2020: Not Such a Good Year (Deaths)

Takna Jigme Sango

Cars Holden

Americans  A grotesque pathogen the actions of which had at the time already killed 200,000 Americans contracted COVID-19, and described it as ‘a blessing from God’.  Though thoughts and prayers around the world were with the virus, Trump prevailed.  By the end of the year, one in every thousand Americans had died of COVID-19, more than a 9-11’s worth — more than 3,000 — a day some days.  COVID-19 is predicted to kill more Americans than died in the second world war, up to 450,000.  One of its probable victims was Rommel Broom, who was on death row following a failed attempt to kill him by lethal injection in 2015.

Lawyers Arch conservative Antonin Scalia’s progressive opera buddy Ruth Bader Ginsburg‘s end of life ambition to survive the end of the Trump administration so as to prevent her replacement by an ultra-conservative Trump appointee was cruelled by pancreatic cancer.  Truth be told, his incompetence was so great that he didn’t really actually do much, compared to the opportunity he had to do it, but POTUS did manage to stack SCOTUS with three new conservatives.  The third was Catholic cult member Amy Coney Barrett, previously appointed to the Seventh Circuit by Trump, hurriedly confirmed in the last days before the US election.  The composition of the Court is a matter for Congress and there is talk of increasing the number of justices in the Biden term so as to allow Democratic appointments.  But the composition of the Supreme Court is not the only issue, since intermediate appeal judges provide ultimate resolution for most cases, and Trump has appointed 51 of 179 active circuit court judges, mostly white blokes, lifetime appointments, with a mediation age of 48, nearly one-third of the entire bench in four years (c.f. Obama 55 and Bush 62 each over 8 years and I suspect Trump’s appointments were far less meritocratic than even Bush’s).

David Ipp was a South African-born Australian lawyer and judge, first of the Supreme Court of Western Australia and then of the NSW Court of Appeal. As an ICAC Commissioner he oversaw the corruption enquiry into Eddie Obeid.  During a sabbatical in London, he wrote ‘Lawyers’ Duties to the Court’, collecting the common law antecedents of the Civil Procedure Act 2010, and published it in the Law Quarterly Review, a resource that I go back to time and again.  He once kindly agreed to me putting the paper onto the web in a more accessible way, each duty brought up to date by the latest cases, but it is a project in waiting.  He usefully held in Kyle v Legal Practitioners Complaints Committee (1999) 21 WAR 56 at [6] that ‘There can be no professional misconduct where a practitioner innocently misleads a court’, an authority I have had to trot out time and again. He also authored the ‘Ipp Report’ which saw in the modern law of negligence, altering the law of causation and introducing proportionate liability for non-fraudulent torts and misleading and deceptive conduct by amendments, in Victoria, to the Wrongs Act.

Sydney boy James Wolfensohn fenced for Australia at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne,  learnt cello from Jacqueline du Pre, was Tony Blair’s predecessor as special envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East which promoted the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and was Chairman Emeritus of the John F. Kenedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York amongst many other achievements. From Allens he went on to become President of the World Bank where he transformed it from predominantly a funder of big infrastructure projects to one of the largest funders of health and education programmes, and then set up a development think tank.  He was a banker who tried very hard to alleviate global poverty.

Glenn Waldron was a modernising former Chief Judge of the County Court who oversaw the construction of the new courthouse.  Waldron’s reader Chester Keon-Cohen also formerly of the County Court, was an early adopter of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017.  Barry Beach was formerly of the Supreme Court.

Richard (Dick) Stanley, an old school personal injuries trial lawyer, the doyen of the common law Bar, who refused to embrace most all technology and who set many records and: biggest personal injury damages award, longest civil jury trial.  He was lucky enough to have been junior frequently to the great Jeff Sher QC.

Peter O’Callaghan was in 2014 the longest-serving member of the Victorian Bar.  The $7.8 million the Catholic Church paid him to be the Independent Commissioner for Archbishop Pell’s ‘Melbourne Response’ to the Catholic child rape and sadistic cruelty scandals raised the eyebrows of Louise Milligan because it was almost as much as the less than $10 million went to compensate the 307 victims.

