This article presents the author’s opinion of the Top Ten Most Admired figures of the 20th and 21st centuries, on a global level. (in alphabetical order) It was tough job narrowing it to ten. My views are based on those people who I believe set the highest of standards, role models, sacrifices and accomplishments in the face of great adversity and overall contribution to the world or the society they served. While we might not totally agree with political views, their brave and selfless contributions to doing good cannot be denied.
TEN MOST ADMIRED PEOPLE – LAST 100 YEARS (Alphabetical)
* Ayaan Hirsi Ali
This woman personifies struggle to be free and the courage to speak out. Somali born in 1969, Ali was victimized by Islamists, subjected to female circumcision at age five, eventually fled to the Netherlands at age 23 to avoid an arranged marriage. In the face of great peril, became an outspoken critic of global Jihad and oppression of women through Islam. A prolific and courageous author and speaker, Ali was one of Time’s most influential women of 2005, but has to live in hiding for fear of retribution for speaking out to bring awareness of the threat of radical Islam. She is a huge voice for protecting rights and dignity of women around the world.
* Sammy Davis Jr.
A giant of a little man. Arguably, the greatest entertainer of all time, the master of dance, singer, comic, prolific stage and movie actor, impersonator, great friend to the greats, and enormous role model for people of color. Starting from childhood, Davis was a natural on stage who could do anything but be white, which — like millions of other blacks in those days — was his cross to bear. Though he was made to use servant’s entrances at major hotels and separate bathrooms from whites, he never let it hold him back, as the “show must go on.” He personified “non-conventional.” An early accident left him blind in one eye; He married a white actress from Sweden when interracial marriage was considered taboo; He became a Jew, and etc. Dancing great, Gregory Hines, while on stage in 1988 and dancing a tribute to the cancer-ridden super-star, dropped to his knees and kissed the shoes of Sammy Davis Dr.
* Thomas Edison
Probably the most important inventor in history prior to the age of cyber technology. A simple man born of humble beginnings in Ohio, Edison’s genius and unharnessed energy let to 1368 patents in his lifetime, though he had become deaf since childhood. His most famous inventions including the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, motion pictures, stell alkaline battery and hundreds more. During WW I he assisted the government with twenty-one new inventions including devices for locating guns by sound ranging, detecting submarines using sound, underwater searchlights, airplane detection and etc. No single person in history had as much impact on technology as it applies to human life.
* Albert Einstein
Set the bar for the term “Genius.” A German-born, Jewish physicist who rose to prominence for developing the Theory of Relativity, but known for countless other developments and discoveries in the fields of mathematics, space and time, and for promoting free expression during a time when communist and Nazi oppression was running rampant in Europe. He was offered the position of President of the new State of Israel, to which he declined though he had been a major influence in its development and survival. Few know that he also played the violin. Upon preparing to die he said, “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share. It is time to go.”
Here is Einstein playing a Mozart Sonata:
* Dwight D. Eisenhower
American general who led the nation to victory over Nazism in Europe and later a two-term U.S. president or our country during a time of relative peace, including overseeing the end of the war in Korea. He also served as an infantry lieutenant in WW I. Not enough credit is given this man who faithfully served his country from early adulthood undtil his death at age 78, one of the most dignified and patriotic Americans our nation has ever known. Besides military accomplishments, his achievements would include the creation of the Interstate highway system, the admission of two more states to the union, a rarity called “peace” and an unpolitical style of honesty. In the twilight of his last term, he prophetically warned us all to beware of the military industrial complex.
* Mahatma Gandhi
Whenver we hear the phrase “non-violent” protest, we forget where it orginated. That single movement may be responsible for the prevention of thousands of lost lives, of which we’ll never know nor be able to count. Numerous (but not enough) world leaders have adopted the standards set by this humble Indian man who ditched his London law degree to sacrifice the good life in order to serve his countrymen from which he lived a life of abject poverty serving the poor. Gandhi was the preeminent leader in a nation at a time of struggle for independence from British rule. The most famous of Gandhi’s non-violent protege’s was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, both of whom — ironically — died violent deaths by assassination.
* Bill Gates
This man personifies what talent and brains can accomplish, now considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. His niche: Microsoft, which he developed and launched to become to most powerful influence in the computer industry. The entire world of Internet communication and business development owes their thanks to Bill Gates for bringing technology into the 21st century. While he best known for his wealth, little is known about his philanthropy, having donated over $28 billion to charity, as of 2007. He and his wife have pledged to eventually give 95 percent of their income to charity.
* Helen Keller
99.999 percent of us will never know what it is like to live in a sensory vaccuum, unable to see or hear. Helen Keller lost her senses of sight and hearing at the age of 19 months, raised as a completely disabled child as though a piece of meat with a beating heart. Then came her teacher, Anne Sullivan who changed her life, teaching Helen to communicate with hand-touch signals and encouragement that she could still matter. Helen grew into a national figure of monumental proportions, a speech maker, an author of twelve books and a political activist who helped form many organizations, including — of all things — the ACLU. She was a staunch socialist, which might otherwise have excluded her from my list. But her accomplishments rising above unthinkable adversity is more than amazing. She had been a role model and symbol of hope for millions of disabled people. Keller died at age 88, having lived a productive life despite her sensory vaccuum.
* Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The leader of leaders who is rightfully credited with righting the wrongs of racial discrimination in America. This simple preacher, with his mighty oratory skills, guts and fierce determination in the face of hate and adversity, dedicated his life to leveling the playing field for blacks in America and for minorities in general. Figures like Barack Obama, Condaleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Herman Cain, Oprah Winfrey and so many more blacks who have risen to power and prominence, owe much of those kind of opportunities to Dr. King. He is revered as a saintly figure not only among blacks, but most Americans in general. His “I have a dream” speech in Washington D.C., in 1963, is considered the most important and moving in history.
* Mother Teresa
Though there have been many others in the world who have sacrificed equally, tending to the poor, no one set the bar higher than this Roman Catholic nun who was born in Albania, but best known for her service to the needy in India. This woman was a dedicated human being who walked the walk, personifying the term “unselfish service” leaving a legacy for aiding the hungry, the sick, the disadvantaged like no other. Her order established hospice, centers for the blind, the aged and disabled (lepers included) all of which led to her well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. “Spread love everywhere you go,” she said. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”