"Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself." -Harper Lee

Though Gregory Peck appeared in dozens of movies over the course of his half-century Hollywood career, there's one role that stands out: his portrayal of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Peck earned an Oscar for playing the small-town lawyer and father, and he has inspired generations of lawyers, civil rights crusaders, and fathers to be the best they can be.

It can be disappointing when we learn that a favorite actor isn't as good a person in real life as he seems in the roles he plays, but that's not the case with Peck. Friends and coworkers described him as a good man, as good as the gentle Atticus Finch. Harper Lee, author of the book that became the movie, made two telling statements about Peck: "In that film, the man and the part met," and "Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself."

Peck himself said of the role, "I put everything I had into it – all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity."

In his own life, Peck was both a father – five times over – and a strong supporter of the Democratic Party and its platform of social justice. He was active in the movement to end the Vietnam War, though he supported his son who fought there, and he spoke out against nuclear weapons.

Peck died ten years ago today on June 12, 2003, but he and his greatest character still stand as an ideal for many of us. A champion of justice… and a loving father.