George Bizos was a Greek born anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela and generally exploited the South African government’s lip service to western values in favour of oppressed black people through the court system, according to him ‘often the last forum to condemn the oppressive policies and deprivation of human rights’.

Female genitalia Hawa Abdi was a Somali gynecologist, lawyer and human rights activist.  A girl who was married at 12 when her mother died and brought up her three younger siblings, she went on to great achievements, beginning with the divorce of her first husband.  She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard.  She built a 400 bed hospital on her family’s land in a war-ravaged part of the country, providing obstetric and gynecological support to women, and health services to children, all for free, and set up a relief camp for 90,000 people in its grounds during the civil war, largely funded through remittances of the Somali diaspora. Her foundation’s website is here.

Catherine Hamlin was a Sydney born obstetrician and gynaecologist who did similar work in neighbouring Ethiopia for most of her life, becoming a Companion of the Order of Australia, our highest honour, and was also one of only three people to be awarded Ethiopia’s Eminent Citizen Award.  She also has a ferry named after her.  She died aged 96 in Addis Ababa having moved there in 1958 in response to an ad seeking obstetricians, staying, and building the Fistula Hospital in 1974 during the Communist revolution.  Her thing was obstetric fistula, a condition of poverty so horrendous that I can only direct you to this page which describes it and its grotesque physical, social and psychological sequelae.

James Morris was a Welshman who travelled with Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay when they completed the first ascent of Mount Everest, a feat announced on the occasion of the coronation of Elizabeth II.  Then, as Jan Morris, having had a vagina constructed in 1972 by a surgeon in Casablanca, she wrote histories, novels and portraits of cities like Oxford, Venice, Trieste, Hong Kong and New York (she hated being called a ‘travel writer’).  She had five children with her wife with whom she continued to live after her sex change, and was one of the first high profile men publicly to become a woman, a process she wrote a book about.

Shere Hite was also into vaginas. She took on some modelling while doing her Ph.D. on the history of female sexuality.  The tagline in the ad featuring her photo was ‘The Typewriter That’s So Smart, She Doesn’t Have to Be’, which annoyed her.  She dropped out of Columbia and distributed a 58 question survey about female sexuality, the 3,000 responses to which from women aged 14 to 78 formed the basis for the self-funded Hite Report of 1976.  It revealed the centrality of the clitoris to female orgasm and the difficulty of orgasm for many women from penetrative sex.  She was hounded out of America by Playboy and others and lived in Germany from 1995.

Other female trailblazers  I must confess to having first learnt of Melbourne born Helen Reddy upon her death, but Radio National was at pains to explain that she was unfairly forgotten and a big deal.  In 1972, her “I Am Woman” went to number 1 in America and became a feminist anthem.

Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, Belfast born and Melbourne raised, attended Fairfield State School and Westgarth Central Business College.  Until Julia Gillard’s prime ministership, she was the highest ranking woman in the history of Australian government, and was the first female cabinet minister, as Malcolm Fraser’s Finance Minister.

Susan Ryan, was the first Labor woman to serve in cabinet, in the Hawke government, raising year 12 participation from 30% to 90%.   She was involved in the creation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and after politics became the Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Other Australian politicians John Ah Kit was the first indigenous NT parliamentarian, and led the Jawoyn’s charge against mining at Coronation Hill. Doug Anthony was Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister for 10 years and leader of the Country Party which was renamed the National Party.  He served under six prime ministers from Menzies on. Jack Mundey was the secretary of the Builders Laborers Federation and was responsible for the green bans which, through union activism, saved much of Sydney’s remaining open spaces and heritage buildings. After he was expelled from the union, he sought election to the NSW upper house on a Communist Party of Australia ticket and nearly won, garnering 80,000 votes.

Spies Sean Connery was everyone’s favourite James Bond.  John le Carré was the doyen of spy novelists and a former spy.  George Blake was a double agent who, as an officer of MI6, passed its secrets to the KGB during the height of the Cold War while MI6 thought he was seeking to recruit Soviet spies as double agents.  By his own account he told the KGB about 400 Soviet agents providing information to the West.  MI6 and the CIA built a tunnel under the Berlin Wall to tap into Soviet communications.  Blake told the KGB and they fed the bug disinformation mixed with low level true information, all of which MI6 frantically transcribed for years.  He confessed during an MI6 interrogation and was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, only to escape with the assistance of prisoners who considered his 42 year sentence to be inhumane.  He was smuggled out of the country to East Germany by sympathisers and lived the rest of his life in Moscow.

