father. “The funeral was just like a bad sci-fi movie.”

Mr. Ben-Shay died in Tel Aviv. He was 75.

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Background reading and listening

Last May, we commemorated another tragic milestone: the first 100,000 lives lost in America to the coronavirus.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: One Hundred Thousand Lives

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: One Hundred Thousand Lives

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Annie Brown, Bianca Giaever, Lynsea Garrison, Daniel Guillemette, Adizah Eghan, Rachel Quester, Stella Tan, and Austin Mitchell, and edited by Lisa Tobin

A dictionary collector. A wind chaser. A disco dancer. They are just a few of the more than 100,000 lost to the coronavirus in the U.S.

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

100,000 lives. Today, we remember 100 of them.

It’s Friday, May 29.

Willie Levi was born in Orange, Texas on August 19, 1946. His father was a mill worker. His mother, a hotel housekeeper.

The identical twins Cleon and Leon Boyd were born at Bennington Hospital in Vermont on March 13, 1956. Cleon came at 5:03 p.m. Then, eight minutes later, Leon followed. Leon always said they saved the best for last.

Valentina Blackhorse was born on September 2, 1991, in Tuba City, Arizona. At age 7, Valentina wore her hair in a braided ponytail, and carried around with her everywhere a stuffed bear whose name was Mr. Bear.

Madeline Kripke he was in fifth grade when she was given her first dictionary, and had the feeling that it unlocked the whole world for her.

Once the book bug has bit you, it doesn’t let you go. I conceive of each of these books as a sparkling jewel.

At 16, Orlando Moncada left his home in Peru with his mother and two siblings, and traveled up through Mexico, hoping to cross into the U.S., where his father had been working cleaning buildings. It was the 1970s, and Orlando loved disco.

So he would try to comb his hair like John Travolta. He would try to have almost, like, fancy clothes like John Travolta did in that time.

His family crawled through a hole under a fence into the United States. Orlando was told it was good luck to reach down into the American soil and fill his pockets. Soon after, they were arrested by the border patrol. While searching his pockets, the authorities found he was carrying two things — his comb and fistfuls of sand. Orlando didn’t speak English. He couldn’t explain himself. They spent five days in jail in Mexico, and then crossed again. This time successfully.

John Prine was a quiet kid. But his brother said it wasn’t because he was shy, it was because he was always listening.

This was the time period when singer-songwriters were popping up like dandelions in June. And he said, hey, Dave, I’ve been writing some songs. Would you like to hear them? It, like, blew me over.

Because here was my little brother, who was a genius for God’s sake. I mean, I never thought he — [CHUCKLES]

John was 16 when he got up the courage to go to a local club called the Fifth Peg and play three songs.

And when he finished the third one, the place was absolutely silent. A few minutes or seconds later, they broke into tremendous applause. [CHUCKLES] He thought — he said, when I first finished it, I thought, jeez, I must have really bombed.

John liked old people. He wrote one of the first songs inspired by a nursing home, called “Hello in There,” which captured the loneliness of aging so well that no one could imagine a teenager could have written it.

“No way somebody this young can be writing so heavy,” the musician Kris Kristofferson once said. “John Prine is so good we may have to break his thumbs.”

On her 21st birthday, Britta Lou Miller enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps.

Directly out of college, Ann Sullivan began working at Walt Disney’s animation studios on films like “Peter Pan” —

You think of a wonderful thought.

Any happy little thought?

Uh huh.

— before she gave up her job to take care of her children.

Ralph McGehee was 23 and had recently failed to try out with the Green Bay Packers when he received a telegram out of the blue that asked, would you serve your country in an unusual way? It was from the C.I.A.

When Wallace was 27, The Washington Post wrote, “His name is Wallace Roney III. He is 27 years old. He is from Washington, and he is one of the best jazz trumpet players in the world.”

Wilson Jerman was 28 when he started working as a cleaner in the White House under president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Arlene Saunders was 32 when she made her debut as an opera singer in an 8,000-person stadium.

As a young man, Rafael Leonardo Black supported himself with various jobs — typist in a law firm, Macy’s sales clerk. But really his life revolved around his art. A self-trained artist born in Aruba. He read voraciously and drew on ancient myth and pop culture to create elaborate pencil drawings that brought together disparate characters like Orpheus, Andy Warhol and three giraffes, as if they were all mingling at one party. One drawing could be years in the making. But almost no one saw his work. He lived alone.

They met at a wedding in Miami. Margaret Powe was a bridesmaid, Charles a groomsman.

Arthur Winthrop Barstow met his future wife, Marilyn Louise Moser, in the asparagus fields of Hadley, Massachusetts.

Sal Capozucca, or “Mr. Cappi,” as he called himself, met his wife, Veronica Griffith, across the dance floor at Club 82, a storied drag bar in New York’s Lower East Side. On that night, Sal, always a flashy dresser, was peacocking in blue satin pants and a white satin scarf.

Jerry Spring was working as an engineer on a 727 Alaska Airlines red-eye flight when, somewhere in the sky between Seattle and Anchorage, he laid eyes on a flight attendant named Joan, in her uniform.

No, I wouldn’t even call it a uniform. It was embarrassing to wear.

He asked her out.

I’m a cradle Catholic, and he was divorced. And I didn’t want to get involved with a divorced person. I didn’t think it was right at the time. But then, you know, I got to know him better, and he was a really nice person.

She said yes to coffee.

He eventually ended up becoming a Catholic. It meant — you know, it meant a lot to him to be Catholic.

And they got married in the basement of their church.

Alison Schwartz read “The Velveteen Rabbit” at her friend’s wedding ceremony.

Valentina Blackhorse, who had grown up from the young girl clutching Mr. Bear, was so excited to have a daughter of her own. She had an emergency C-section, and gave birth to a girl named Poet Bessie Blackhorse Jones — “Poet” after the protagonist in her dad’s favorite book. She called her “my baby” in Navajo.

Jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Raised four musicians, watching each one take up a new instrument, even though he never pressured his kids to follow in his footsteps. His son Wynton said, “He was too cool for that kind of stuff.”

Once her children were all grown up, Ann Sullivan, the “Peter Pan” animator, returned to work after 20 years. She worked on “The Little Mermaid.”

I don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad.

Wilson Jerman, the White House cleaner, got his first big promotion to Butler when president John F. Kennedy was in office, thanks to Mr. Kennedy’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.

In his early 40s, Joel Reed released the most disturbing horror film of his career —

[SCREAMING] Prepare yourself for the horror.

— entitled —

Blood sucking freaks!

— “Blood Sucking Freaks.” It soon had a cult following.

Joyce Posson Winston was an editor at the Ladies’ Home Journal.

Vinton Mason came to own the Bark-and-All logging company.

Donald Horsfall co-wrote nine books about computing.

In the screenwriting classes that she taught at Columbia, Milena Jelinek developed the habit of starting out every semester despairing about her students’ lack of talent. By the end, though, she was convinced they were all terrific — except for one or two.

Georgianna Glose was a renegade nun. Bill Mantell was an optimist. Durlene Shuffler had a mischievous laugh. Alan Potanka collected stamps. John Schoffstall was a volunteer football coach. Carmen Lydia Rodriguez was a huge Elvis fan.

16 years after Mr. McGehee was recruited by the C.I.A., he had risen to the very middle of the agency’s ranks. In 1968, he landed in Saigon, where the Vietnam War was going badly. As bad turned to worse, it shattered him. He questioned America’s role in the world, the C.I.A.‘s role in Vietnam, his role in the C.I.A. and his very existence.

He thought about unfurling a banner reading, “The C.I.A. lies,” and then killing himself to protest the war. Instead he decided to tell the world in a memoir. “Why did we have to bomb the people we were trying to save?” he asked. “Why were we napalming young children?” Why did the C.I.A., my employer for 16 years, report lies instead of the truth?” He struggled to answer those questions for the rest of his life.

And after decades of creating art with no audience, Rafael Leonardo Black had his first New York gallery show when he was 64. The work was so finely detailed that the gallery provided magnifying glasses to view it. Most of the work sold, making him more money than he’d ever had. He considered traveling back to Aruba, but ultimately he just kept drawing. “People who become what are called artists don’t stop,” he told the Times. “There’s a saying: ‘Everybody writes poems at 15; real poets write them at 50.’” He planned to buy a vacuum cleaner.

Helen Antonette Molina enjoyed jogging in full makeup.

Fred Walter Gray enjoyed his bacon and hash browns crispy. Angelo Piro enjoyed serenading friends with Tony Bennett songs.

Leo Sreebny preferred bolo ties to neckties.

Norman Leslie Jenkins loved to see the full moon rise over the ocean.

Jeanne Madden Cibroski loved being quiet at the beach.

Peggy Rakestraw loved mystery novels.

