Culture and Trends ›

Carrying the Olympic Torch / Nick Ehrhardt

Carrying the Olympic Torch

Since 1928, countless volunteers, Olympic veterans, and others noted for their service to their communities and countries have participated in the torch relay, transporting the legendary Olympic Flame to Olympic game sites. Today we remember a few Olympic torch bearers who have died in recent weeks.

 Fred Spielberger (Mercury News)Fred Spielberger, a recording engineer, radio announcer and retired Columbia Records executive, who died May 16 at age 96, was selected by Coca-Cola to carry the Olympic Torch in 1996 in acknowledgement of his many and significant contributions to the community, according to the obituary published in the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

He donated countless hours to various non-profit organizations. He volunteered more than 1500 hours a year at the Tech Museum of Innovation and assisted low-income Spanish-speaking residents with tax preparation.

By most accounts, Fred was a cool guy - not to say he wasn't your typical Type A: stubborn, strong-willed, and determined, his family wrote in his obit. He loved to tell jokes and funny stories. He collected and carried them in his pocket, ready to share humor with anyone he came across, especially while waiting for the bus, at the gym, or in line at the bank. He was also eccentric and quirky.

Mark Smith (Northwest Florida Daily News)Mark A. Smith, who died June 21 at age 53, had owned a successful car dealership in Macon, Ga., and was actively involved in numerous charities in the local community, according to the obit in the Northwest Florida Daily News.

He was recognized for these efforts and was given the honor of bearing the torch of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games running the same to the steps of Macon's City Hall, the obit said.

 Ava De Angelis (Idaho Statesman)Ava De Angelis was a passionate sports fan who, in 2002, was honored to be a Winter Olympic Torch Bearer on its way to Salt Lake City. Her obituary in the Idaho Statesman details her love of sports, both watching and playing: Ava was an astonishing bowler, and the strikes made with her slow rolling, twisting balls are stuff of legend to family and friends.

She was also remembered for the joy she brought to family and friends: While small in stature, her heart and ever present smile made her seem as though she were a giant in any room. Ava has left an indelible mark on everyone she met through her quick ability to laugh, complete willingness to always give to others, and the ability to see the good in everyone and every situation.

Nick Nicholson (Knoxville News Sentinel)One of Edward Lee “Nick” Nicholson Jr.'s proudest moments was carrying the torch into Knox County for the 1996 Olympics, according to the obit in the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel.

In 1993, the retired Oak Ridge (Tenn.) National Laboratory chemical engineer, who died June 24 at age 90, began to volunteer working for Habitat for Humanity, joining the Tuesday-Thursday group for nearly 12 years. During the next few years, Nick, with help, built the greenhouse at the O'Connor Senior Center.

Marie Wright was a mother, wife, prominent artist, and friend to many, according to her obituary in the Clarion Ledger. She shared her quick wit, ready smile, wisdom, and optimistic spirit with friends and family. Despite her physical challenges from longstanding rheumatoid arthritis, she always remained positive and looked for rainbows in life rather than focusing on dark clouds. Because of these attributes and more, she was chosen to be an Olympic torch bearer for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

Jerry Holyoak (Salt Lake Tribune)Jerald D. “Jerry” Holyoak, a longtime bank executive who died June 7 at age 83, was a 1996 Olympic Games Torch Bearer, United Way Community Hero and recipient of the Utah National Guard Minuteman Award, American Red Cross Lifesavers Award and American Cancer Society Sword of Hope Award, according to the obit in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Jerald always offered a hand up to those in need and never turned his back on anyone, according to the obit written by his family. Compassion to all people flowed through his veins, and he lived his life as a true example of an extraordinary human being.

 Mildred Clark (Salt Lake Tribune)Mildred Clark was a mother extraordinaire. She drew from her inner strength and love to live life's successes and joys proudly, but humbly, through her children and grandchildren. As her obituary in the Salt Lake Tribune tells it, one of the most fun events of her life was to represent the grandmothers of America as a torchbearer in the 2002 Olympic Torch Run in Salt Lake.


Fred Birchmore (Athens Banner-Herald)Fred Birchmore was inducted to the Athens (Georgia) Athletic Hall of Fame, according to his obituary in the Athens Banner-Herald. Perhaps one of his greatest honors was being selected by the people of Athens and the state of Georgia to carry the Olympic Torch under the Arch in 1996.

Birchmore's obituary is packed with stories about a fascinating life. Here's just one example: He set out on his bicycle to the east, crossing the Sinai into Palestine, across Persia, through the wilds of tribal Afghanistan and over the Khyber Pass into India. From there he traveled through Southeast Asia, finally heading for home from Manila, Phillippines, earning his passage by piloting the ship because the seamen were on strike.

Norman Martinelli (Hartford Courant)Norman J. Martinelli, 90, who died in June, ran as torch bearer in the 1996 Olympic Torch Worldwide Relay, according to the obit in the Hartford (Conn.) Courant.

He gave generously of his time, money, and skills, and actively participated in many civic and religious fund raising events, the obit said.

This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer. She is the director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.