Assassinations Vladimir Putin likely ordered the utterly illegal and outrageous assassination of Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader and anti-corruption activist.  The mode of assassination was a new and improved version of Novichok, the Russian nerve agent used to kill Alexander Litvinenko and in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal.  The Skripal poisoning was the subject of an excellent miniseries this year, The Salisbury Poisonings, still available on SBS which laid bare the evil of this substance which is the most lethal of all nerve agents, is younger than I am, and may remain lethal for 50 years in minute quantities. It is easily administered.  The assassins of the Skripals just splashed a bit from a vial they carried with them on the front doorknob of the Skripal residence, for example.  Only problem is that Navalny did not die because the plane he was to expire on made an emergency landing and the German Cinema for Peace Foundation (I know, right?) chartered a plane to evacuate him from Russia to Berlin where German doctors saved his life.  Russian prosecutors refused to open an official criminal investigation because there was no sign of a crime having been committed, but the EU and the UK were sure enough of the culprit to impose sanctions.

Which brings to mind the 2004 assassination of the Indonesian human rights lawyer Munir on a plane, en route to Utrecht University to take a Master’s in international law and human rights.  The former Garuda pilot Pollycarpus Priyanto laced the lawyer’s orange juice with arsenic on a Garuda flight.  Garuda was ordered to pay compensation to Munir’s widow for negligently not making an emergency landing, but never paid it.  Pollycarpus was convicted of murder.  His death this year was attributed to COVID-19, but some wondered whether he was done away with because he knew too much about the conspiracy in which he was but the delivery guy, and was now out of jail.

There were two spectacular assassinations in Iran, of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and Major General Qasem Soleimani.  Soleimani was the second most powerful Iranian who enjoyed hero status with ordinary Iranians.  He and 9 others were killed by Trump-ordered US drones which fired missiles into two vehicles in which Soleimani was leaving Baghdad airport.  The US obtained no approval from Iraq for the murders. It seems highly unlikely to my untutored mind that one country assassinating another’s top figures without permission in a third country could possibly be a good idea.  The US tried to assassinate Gaddafi in 1986, and Saddam in 1991, 1998 and 2003.  Such assassinations are completely illegal but we are becoming accustomed to the law being disregarded.  Trump reportedly told associates after the strike he ordered that he did so for domestic political gain.  Iran plans to pursue a war crimes case against Trump in the Hague.  Good luck with that.

Fakhrizadeh was a professor of physics accused of working on Iran’s nuclear programme.  There are multiple conflicting accounts of the assassination, but western newspapers consider it most likely that a kill squad of 50 including 12 assassins disrupted the professor’s convoy of three bullet proof vehicles outside Tehran with a truck bomb and then finished him off by hand, having cut the electricity to the region half an hour earlier.  But there are reports of the involvement of Killer Robots involving remote controlled machine guns and artificial intelligence which are apparently now commonplace in the Middle East.  Mossad is a suspect.

Villains Mad Mike Hoare was a Calcutta born Irish mercenary who made his home in South Africa and once agreed to overthrow the Seychelles’s Marxist administration for just $300,000.  It didn’t work, and he was convicted for hijacking the gettaway plane and spent 33 months in jail, memorising Shakespeare.  The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales which had, to that point seen no reason to expel him, did so upon his imprisonmentTa Mok, Pol Pot’s successor, died in custody awaiting trial on charges of genocide in the ECCC, a tribunal created by the Cambodian Government and the UN to try the remaining Khmer Rouge commanders.