Mattie Adams loved hats.

And Lillian Press of Kentucky dearly loved Kentucky.

Myles Coker’s favorite song was “Free” by Graffiti6. He had a handheld radio, and used to lie in his cell in Lewisburg Prison in Pennsylvania waiting for the song to come on. When he was first sentenced to life in prison, he couldn’t bear to tell his two sons the truth. He told them he was just taking some time off from work to travel to the Midwest to train a heavyweight boxer. But finally Myles owned up to why he was really gone. In his early 40s, he was convicted for dealing heroin, and federal sentencing guidelines demanded that he be put away for life. What Myles didn’t know was that three weeks after he was sentenced, these guidelines were relaxed. And a year later, the rules were changed again, so that the new guidelines could be applied retroactively. But nobody told Myles. In college, his sons learned that if they were going to get their dad out, they would need some legal help, and they enlisted a lawyer. After 23 years inside, Myles Coker was released from prison with a spotless disciplinary record. His sons came to pick him up, and they played the song, “Free” by Graffiti6, on the way home. Once he got settled on the outside, he was looking forward to traveling to Miami with his sons to watch the Miami Dolphins play football.

Celia Yap-Banago planned to retire in April.

Steve Dalkowski played as a pitcher in nine minor baseball leagues, but never made it to the major league.

Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia was the only one in the family unable to get a green card.

John Nakawatase planned to walk his only daughter down the aisle. Richard Rutledge had an unpublished novel.

Juanita Pippins — “Nita” for short — was well into retirement in Florida when one day, in 1987, she received a call from her only child, who was dying of AIDS in Manhattan. “Mom, I can’t get out of bed,” her son told her. “It’s time.”

Nita put her belongings in a friend’s house, took what she could and moved to New York to care for her son. Devastated and ashamed by her son’s AIDS diagnosis, and troubled that he was gay, Nita initially kept the illness a secret from her family and friends. And she felt out of place in the big city. On breaks from caring for her son, she would sit inside the Nathan’s Famous hot dog restaurant in Times Square and repeat, “I hate New York. I hate New York. I hate New York.”

But after her son died, she didn’t leave. She became close with her son’s friends and volunteered for Miracle House, a charity that provided the families of AIDS patients with housing and support. For mothers who were confused or angry, Nita was someone who had been there, and she encouraged them to be present with their sons.

For men whose families didn’t come, Nita became a replacement mother, sometimes holding their hands as they died. She remained a member of the AIDS activist community for the rest of her life.

John Sebastian Laird-Hammond was a member of a Franciscan monastery.

Mary Desole was a member of the Literacy Volunteers of America.

Gertrude Clemmer was a member of the Sandston Garden Club.

Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite was the last living female member of the World War II Monuments team.

John von Sternberg, Jr. was a member of the Old Coots on Scoots motorcycle club.

Anna Elizabeth Pearson Lugg was a member of too many genealogical societies to mention.

After decades of playing the gas station scratch-off lottery and never winning more than $20, Barbara Krupke was 77 when she bought a ticket and scratched off the eight circles.

The first seven were nothing. But behind the eighth were the words, “jackpot, one million dollars.”

She didn’t believe it was real until she showed her husband that night. But she waited a month to tell her extended family, because she worried she’d upstage her granddaughter’s imminent wedding.

Barbara split the money among her family members, including her grandson Eric, who used it to cover his expenses for an internship at PBS. Eric is now a producer on our show.

It was rumored that Kenneth Godwin of Michigan could spit a watermelon seed halfway across a double lot.

Stanley Grossman of Nanuet, New York, was known to many for his Donald Duck impersonation.

Philip Scardilli of Colonia, New Jersey, gained notoriety for his freeform dancing at family functions.

Arthur Barstow read every Louis L’Amour western three times.

Harold Reisner of Lancaster, Massachusetts, took furniture repair to the level of an art form.

And Clara Louise Bennett of Albany, Georgia was known for singing songs to her grandchildren every year on the first day of school. Her son, Jay Bennett, remembered this song.

(SINGING) School day, school day. Good old Golden Rule days. Reading and writing and arithmetic, talk to the tune of a hickory stick. (SPEAKING) I don’t know the rest of that.

Ultimately Wilson Jerman served 11 presidents. The last one was Barack Obama. In her memoir “Becoming,” Mrs. Obama featured a photo of her and her husband with Mr. Jerman in the White House elevator, where he worked as an operator, wearing a white bow tie. He was so proud to work for them, and so happy to see a person of color as president, one of his daughters said. He never ever thought that in his time at the White House he would see something like that.

