Leading article: Lessons in dignity

Share
Related Topics

The death of Henry Allingham yesterday at the age of 113 invites us to consider the meaning of a life lived well. It is not simply his longevity that demands respect.

Although the passing of someone born in the 19th century, who fought in the First World War, who retired from his civilian job – with the Ford Motor Company – in 1961, who was married for more than 50 years to Dorothy until her death in 1970, who has four children, five grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, 14 great-great grandchildren and a great-great-great grandchild, cannot but inspire a certain awe.

There was something about the reticence of Mr Allingham that gave him dignity. Of course, it was common among men of that generation not to discuss their experience of war. For them, the horrors were literally unspeakable, in a way that we would not expect today. This was more than just an unwillingness to talk of the incompetence and pointlessness of slaughter; there was a self-effacement about the stiff upper lip. Mr Allingham avoided reunions and refused to touch on the subject with his family until a few years ago when he was persuaded to attend services of remembrance out of respect for former comrades. Asked on his visit to the Somme in 2006 how he wanted to be remembered, he replied: "I don't. I want to be forgotten. Remember the others."

Another death, an anniversary and a birthday, those markers of the passage of time, prompt similar reflections. The death on Friday of Walter Cronkite, the original TV anchor, a term coined for him in 1952, recalled other moments of our common global history. His announcement of the death of President John F Kennedy was notable for its restraint and dignity. What was most powerful about Mr Cronkite's stiff upper lip, of course, was the moment when it quivered. Mr Cronkite was no wallflower, but he had a simple view of the purpose of journalism: "Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened." Or, as he put it more succinctly in his habitual sign-off: "That's the way it is." As the best-known face of TV news, and an intensely competitive show-off, there was artifice to this objective of telling it like it is, but it was the objective rather than the artifice that mattered.

One of the other memorable events that Mr Cronkite brought to the American people was the Apollo Moon landing, the 40th anniversary of which falls tomorrow. As Rupert Cornwell writes on page 47, the small band of men who have walked on the Moon are mostly extraordinary for their ordinariness. Some have struggled with alcoholism; one has devoted himself to UFO conspiracy theories. Some of them have gone through failed marriages and famous affairs, although, as our correspondent notes, "such lapses are not exactly unknown among humans who have not visited the Moon".

Neil Armstrong who endured "the fiercest ordeal by celebrity", resisted the temptations of hero worship. He lives a modest life with his second wife on a farm in Ohio. Like Mr Allingham, and his aversion to old soldiers' reunions, he has avoided the brass band treatment – indeed, he is playing little part in tomorrow's commemoration of the anniversary of his one small step.

Finally, it was also the birthday yesterday of Nelson Mandela. Born when Mr Allingham was already 22, the former South African president is 91. He is another man whose dignity has inspired millions. From the moment of his release from jail nearly two decades ago, his public bearing and lack of bitterness were exemplary. His country would be in a much worse position today were it not for his moral stature, and the world would be a less hopeful place. His birthday was marked by thousands of "good deeds" around the world carried out in his name.

We believe, then, that there is a common thread running through the lives of the four men that we celebrate in our pages today: Henry Allingham, Walter Cronkite, Neil Armstrong and Nelson Mandela. It is modesty. They were all the authors of, or the witnesses to, greatness. Yet it is a greatness that moves and inspires us all the more for their restraint and absence of self-advertisement. It may be protested that these men were all the products of a bygone age. It may be pointed out that much has changed. But we believe that quiet dignity still commands respect.

It has become a commonplace to bemoan the erosion of the respect accorded to modesty in the celebrity-soaked, how-does-it-feel emotionalism of today's culture. As the youngest newspaper on the block, we beg to differ.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup