Frank Raleigh Lautenberg (1924-2013) was born in New Jersey to a poor family of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. His father died young from cancer, leaving his mother to support the family by selling sandwiches. After high school, Lautenberg fought in World War II, serving in the army until 1946. At the time, returning war veterans had their education financed by the government, so Lautenberg got an economics degree from Columbia Business School. He first worked for an insurance company, then as a salesman, eventually rising to the rank of CEO. In 1978 he became New York’s Port Authority, managing the area’s vast transportation infrastructure. That brought him closer to politics, and in 1982 he ran for the Senate as a democrat. One of his first major moves as senator was bringing into effect a minimum drinking age, set at 21 years since 1984. In 1990 his ‘Lautenberg Amendment’ passed into law, making it easier for refugees to immigrate to the US, thus opening the doors to thousands of Jews fleeing the collapsing Soviet Union. Since then, countless refugees from around the world have been able to find asylum in the US due to this law. Lautenberg’s second famous amendment passed in 1996, banning the sale of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence. After winning two more re-elections, Lautenberg decided to retire in 2000. However, he quickly regretted the decision, and came back in 2002, winning re-election again in 2008. Lautenberg wrote legislation that banned smoking on airplanes and in federal buildings. He voted consistently for more stem cell research, gun control, and peaceful foreign policies, making him a hero among liberal democrats. Sadly, he passed away this Monday from viral pneumonia after a previous battle with lymphoma. At 89 years of age, he was the oldest-serving senator, and the last to have fought in World War II.
Words of the Week
Are you as careful with what comes out of your mouth as you are with what enters it? – Chassidic Proverb
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in Italy in 1909, and still goes to work every day at the European Brain Institute. If you didn’t catch that: she is 103 years old. That makes her the only Nobel Prize winner in history to live 100 years. She won the prize together with fellow Jew Stanley Cohen for discovering Nerve Growth Factor, the main protein involved in neurological development. Levi-Montalcini went to medical school in the 1930s, but was barred from being a physician by Mussolini’s race laws that prevented Jews from holding academic professions. So she set up a laboratory in her home and studied the nerves of chickens. This was the basis for many of her future discoveries. Wherever her family fled during the war, Levi-Montalcini set up mobile labs; at one point even running a genetics lab from her bedroom! After the war she continued her research and taught at Washington University for 30 years. She has won the National Medal of Science, and was knighted, too. In 2001, Levi-Montalcini was appointed a senator for life and is the eldest member of Italy’s Upper House. Her advice for living a long and healthy life: “minimal sleep, limited food intake, and always keeping the brain active and interested.”
UPDATE: Sadly, Rita Levi-Montalcini passed away in December of 2012, seven months after this post was originally published.