Daniel arap Moi was a popular, corrupt, dictator of Kenya after the death of founding father Jomo Kenyatta.  He once arrested his entire air force, 2,100 strong, after some of their number attempted a coup. Hosni Mubarak was Egypt’s autocratic president of Egypt for 30 years before being deposed by the Arab Spring in 2011.  He was an ally of the west, preserving a peace treaty with Israel.  I remember my father’s shock as he lowered his newspaper one morning when Anwar Sadat was assassinated.  Mubarak was sitting next to him (Sadat, not Dad) at the time.  He was prosecuted for corruption.  The trial produced some extraordinary images, including Mubarak being wheeled in, supine on a hospital guerney, but most of the charges didn’t stick and ultimately he repaired to his mansion in Heliopolis and no doubt from time to time to his beach villa in Sharm el Sheikh. After Mubarak, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t last long and the military and Mubarak allies ultimately returned to power after a period of chaos.

Statesmen and activists The Peruvian Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was the 5th Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Per the New York Times

‘in two terms, from 1982 through 1991, he helped end a 10-year war between Iran and Iraq; secured the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan; wound down conflicts in Cambodia, El Salvador and Nicaragua; and shepherded Namibia to independence from South Africa. His United Nations peacekeepers won the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize for work in Mozambique and Angola.’

A madman used to write letters of complaint about the corruption of the Victorian legal system to a group of addressees which included my old boss at Middletons.  At the top of his copy addressee list were Elizabeth II and Javier Perez de Cuellar.

Pranab Mukherjee was President of India until 2017, an associate of Indira Gandhi and her family’s Congress Party, but never became its Prime Minister. Saeb Erekat was a Palestinian politician and diplomat, from 2015 Secretary-General of the PLO.  COVID-19 took him.  Valerie Giscard d’Estaing was President of France. Jerry Rawlings is considered to be a founding father of Ghana even though he seized power in a military coup and began to rule autocratically as a Marxist with assistance from Libya.  The story ends well, however, as he guided the country to a stable democracy before stepping down as President, leaving a stable democracy.

Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa ruled Bahrain for even longer — about half a century, and he and his old man ruled the place pretty much since 1942.  He stationed a fleet of the US Navy, and this year the country opened diplomatic relations with Israel, the fourth Arab state to do so.

Takna Jigme Sangpo (pictured, above) was a teacher who became Tibet’s longest suffering political prisoner, having spent about 40 years in jail and labour camps for teaching Tibetan language and openly expressing his desire that Tibet be free. His conditions were not those of Aung Sang Suu Kyi in her lakeside house-prison, nor even those of Nelson Mandela’s harsh incarceration. Titbits from his history, best presented to English speakers in this obituary, serve to illustrate just how evil the Chinese Communist Party has been.  For example, in 1991, a Swiss delegation visited the prison in which he was incarcerated.  He shouted ‘Free Tibet’ from his cell.  The hosts told the Swiss that he was mad, and extended his sentence by eight years.  Human rights violations don’t get much blunter than that. Another time when he suggested Tibet should be free whilst in jail, he was beaten so badly that, preferring to die than live, he went on a hunger strike.  After 10 days his jailers stuck a tube in him and fed him back to life, painfully.  The Communist cadres made other Tibetans inflict gruesome tortures on their countrymen.  He reported that some of them took their own lives rather than continue to do so.  He spent a long time in the notorious Drapchi Prison to where inmates of other prisons would be marched in chains to witness the execution of his political prisoner friends.  On the occasion of 9/11 all the prisoners were marched into a room and made to watch the burning twin towers.  The Communists shouted “Now, look at what has happened to the American imperialists, the saviours of Tibetan separatists!”  He was only let out when, nearly blind from untreated cataracts and infirm, he posed no further threat, when the Swiss granted him asylum and fixed his eyes.  Here is a film of him in Switzerland, proving eloquently that the beatings, torture, and re-education failed miserably.  The Communists lost, but this death did not make it into any mainstream Western newspaper as far as I can tell.

Adhe Tapontsang aka Ama Adhe, incarcerated by the Chinese for 27 years, also died this year. A Tibetan nomad, she had fought with the CIA backed khampas against the Chinese occupation of Tibet after the invasion. When she was released, she was forced to sign a promise to keep secret the details of her incarceration.  When she obtained freedom in India, she published a book about it. Good on her.

Thich Quang Do was another Buddhist who devoted his life to campaigning against Communist oppression of religious freedom.  The Vietnamese government allowed only one sanctioned Buddhist church and he was from another.  He campaigned for democracy too and earned house arrest for his troubles.