Lettie Dionisio, 68, was finally on the trip of her dreams through Thailand and South Korea. But in a call home to her sister, she mentioned she didn’t feel well.

Miguel Ulluari, 51, developed a slight cough.

Chicago sisters Vera Jackson, 65, and Marilyn Williams, 54, became sick around the same time.

Upon being admitted to the hospital, 10 years after a nearly deadly bout of swine flu, Merrick Dowson, 67, joked, “These viruses seem to really like me.”

Tomas Puebla, 47, and his daughter had to stop talking on the phone because he would just start coughing. So they texted instead. She told him, why don’t you try sleeping? He said he couldn’t sleep.

Lloyd Porter, 49, seemed to be getting better after weeks on a ventilator.

Sally Rowley’s family said their goodbyes through a window at her nursing home facility.

Her family watched on video as Sherrell Stokes, 54, drew her final breaths.

Frank Gabrin, 60, an emergency room doctor, died in his husband’s arms.

Tommie Brown, 82, died on the same day as his wife. Doris Brown, 79, died on the same day as her husband.

Israel Sauz was 22. His son was 21 days old.

Harold L. Upjohn was 91.

Philip Kahn was 100.

Bernice Silver was 106.

Lorena Borjas was 59.

Laneeka Barksdale was 47.

Dez-Ann Romain was 36.

Dave Edwards was 48.

George Freeman Winfield was 72.

Steve Hann was 67.

Islam Uddin Khan was 65.

Eddie Gancayco was 62.

Mary Roman was 84.

Rafael Leonardo Black was 71.

Hailey Herrera was 25.

Ronald Lewis was 68.

Conrad Ifill was 81.

Francis Kennedy was 95.

Dr. Julie Butler was 62.

Jana Prince was 43.

Skylar Herbert was 5.

Kimarlee Nguyen was 33.

Raymond Copeland was 46.

Wanda Bailey was 63.

Valentina Blackhorse was 28.

Cornelia Ann Hunt was 87. Her last words were “thank you.”

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

(CHANTING) George Floyd! Say his name! George Floyd!

The governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, has declared a state of emergency in Minneapolis after two nights of protests and riots there over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on Monday. But the protests only intensified in the hours afterward, as residents took over a police precinct and set it on fire.

(CHANTING) No justice, no peace! Prosecute the police! No justice, no peace!

Floyd, who was black, died after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer, who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly told him that he could not breathe — a scene that was captured on video.

You’re watching an execution — a public execution.

Word! That’s right.

So I charge the young people —

Four police officers involved in the encounter have been fired, and the Department of Justice is now investigating Floyd’s death. And —

My executive order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield. That’s a big deal. They have a shield. They can do what they want.

President Trump has issued an executive order curtailing the legal protections that shield social media companies from being sued or held liable for the content posted on their platforms. The move appeared to be a response to a decision made by Twitter days earlier to fact-check the president’s misleading tweets about mail-in ballots in this fall’s elections.

One egregious example is when they try to silence views that they disagree with by selectively applying a fact-check — fact-check, F-A-C-T, fact-check. What they choose to fact-check, and what they choose to ignore or even promote is nothing more than a political activism group or political activism.

But the Times reports that the executive order may backfire on Trump. Removing legal protections could encourage social media companies to more aggressively police the most provocative message on their platforms, including, perhaps, the president’s.

“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Jonathan Wolfe, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Adizah Eghan, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, MJ Davis Lin, Austin Mitchell, Sayre Quevedo, Neena Pathak, Dan Powell, Dave Shaw, Sydney Harper, Daniel Guillemette, Hans Buetow, Robert Jimison, Mike Benoist, Bianca Giaever and Asthaa Chaturvedi. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Lauren Jackson, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani and Nora Keller.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you on Monday.

There are a lot of ways to listen to ‘The Daily.’ Here’s how.

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Amy Qin and Safak Timur contributed translation.

“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, M.J. Davis Lin, Austin Mitchell, Neena Pathak, Dan Powell, Dave Shaw, Sydney Harper, Daniel Guillemette, Hans Buetow, Robert Jimison, Mike Benoist, Bianca Giaever, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi and Rachelle Bonja. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Lauren Jackson, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani, Nora Keller, Sofia Milan and Desiree Ibekwe.

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