September 7th

(Obituaries of three men who share a birthday.)



But it was in the fight on smallpox — perhaps the most lethal disease in history and one that killed an estimated 300 million people in the 20th century alone — that he became known around the world.

D.A. Henderson led the effort to end smallpox. He began in 1966 and accomplished the goal within fifteen years. As his Washington Post obituary notes, its eradication is “the only such vanquishment in history of a human disease and an achievement… credited with saving tens of millions of lives.”



Starting in the 1980s, after decades of working in relative obscurity, Mr. Yuan became nationally celebrated as a Chinese scientist making world-class advances.

The first sentence of Yuan Longping’s New York Times obituary describes him as “a Chinese plant scientist whose breakthroughs in developing high-yield hybrid strains of rice helped to alleviate famine and poverty across much of Asia and Africa.”

His efforts contributed to the spectacular success of the Green Revolution, a series of agricultural developments in the 1950s and 1960s that hugely increased the amount of food crops grown worldwide.

As one countryman put it: “He saved a lot – a lot – of lives.”



Petrov spent his retirement alone in virtual obscurity… unrewarded by his country’s authorities. His death went unannounced for four months…

Early one morning in 1983, Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov prevented a nuclear war. While on duty at a command center, he received an alert that the US had launched nuclear missiles. His Guardian obituary explains what happened next:

He decided to report the alert as a system malfunction. “I had a funny feeling in my gut… I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

His misgivings proved well founded… The false alarm was apparently caused by the satellite mistaking the sun’s reflection off the tops of high-altitude clouds for a missile launch.