Film and stage Tom Long was a star of Seachange and The Dish. Kirk Douglas managed to live to 103.  Ennio Morricone was an extraordinarily prolific non-English-speaking Roman film composer for over 500 moves by Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Passolini, Quentin Tarantino and many others.  The obituarists say he is best known for the scores to spaghetti westerns, but to my generation, I suspect he is best known for the main theme to The Mission, ‘Gabriel’s Oboe‘ which must surely be one of the best melodies devised in the last 50 years. Terry Jones founded Monty Python and directed The Life of Bryan (‘What’s so funny about Bigus Dickus?’).

Art, fashion and design Kenzo Takada was a great Japanese fashion designer. Pierre Cardin was the first fashion designer to sell his collections in department stores, and to allow people to stamp PC onto things that weren’t clothes in return for money.  He made a motza.  James Mollison, was long the director of the National Gallery of Australia and then the National Gallery of Victoria in the early 90s.  It was he who purchased Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’ for $1.3 million in 1974. Terence Conran was a furniture and interiors designer and retailer who wrote and published over 50 books and founded many restaurants. Christo like his wife and collaborator Jean-Claude only used his first name, and wrapped things like the Reichstag and called it conceptual art.

Round ball wranglers Kobe Bryant, an American basketballer in the same league as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, died in a helicopter crash aged 41, along with his daughter and others.  Dean Jones also died unexpectedly at 59 in Mumbai of a sroke.  Diego Maradona was considered by many to be the greatest exponent of the world game.  He scored a goal with his hand in a 1986 quarter final in the FA Cup against England and got away with it, dubbed ‘the hand of God’, which he considered to be revenge for Argentina’s defeat in the Falklands a few years earlier, before scoring the ‘goal of the century‘ to win the game 2-1, best viewed while listening to Victoria Morales’s hysterical commentary, which includes:

‘Goaaaaaaal! I want to cry, oh holy God, long live football! What a goal! Diegoal! Maradona! It is to cry for, excuse me! Maradona, in a memorable run, in the best play of all times! Cosmic kite, which planet did you come from, to leave so many Englishmen behind, for the country to be a clenched fist crying for Argentina?’ (translated)

Writers  Twice as many journalists were killed as usual Mungo MacCallum the last larrikin of the press gallery died, and not for the first time, though he was alive and well in Mullumbimby at the time the first obituaries flowed in 2014.  He was the nephew of a minister in the Gorton Government, and his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were also named Mungo MacCallum.  He attended the elite Cranbrook School in Sydney, but sounded like a progressive when writing with perspicacity about the likes of John Howard (‘There was much to loathe about the Howard years, but two things were utterly unforgivable. One was the abandonment of Australian citizens to illegal imprisonment and torture — David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. The other was the incarceration of children behind razor wire until they went mad.’) He penned several Quarterly Essays one about Kevin Rudd and the other about refugees and the politics of fear.

Raficq Abdulla was a rather cool sounding lawyer, writer and poet married to a Swedish psychotherapist.  Fitzroy born Bruce Dawe was an alumnus of Northcote High School and a beautiful poet (b. 1930).  I like Condolences of the Season.

Musicians Barry Tuckwell, was a Melbournian who married four times (once to a divorce lawyer).  He rose from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra which he joined at 15 to principal French horn in the London Symphony Orchestra.  James Morrrison’s mate Don Burrows, the Sydney born jazz flautist who overcame arthritis from the age of 38 and founded the first jazz studies course in the southern hemisphere. You can hear the best known Australian jazz musician of the 60s hereJulian Bream was the pre-eminent British guitarist of his generation, as well as a lutenist and member of the Marylebone Cricket Club.  His dog was named Django.  Krzysztof Penderecki was a Polish composer and conductor, best known for the near-unlistenable ‘Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.’  Then there was Kenny Rogers.  It is a curiosity that Spotify told me that the ‘songs’ I listened to most in 2020 were ‘Islands in the Stream’ and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, very likely a unique combination, something about me and my children practising for very different performances.  The Lawchestra’s Beethoven V season was cancelled, which seemed sensible to me, since this second flute recognised very early on the dangers of the COVID-19 dream delivery system constituted by first flute pointed right at me.

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