Mandela, Chavez among notable deaths

A number of notable deaths in the political arena occurred during 2013, but it was that of South African leader Nelson Mandela which prompted the greatest outpouring of grief around the world.

The world also lost two intensely controversial figures: Hugo Chavez, the sitting president of Venezuela, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Congress lost two sitting members, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), and several retired ones, including former House Speaker Tom Foley (D-Wash.).

Several prominent media figures also died: Michael Hastings, the young reporter who brought down a four-star general, and trailblazing White House reporter Helen Thomas.

 

Nelson Mandela

A controversial radical in his youth, Mandela emerged as the uniter of his racially divided nation upon his release from a 27-year incarceration in 1990. Elected South Africa's first black president after his African National Congress party swept to victory in 1994, Mandela cemented his legacy as a 20th century giant by stepping down from power peacefully after just one term in office.

His death on Dec. 5 triggered a global outpouring of grief, with world leaders from countries as ideologically diverse as the United States and Cuba sitting side-by-side with South Africans to bid farewell to one of their heroes.

Hugo Chávez

The leftist firebrand and longtime American foe died in office on March 5 after 14 years in power, less than a year after his reelection to a fourth term. A career military officer, Chávez poured the resource-rich country's oil revenues into programs for the poor but took Venezuela down an increasingly authoritarian path. He clashed repeatedly with the United States during his tenure and accused President George W. Bush of backing a coup to replace him in 2002. His death created an opening for better relations with the United States but continued anti-American rhetoric from his successor, Nicolás Maduro, has put any hope of closer ties on ice for now.

Margaret Thatcher

Widely considered the United Kingdom's equivalent of President Ronald Reagan, the “iron lady” was a key U.S. ally in the fight against communism and for free markets during the 1980s. Thatcher was more controversial in her native country, where the left loathed her both for her policies and her unyielding personality. In the most prominent domestic confrontation, she defeated a bitter and prolonged strike by the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984 and 1985. In the United States, she retains broad bipartisan appeal, with both the House and Senate passing unanimous resolutions celebrating her “lifelong commitment to advancing freedom, liberty, and democracy throughout the world” in the wake of her death on April 8.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.)

The longest-serving House Republican died on Oct. 18 from complications from a back injury. As head of the panel that controls Defense spending — and former chairman of the Appropriations Committee — Young held considerable sway on Capitol Hill, where he arrived in 1970. For years he was one of the staunchest champions of defense spending but in 2012 turned against the war in Afghanistan, then in its 11th year, declaring his support for withdrawing all U.S. troops to stop “killing kids who don't need to die.” His death at age 82 has sparked a three-way Republican primary scheduled for Jan. 14; the winner will face Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's former chief financial officer, on March 11.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)

Elected directly to the Senate in 1982, Lautenberg has been called the “last of the New Deal liberals” for his support for infrastructure spending, and environmental and business regulations. He was the oldest member of the Senate and its last serving World War Two veteran when he died of viral pneumonia on June 3, aged 89.

Lautenberg was a successful businessman before entering politics. He declined to run for re-election in 2000 but immediately regretted his decision, returning to the Senate in 2003.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, appointed Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to replace Lautenberg until a special election was held in October. It was won by Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), who assumed office as New Jersey's junior senator on Oct. 31.

Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.)

Foley was a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and the most prominent of the retired U.S. lawmakers who died in 2013. He sought to counter the rising partisanship that marked Bill Clinton's presidency but was swept from office in 1994 by the Republican wave that brought Newt Gingrich to power, becoming the first Speaker to lose re-election since the Civil War. Foley pushed President George H.W. Bush to accept tax increases as part of his 1990 deficit-reduction deal — a key factor in the president's subsequent defeat — and fought for a ban on assault weapons. He was also a strong advocated for NAFTA. He died at his home in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 18, aged 84.

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap

Vietnam's most formidable military leader led an insurgency that defeated both its colonial overlord, France, and the United States in three decades of conflict after the end of World War Two. A teacher with no formal military training, Giap joined the communist insurgency in the 1940s and helped transform it into a unifying force for the country. Giap's forces suffered staggering losses – more than one million North Vietnamese combatants were killed in the war with the United States – but earned the grudging respect of his opponents. Giap pushed the communist government toward reform after the war. He was believed to be 102 when he died on Oct. 4.

Helen Thomas 

The trailblazing reporter covered the administrations of every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama as a correspondent for the United Press wire service and later Hearst Newspapers. Thomas paved the way for women in American journalism, starting as a reporter covering women's issues for the radio wire service during World War Two and rising to the pinnacle of her profession. Her final years were marked by controversy and she lost her coveted seat at the front row of White House briefings after repeatedly attacking George W. Bush over his invasion of Iraq. Thomas retired from her Hearst columnist job in 2010 in the wake of contentious comments about Jews and Israel. She died on July 20 at age 92.

Michael Hastings

The intrepid war reporter rose to national prominence in 2010 with a Rolling Stone profile that cost four-star general Stanley McChrystal his job as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. He had previously made a name for himself covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where his fiancée, Andrea Parhamovich, was killed in an ambush in 2007. Hastings was killed in a high-speed car crash in Los Angeles on June 18, at the age of 33. His employer at the time of his death, BuzzFeed, has created an annual fellowship for national security reporting in his memory.

David Frost

The British TV host is best remembered for his 1977 interviews with President Nixon, which sparked both a stage play and a movie. Frost rose to fame as host of the British satirical program “That Was the Week That Was” in the early 1960s, which in turn opened up the far larger U.S. media market for him. His "David Frost Show" began running in the United States in 1969 and his success paved the way for his interview with Nixon, during which the impeached president for the first time expressed contrition for having “let the American people down.” Frost was also the last person to interview the deposed Shah of Iran after the 1979 revolution. He died of a heart attack in England on August 31, at the age of 74.

Jack Germond

The pundit was a fixture of American political commentary for decades. Germond started to work for the Rochester Times-Union in 1961 before heading to the Washington Star and the Baltimore Sun. He was a regular on TV news shows such as "Meet the Press" and "The McLaughlin Group" starting in the 1970s. His five-day-a-week syndicated column “Politics Today” with Jules Witcover ran for 24 years. Germond died at his home in Charles Town, W. Va. on August 14, at the age of 85.

Marc Rich

The hedge fund manager and tax violator has been a source of controversy for President Clinton ever since the 42nd president pardoned him on his last day in office in 2001. Rich founded the Anglo–Swiss commodities company Glencore in 1974. He and his partner Pincus Green were indicted in 1983 for tax evasion and trading with Iran during the oil embargo imposed during the U.S. hostage crisis. The case was brought by then-federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani and was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history; Rich fled to Switzerland and never returned to the United States. Clinton's pardon came after Rich's wife, Denise Rich, gave more than $1 million to the Democratic Party, the Clinton Library foundation and Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. Rich died on June 26, age 78, in Switzerland.